Tumblelogs made easy

Dvorak calls me a “joiner.” Someone who signs up for every new site he sees. True dat. But sometimes they’re really worth signing up for, and how do you know until you do? I’ll give you an example.

I’ve always wanted to do a Tumblelog, somewhere – not quite as formal as a blog – to stick all the random cool stuff I come across day to day. The coolest example out there is project.ioni.st (don’t click that link just yet because you’ll never return – it’s that engaging), but there are several others like the original, Anarchaia.

The canonical way to do this is to install Ruby on Rails and Ozimodo. It’s very easy unless you’re using Apache. Then it gets a little harder. I just don’t have the nerve to mess with either of my production servers (TWiT.tv or techguylabs.com), so my dream of creating a TWiT tumblelog has been thwarted. Until now.

tumblr.com makes it trivial to create a tumblelog. Merlin Mann did it first. He inspired me (in more ways than one) to use tumblr to create tumbléo.com. I’m not cheating on you Vox, honest. I can love two blogging engines at once. Hey, I’ve got six sites running on three different CMS systems and two different forum engines right now.

So now between Vox, Twitter, and Tumblr, there are no limits to my self-expression.

Ideally all this stuff would be collected into a single site. And someday I hope to do just that.

The first step is to move the the radio show site and my home page, both now in PMWiki, to Vox’s sister platform, Moveable Type. Once that’s done (hello Apperceptive, where are you?) I will merge all my old blog postings (now in Expression Engine format) into Vox and crosspost into MT.

Phase two will be to find a Tumblelog template for MT (got one?) and incorporate tumbléo into the site.

Twitter will just have to stay a widget on the site.

That’s three sites reduced into one. What about the other three sites? I don’t anticipate moving TWiT in at this point; Drupal is working so well for it. And the message boards for TWiT and Leoville will stay where they are, twit.tv/forums (running Vanilla) and leovilletownsquare.com (running FusionBB), respectively.

Meanwhile enough voxing around, I’ve got some cool stuff to post on tumbléo.

Email is down

I’m still suffering some server issues. In particular none of the Leoville email addresses are working. I can see mail in the queue (over 3000 messages) but they’re not getting directed to my inbox.

So if you’ve sent me mail in the past three days chances are good I didn’t get it yet. I’m working on the problem and hope to have it solved soon.

UPDATE: After considerable hair tearing, and experimentation, I’ve figured out (by reviewing the Qmail logs) that Fastmail.fm, my IMAP host, and one I’ve long recommended, has been greylisting the Leoville.com server. Just in case something like this happens to you, here’s what to look for.

My mail follows a somewhat tortuous route. When you send a message to leoville.com it’s first forwarded to Mailroute for sanitization. This kills well over 1 million spam messages to me a month. The remaining 30,000 messages a month are sent to my server at leoville.com which immediately redirects it to Fastmail, my IMAP host, where it’s stored until I access it. Fastmail has its own anti-spam stuff, including the bit that bit me, greylisting.

Greylisting is a clever antispam technique that tells an SMTP server to come back later. The delay can be anything from 15 minutes (typical) to several days. The theory being that a spammer will move on, but legitmate emailers will try again. Unfortunately Fastmail has set my greymail interval to something like four million seconds, so my mail piles up for several days before it’s delivered to me. Fastmail does this if your reverse DNS looks like a home IP address instead of a legit SMTP server. (They discuss what they’re doing on their blog.) Makes sense since many home computers are used to forward spam, but it’s flummoxed me. I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

The fix was to complain to Fastmail and change my reverse DNS to actually say leoville.com. Not sure which worked, but all of a sudden I’m getting a LOT of mail. If you sent me something in the past couple of days I’ll get back to you ASAP. Sorry for the delay. Now I’ve got to go turn off that damn new mail sound.

Are You Being Served?

Leo mouths offThe bumpy server ride over the weekend seems to have smoothed out.

Here’s an update. I’ve set up hosting (with RAID 5 mirroring and NAS backups, thank you) at Softlayer and am in the process of moving all the servers over. I’ll keep the current status updated here and at Leoville.com.

As of now here’s what’s happening:

  • Leoville.com – moved but down due to hardware issues all day Wednesday. Now up and reliable (crossing fingers)
  • Leoville.tv – move completed
  • Leo.am – up and working fine, all netcast feeds are now good
  • Leoville Town Square – back up, a few things are missing like PHP thumbnail resizing, and the old UBB board archive. I’ll get these back online as soon as I can
  • TWiT.tv – move completed, there were some issues this morning, but moving .htaccess and fixing a MySQL naming error corrected them. Everything seems to be working fine. If you notice any lingering problems email me. Thanks for your patience during this move.

Since the server moves require IP address changes some sites may not work until your particular DNS server registers the change. This will go more smoothly with the TWiT and Leoville.com moves since the old sites will remain up until all all DNS records have changed over. With any luck you won’t notice the move at all.

The .am registrar has updated the address for leo.am but as of this morning it hasn’t propagated to the rest of the world. Since the netcast feeds go through leo.am they’re also down until the change propagates. That shouldn’t be too long now. Meanwhile all new netcasts are available at TWiT.tv – I’ve posted at least eight new shows since the feeds failed including a new TWiT. Once the feed goes back up you’ll see a lot of downloading – you might want to check to make sure you get all the back shows, however. iTunes and other netcast clients may only download the most recent show.

You may be wondering why I do all this myself instead of using a managed host, or paying a sysop. Because it’s so much fun, of course!

My friend, Dane Golden, has started a behind the scenes blog here at http://twit.vox.com, including audio of me tearing my hair out – nice that he’s had something to write about this weekend!

Thanks to the dozens of people who offered moral support, hosting, and technical advice. It’s nice to have so many friends.

Meta Theme

I love Drupal as a content managment system, but the default themes it comes with are pretty staid. TWiT.tv – which runs Drupal – is currently based on the Push Button theme that ships with Drupal. Creating a theme from scratch is no mean feat, which is why I’ve hired Lullabot to do the coding on Arktyp’s design for the new TWiT.tv. I could never have done it myself.
I had planned to get Drupal installed here with a plain generic template and then update the site to match Leoville.com and Leo.am. But then I found this template, meta theme, from Ken Collins. I installed it as a placeholder, but it’s so slick I decided to keep it. The theme has some really neat non-obvious features like a gorgeous photo album template and a wild syntax colored code block format which is great for programmers. I’ll probably fiddle with it a bit — the font size is a little too tiny for my taste, and I’m not crazy about the funny little right quote things next to all the links — but it’s pretty gorgeous, and it turns out to be totally valid XHTML and CSS.

Drupal represents my fifth blogging engine. I started with Noah Grey’s Grey Matter in 2001, moved to Movable Type when that program was still in beta, followed Ben and Mena to Typepad, then used Expression Engine for a couple of years. I’ve been using Drupal for a year at TWiT.tv and have come to think of it as the premiere content management system due to its super clean code base and very extensive third party module support.

Migrating six hundred entries and thousands of comments from system to system hasn’t been easy. Expression Engine to Drupal offered the most tricky conversion even though both use MySQL for the data. Fortunately I found an excellent script by Tarek which worked pretty much out of the box.

So here we are. A new content management system, new incentive to keep posting here, and some neat new features like forums, polling, and a photo gallery. I hope you like the look of the new place and you’ll make yourself at home.

I’m hoping to write a script to migrate the Expression Engine user database over here, but until I do you’ll have to register to post comments. Sorry to have to do that but it’s the only effective way to prevent blog spam.

Let me know what you think! And thanks for visiting.

If You Can Read This You’re Home

I’m in the process of transferring all my domains to new servers. Leoville.com and thisWEEKinTECH.com will share a server on The Planet. Leovilletownsquare.com will have its own server, also on the Planet. Leoville.tv and Leo.am – the radio show wiki – will be hosted by a new sponsor on the show. I’ll tell you about that soon. And DSLExtreme has kindly agreed to host all the podcast downloads for KFI and TLR.
If you’re reading this the new DNS has propagated and you’re looking at the new server!

Viva Vizaweb

We had kind of a meltdown on Leoville today during the radio show. So many people were hitting the server simultaneously that it bogged down completely. We have two dedicated servers already running 2GHz Celerons and 1GB of RAM each — Leoville.com and Leoville.tv run on one, the message boards on another — but they still couldn’t handle the traffic. We peaked at just under 8MBits/second several times during the show.
So far this month leoville.tv has used an astounding 409GB of bandwidth. (That doesn’t include the message boards or this blog. This blog is at 25GB for the month; the boards 41GB. All told the Leoville sites are on track to do nearly a terabyte in October.)

Vizaweb, my host, very graciously donates all that bandwidth, and I’m sure it’s a lot more than they bargained for. Their solution? Instead of giving up and asking me to move somewhere else they’re suggesting an upgrade to a dual Xeon 2.8GHz with hyper threading so it registers as 4 CPUs, two 73GB SCSI hard drives, and more RAM. Wow!

There may be a slight disruption during the move — the blog and the radio wiki will probably close temporarily, and some stuff may not work quite right for a day or two, but once the kinks are worked out we should be so much better off.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Vizaweb!

RSS Feeds Fixed… Again

There was a mistake in the RSS feed links on the left at the bottom. I’ve fixed it, thanks to John Shepard who let me know about it.
If you subscribe to the feeds, make sure your links are correct. The RSS 1 and 2 feeds are subject only. The Atom feed is the full story. Please let me know if you’d like to change these feeds or how they work. I want to make sure you can get the blog in a way that works for you.

There are feeds for the whole blog, just the announcements, news, life of leo, and moblog – so you can read just what you want to. The RSS feeds might be a good choice for people who hate the design of the site, or find it too confusing. Just subscribe to the part you like and you’ll see it with minimal formatting.

And remember, this is still a work in progress. But I’m getting there! Off to Toronto now – I’ll be seeing you.

I Hear You Knockin’ But You Can’t Come In

Yes my message boards were down for almost 24 hours yesterday. As were Cat’s, Morgan’s, and Megan’s sites. They’re all hosted by the generous folks at Annex.com. The outage was caused by a server move that took a little longer than expected. Mike Chandler from 2Xtreme media explains…

Greg sends his humblest apologies to y’all for the downtime but asked that I brag a bit about the new facility, so here goes… Faster pipe with BGP routing for redundant feed, 24 hour NOC, impressive power generators to keep your site online in the event of a significant power outage, and 24 hour security to ward off evil server bandits. As an added bonus, our 2Xtreme Media servers will be neighbors in the same colo facility, so I’ll still have hands on access to your server as needed (that’s more of a bonus for me, I suppose).
We appreciate the fact that none of you tried to choke Gregory or the Annex crew yesterday for keeping you offline, but we still feel bad. Hopefully the swifter connection speeds and greater uptimes will make up for yesterday’s outage.

Apology accepted. And thanks for the continued great service. Leoville Town Square alone sucks up about 30GB of Annex’s bandwidth each month. I really appreciate their generosity!

That’s one of the reasons I spread the site out over four servers now. It’s all accessible from Leoville.com, but if any one site is down, you can always reach the rest by going there directly:

Leoville.com, the main site http://www.leoville.com
Leo’s Mob, my mobile phone picture blog http://leoville.textamerica.com
Two Shows Nightly, my text blog (you’re soaking in it) http://leo.typepad.com
Leoville Town Square, the message boards http://leovilletownsquare.com

The Mob Returns

Jade Charles at TextAmerica has responded to my concerns about comment validation on the Mob.
Overnight (!) he installed a system to require that commenters be registered TextAmerica users. That’s not all. He’s working on a way for me to require Leoville registration before commenting. That solves all my concerns about unruly comments. In fact, it makes TextAmerica better than TypePad for comment validation. (I’m sorry to have to require registration of any kind, but I’m sure you understand why.)

He has also turned on full-size images. So I’m turning off the Telephotos mobile phone blog on TypePad and returning to TA, with comments turned on.

Frankly I was getting worried about the throughput requirements of the photo blog on TypePad. I’m already 319% over my limit for the month. Ben and Mena haven’t set up pricing for excess bandwidth, but I hate to think what that would cost. For some reason TextAmerica doesn’t seem to mind how much bandwidth I consume. They must be getting a good deal from Rackspace!

So thank you, Jade, Chris, Tina, and Janet. TextAmerica rocks!

Revised prices

So many people complained about the prices of the items in the store (and I agree they are high) I’ve decided to cut them to $2 over the Cafe Press wholesale price. In other words, there’s $2 profit per item.
For those of you who (over)paid for items, send me a note and I’ll gladly refund the difference. My apologies for the inconvenience.

I do appreciate the response to the Leoville store. It’s not going to be a great money maker (I’ve earned about $60 so far) but it does help pay for the expenses of running the web site. And I think it’s nice to be able to offer the items for the folks who want ’em.

Selling Out

I’ve decided to try setting up a little Leoville store with a few items people have asked me for. I’ve got an autographed mug in there, boxer shorts, sweatshirts, and so on. I can’t put copyrighted TechTV images on it, so there’s no Screen Savers mug – even though that would be a bestseller – but there’s some other fun stuff.
The store is powered by Café Press. They do all the printing and fulfillment, for which they take the lion’s share of the money, but I’ll make a few bucks per item.

Let me know how you like the quality of the items, and if there’s any other Leoville merchandise you’d like to see in there.

Growing Pains

Success brings its own problems.
When I started this web site in ’96 or ’97 there wasn’t much to it, just a few files and sound effects for download, maybe an occasional editorial (see for yourself).

In the last year I’ve added this blog and a message board. Both features have proved much more popular than I ever expected, taxing my puny little server, and the programs I chose to use, beyond their capabilities. To say nothing of my capabilities.

I upgraded the blog to Movable Type and that’s been a great improvement. Now the message boards and the server itself seem to be spinning down the great disposal of life.

Mike Chandler of Annex.com, a regular around here, has offered me server space on a fresh new Dell box with such nice bells and whistles as PHP and MySQL. I think I’ll probably take him up on it.

And I’m looking at alternative message board solutions. With access to MySQL I can try some databased programs that should be more responsive and better able to handle the heavy traffic that the Town Square has developed. One of the possibilities is InfoPop’s UBBThreads. It’s being used by some pretty big sites (including Ms. Magazine and Playboy – strange bedfellows). Ars Technica also uses it. If you’re a heavy user of the Leoville message boards I’d appreciate your feedback on UBB, and I’d like to hear about any other programs you think I should consider.

Moving the server and adopting new software is a major undertaking, and I only want to do this once, so any advice or input you can give me before I begin is much appreciated. Just add them to the comments here on the blog, if you would.

I promise to make this as seamless as possible for you all!