ac's blog

Choosing a web host for low volume sites

There seem to be many hits when one looks for reviews on web sites, but nearly all of the top hits seem to be fake or aggregate sites, with not enough real data. It is also very hard to judge web sites from a large general list of criteria.

Having to do this exercise once every few years, here are the criteria that I look for in web host:

  1. Low usage, non-commercial web hosting. Generally around 2G to 5G data download per month.
  2. Medium level of system admin capability - ability to configure simple .htaccess rules, install packages like Drupal and Joomla, host multiple sites.
  3. SSH access is essential. This is the most efficient method of managing a site. If only FTP access is available, simple tasks become quite complex. Like copying a directory, making a symbolic link. (Have to create a cron job to do such tasks in absence of SSH access.)
  4. Should allow two domains to be hosted. One main domain, and one add-on. More is nice-to-have.
  5. Drupal CPU/Memory requirements should be supported. Even for very low volume sites, Drupal can be a memory hog and some sites kill scripts too soon. Drupal is not very robust - if an admin page (such as modules list) is killed when being constructed, it will corrupt the database. The CPU/Memory requirements are minimal, but some sites do not support them.
  6. Disk space requirements are generally unimportant since every web host seems to be providing over 1G of space. Low usage sites probably don't need more than 1G space, if that much.
  7. Standard CGI tools support - Perl, PHP are essential. Python, Ruby, etc are nice-to-have.
  8. CGI scripts should be allowed to open web connections to other servers. Some web hosts do not allow network connections from server scripts. Very rare, but I found one out of the 10 or so hosts I tried had this restriction.
  9. Should be less than $100/year. Back when I started this, it used to be $300/year, but now a $100/year budget is reasonable.
  10. Support is necessary, but only expect help with really critical server related problems that cannot be fixed by self-managing the web site. The expectation is that I would never really need to open a support ticket. Email only support is fine. A user forum for the web host customers would be a good thing to have.
  11. No stringent requirements on uptime - acceptable to have an hour or so down every few months.

And, the best site that supports these requirements?
As of 2009:

  1. HostMonster has turned out the best fit for the above requirements. The thing to be careful is that their first sign-up cost can be 10% to 30% lower than renewals, so be sure to look up the actual renewal cost. They easily meet all the requirements above, and the price is the best for these set of requirements. 2009 cost is $250/3years or $110/year.
    BlueHost is the same provider as HostMonster, so either of these are probably similar in service.
    This site does go down once in a while - maybe an hour or so every few months. This has been infrequent enough, and all web hosts seem to have this issue at the low end, so has to be accepted as part of the deal.
  2. WebAxxs is another good site. It costs nearly the same as HostMonster, with $2/month extra for SSH. But they have lower pre-purchase periods, so for a year or two, it is just $10/year or so more in cost. Their web site is very poor, not enough information. Had to get multiple emails to get more details. This provider is same-as/related to, which has better information.

Kubuntu very easy to install

So after all my troubles trying to get Fedora 11 x86_64 kit installed and failing, I tried Kubuntu.
I prefer KDE desktop to Gnome, so went with the KDE Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty" version, Kubuntu. Ubuntu itself is Debian-based.

Took two tries, but the second try was the real thing, and within an hour the the 64-bit kit was installed, and fully working - including the DVD playback as well as audio.
Update: not that good, in the end. When I got new drives, and re-did the full install it failed to get audio working. Oh well, so these Linux distributions are not as good as Windows when it comes to multi-media support. Since I do not use audio, I am going to stick with Jaunty and will update the system again when the next release comes out.

First try:
The documentation on the Ubuntu pages is somewhat unclear. I knew I wanted LVM, and expected that the DVD iso image for desktop install would offer it. No mention is made of this on the Get Ubuntu pages. It does refer to something call "alternate" kit which is text-mode install for systems with small amounts of memory. So, went with the desktop kit. It is also not very clear that the "amd64" kit is for Core 2 Duo Intel processors also, in fact, some of the language might indicate that it is only for AMD CPUs, but that would be an incorrect reading. So, for Core 2 Duo, use amd64.

But overall, using the desktop kit was the wrong thing to do. Took an hour to install, discovered the problem with no LVM, so went back to web searches, and discovered (in not-so-easy to find places) that the alternate kit is the more powerful kit, and has much better control and many more options for the install.

Second try:

Fedora 11 Hiccups

So, here are the all the issues I ran into when installing Fedora 11 on a new-ish computer.

Computer: Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2, with SATA hard-drive, and IDE CD/DVD drive, and 4G of RAM.

Given that the i386 Fedora cannot see all of 4G, I first tried the x86_64 install. The Fedora install notes also say that for Core 2 Duo processors, the 64-bit install is recommended.
Right at the outset, it failed. Booted off a DVD install kit, and got stuck where the install said "install media driver not found", and asked me to select a driver, I selected pata_amd (for IDE CD/DVD), and forcedeth (for ethernet), but no luck, it kept repeating - no driver, then select driver, with no way to break the loop. It also failed to recognize the VGA card, and performed the install in text mode.

Retried the install over the network. Now the install proceeded to completion, but when the system started, there was no X driver for the video card. Having spent 2+ hours on this, decided to shelve this approach.

Using the i386 DVD install, everything went smoothly. It had no trouble finding all drivers, did the install, and Fedora was up. It even selected the PAE kernel, so can see all 4G of RAM (most of it anyway).
This probably indicates that there is some packaging problem with the x86_64 version?

Current problem:
Cannot play DVDs, even locally created, no encryption DVDs. Have installed libdvdcss and other modules mentioned at the unofficial fedora faq. Xine reports no mpeg codec, and keeps popping up the error window, ad nauseum.

Gave up on Fedora, was taking too long to get basic stuff running, and 64-bit not working was a big problem, and discovered that it was not Linux, or the Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2 motherboard issues - Kubuntu installed with incredible ease.

Disproportionate jury award proves RIAA is all wrong

Copyright law as it exists should have no validity given the technological advances of the past two decades.

Yet, we continue to apply old, inapplicable laws, resulting in quite absurd results.

A jury decided that a woman should pay $80,000 for each of the 24 songs she is accused of illegally trading over the Kazaa Internet service. [: Total damages: $1.92 million].
This itself is completely absurd, but all you have to do is to carry this to the logical next step - she was accused by RIAA of uploading 1700 songs. So the correct award should be $136 million.

Clearly if someone broke a law, there should be some punishment. But having someone, who is most likely not very technologically adept, be accused by RIAA of high piracy, and have the RIAA win in court, shows that the jury award system is quite suspect. The law is the ass here, but will the Congress wake up and change it? No chance - from recent discussions in France and the EU, to the somewhat recent US Congress support for Mickey Mouse support laws, it is clear the all lawmakers are more inclined to listen to the rich lobbyists than to any rational reasoning. Will this absurd $1.92 million, which was really $132 million award bring some sense to the copyright laws? No hope from any law makers anywhere in the world (maybe China, India, or some other country will help here), so in the US, only the Supreme Court is the last hope, though that too is unlikely given the old, conservative heads there (just listen to Scalia protecting teenagers from words that are quite common in middle schools here, but now are illegal on broadcast TV).

High Medical Costs, Poor Medical Care

Cost and Conundrum in New Yorker is hopefully pointing out to everyone factors that need addressing if we really want to fix the health care system in the US. The author also addresses followup questions .

The focus right is now is the large number of uninsured. But the problem is much deeper - the whole system is a mess.

A system is healthy if there are counter-balancing forces that prevent any tilt towards excess. As the article above points out, we have lost that. Doctors have a financial stake in pharmaceuticals, in medical labs, in hospitals, and their income is tied to the number of high-cost procedures performed. So naturally, these will tend to go up and up, which should not be a mystery at all.

Nowadays with the economic slump the GDP number and its percent decrease is getting a lot of attention. The perverse thing about this is that if a primary care doctor helps patients so that they don't need high cost operations later on, the GDP goes down. While ignoring preventive care, and focusing on expensive care for patients results in a higher GDP. And when the country is worrying about decreasing GDP numbers, one has to wonder whether that in itself indicates bigger problems and no hope for ever fixing this issue.

Another article claims that ... discouraging demand for such coverage ... is the answer. Those ideas are quite common on the conservative political wing, and they are completely unrealistic, regurgitating the same old ideas of applying free-market economics to medicine. It proves that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

When will copyright tilt back towards the consumer?

It is quite instructive to plot the trend of copyright laws. Progressively this has allowed power and control to be held by the rich and powerful artists and corporations, and the law has completely lost sight of the original goals of copyright.

EFF has many good articles on this, and now they have created a teaching copyright site providing a much needed counterpoint to the one-sided views of the industry (and groups like Metallica, people like the manager of U2, organizations like RIAA, MPAA, and many others).

What is shocking is the way the laws have taken away rights from the people - the law in 1790 started with 14+14 years of copyright, but in 1998 with the passage of the Mickey Mouse act the term is now the life of the author + 70 years! The Constitution's stated purpose of "promoting the progress of science and useful arts" has been upended by raw corporate greed. We now have things such as encryption - so a movie or a song can be purchased but cannot be played if one moves from one country to another. DVDs are crippled so that users cannot fast-forward over parts and notices the industry believes we should watch - even if you just watched it a minute ago, you have to sit through it again. A song cannot be played except on devices that the industry has blessed. Seeing all these hurdles that the industry has thrust upon consumers, which were made possible by exploiting technology in the industry's favor, it seems somehow just that the same onward thrust of technology should cause big problems for their old business models.

Getting There Greener

Union of Concerned Scientists - Getting There Greener

The one somewhat surprising item is that traveling first class or even economy-plus in airplanes is more damaging to the environment than coach-class. Of course, seems logical after-the-fact.
Since I cannot afford first-class air travel anyway, this specific green behavior is not a problem at all!

Airplanes have the worst impact on the environment. But air-travel is essential, so it is good to know that at least by traveling economy, one can reduce the impact on the environment.

In order of traveling long-distances with the least impact - motor-coaches - buses are best, then depending on number of people traveling, a efficient fully-filled car is good too.

Save the Environment - Dyson, Gore, Krugman

The Civil Heretic - Freeman Dyson is a long but good article on Dyson's view of the some of the popular environmentalists out there.

The environment certainly is to be treated with care - so everyone should try to minimize their carbon footprint - "do not trash the earth" - is how someone put it and that is the core of the matter. Whether global warming will cause untold damage is not the main question - the question is simply whether humans have disrupted the balance in the environment (answer is a resounding yes) and so it behooves us to try to undo the damage.

But this does not have to be cloaked into the conclusions that Al Gore and others throw out, and it was especially great to read the article on Dyson above.

There are many ways to reduce the impact on the environment - use less resources is the number one way - far better to reduce number of things and amount of energy one consumes. The sticking point is that this must be done in an economically viable manner. As pointed out by Krugman - An Affordable Salvation it is possible to do this on a large, business scale too. It would be bad for the US to ignore these opportunities since someone or the other will lead and eventually profit from these businesses. Coal may be plentiful, oil may still be around for 50 years, but the Sun and the Wind are going to be around for much much longer than that, so makes good sense to start taking advantage of alternate energy sources.

As to Dyson - "Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus." - from the NYT article.

Shoot First Laws - Go Ahead and Kill Anyone

So this guy in Florida pulls out a handgun.

Thinks he can stop a two-ton SUV that a thief was driving, with his puny handgun.

Fires his gun blindly.

Kills the woman passenger in the car. Could have killed a bystander, could have killed any innocent person in the SUV. Could have killed the driver, could have caused the SUV to crash and kill someone else.

No matter - this man is home free, probably able to sleep soundly. Sheriff says law allows this person to kill. NRA made the usual "guns for everyone, guns everywhere" noises, supporting this man.

Florida should allow the use of M9 Anti-tank Rocket Launchers to protect against personal injuries, handguns are not good enough. What if the thief could have escaped? No way he could have escaped a bazooka! We want our Bazookas!

I wonder what the pro-life conservative gang up in the Supreme Court will say about this - they just passed a judgment of 10 years in prison for a gun going off accidentally admitting that "it is unusual to impose criminal punishment for the consequences of purely accidental conduct" - and no one was killed - yet they banged the gavel giving him 10 years in prison.

This bozo killed someone with his gun, and future such bozos in Florida and other states will no doubt make similar news in the future. Wonder what the Scalia-Roberts gang up in the Supreme Court would say about this...(well, the answer is easy - they will find some way of saying this time the gun going off was not the trigger-happy-gun-owner's fault).

Monster Cables are Unnecessary

Monster Cable news in USA Today is very funny - but it is presented as News! Pretty poorly written article in USA Today, with no questioning of whether Monster really makes any sense. The comments people posted are more to the mark, that is where some questions are being raised.

"Oxygen Infused Cables" and some such thing, and people shell out 100s of dollars for such gimmicks. Well, a sucker is born every minute, so good for Monster to soak up the excess money some people have floating around.

There is absolutely no need for the way Monster and other high end cable companies make audio/video cables - metal conducts electricity, for analog the key issue is the gauge of the cable (get thicker one for higher currents), and for digital - hey, even easier - either the bits get from one end to another, or they don't and any decent cable will work fine.
Sure, buy Monster if you like the to overspend, but don't buy it because "it conducts electricity better"! And there are certainly crappy cables, good cables, very good cables, excellent cables, and way-out-there-with-magic-powers cables, and it is best to avoid that last category along with the first.

Lot of good stuff on the web such as Monster Cable Sucks! and CNET HDMI Cables along with the kool-aid drinking gushers.