How Do You Solve a Problem Like: Demand Responsive Buses?

An elderly yellow Optare Solo passes me by, occasionally, off on a meandering trip to the countryside. All around it the other buses are bright and clean, with free wi-fi and some with USB charging for your phone, but not this one elderly bus.

They all work from the same bus depot, but the problem is that the service it operates on probably makes far less money. For those that live in Hampshire and the New Forest, I suspect you have occasionally also seen the ‘Cango’.

The problem is that the Cango does not really work. It is a great idea that did not work with the times and develop to be an essential demand responsive bus service. The question is though, why didn’t it?

A Demand Responsive Bus?

Why Not? Around here there are really only a few different type of bus service:

  • Frequent commercial and profitable buses. Running at least every half hour and customers only having to walk a few minutes to find a bus stop
  • An hourly service which is more community desired. Sometimes run with council support to the fringes of the town
  • The rural service that runs a few times a day, or only a few days a week

Actually, in that rural service section there is one around here that runs once a week, on a Wednesday, giving  just 90 minutes in town to do business and go home.

So Here is an Example

In the New Forest there is a pre-bookable service that operates Monday to Saturday. There are two types of bus stops on the service; Green stops where buses will stop and Yellow stops in villages which must be pre-booked.

Travelling between two green stops is easy – you turn up and go. Travelling from a Green to a Yellow, a Yellow to a Green or between two Yellow stops requires booking.

This is all great, but this is also where the system falls down; bookings are not really that flexible.

  • You have to phone between 7am and 9am on a Weekday to book, although that can be for a booking either in advance or on that day
  • or have to phone at least a day in advance for the first service of the day, because it departs from it’s first stop before 9am
  • and have to phone at least a day in advance to book for a Saturday as the telephone only operates on Weekdays

Not surprisingly many of the former Cango services in Andover and Basingstoke now operate simply on a fixed route.

The Problem: Cango is Not Everywhere

There are so many villages though that are increasingly cut off from public transport. These are hamlets so small that they might not even have a village shop, some will just have a church or a public house. The residents of the village may change, but with the lack of transport it won’t be young families unless they can all drive.

You remember that once a week bus service? Not 10 years ago there was a morning town bound commuter service and an evening return journey as well; people moved knowing they could get the bus to work.

But Is There A Solution?

I think there is.

Private Hire cars are demand responsive like the Cango. Yes they are more immediate, you can usually phone and get a car in minutes, but the principle is the same.

So why can’t we apply the same principle between a service like UberPool (the car sharing edition of Uber) and a demand responsive bus service?

What is UberPool?

So the principle of UberPool is simple. You request an Uber, you allocate it to UberPool and another rider and divert the car to pick them up and head in the same general direction as you. When I did a quick G<search> of UberPool it touted savings of up to 25% when you do this.

Of course you don’t get to pick who you ride with and only 2 people may pool together; so they could be an obnoxious person with a hygiene problem.

This means multiple pick-up and drop-off management on a small scale is possible and indeed Uber already offer it.

Expanding the Pool

So if you expand the concept, adding in some timing points for example, you could run a demand-responsive and real-time bus service.

Welcome to Basingstoke and Newbury. There is a direct bus between the two which runs mostly via the A339 and stops in Kingsclere village. North of the A339; Thatcham, Baughurst and Tadley have a frequent bus service, but the villages to the south don’t.

It would not take much work to work out which of these villages could handle a minibus. In fact from memory, many of the villages have handled 53 seat school coaches for years, on private contracts.

So you could have a service programmed that would depart Kingsclere at a time, maybe meeting a bus coming in from Newbury, and have a pre-determined time arriving in the center of Basingstoke; but with a defined “roaming area” within the area south of the A339. If Uber can allocate people to cars, then surely you can allocate people to a bus?

As Flexible as Uber

Even after the bus sets off, just like Uber diverting cars to passengers the GPS can guide the bus. If someone requests a pick-up that means the service would not get to Basingstoke in time then it would have to be rejected; but over time people would realise that you still need to book a little time ahead. It would not need meticulous pre-planning though.

It should not be too difficult to use destinations to allocate space on a bus with some creative bin-packing, managing the number of spaces available on the service.

Unlike Uber of course, the roam zone as we could call it is defined. Maybe on the way into town there could be pre-set stops you can alight to catch connecting regular buses or – in Basingstoke’s case here – get on or off at the Leisure Park.

Mixing Uber with CityMapper

CityMapper were trialing their technology in Central London recently and this apparently included real-time data collection for a better demand responsive basis.

So you do not need to rely on bus driver recollections to work out whether some services need two minibuses, or whether there are specific times of day that are popular in specific villages, the data is already provided.

In fact, could this even be tied into calling Uber style cars to match the demand when the need arises?

The Problem is Regulation

This is a bus service at heart. Has anyone ever tried to do something new with a Government department? It can be like drawing blood from a stone getting past a panel of civil servants.

Yes there are already demand responsive services like Cango, but demand responsive with unadvertised duplication and limited seating restricted by an app? There is an Uber for that, and no Government department seems to like Uber at the best of times.

Now, if I had the skills and money I would already be trialing it. I am no Uber or Citymapper though, just a crazy idiot with a strange idea… oh and I just gained an extra hour a day (average) on my hands.

As One Door Closes…

So it has been one of those turbulent weekends of sorts.

After 6 years working exclusively at a national level, with about 10 of the 15 years before that at a local one, I no longer have anything to do with hospital radio. Well I say no longer, you never know what may be around the corner with either a hospital, a radio or a combination of the two.

A Quick Summary of my Hospital Radio

You know, it has actually been interesting as well as a little bit fun. I remember going into Radio Haslar in Gosport as a teenager, getting put straight into a slot on a show of 50’s and 60’s music, and having more than a  little crush on the studio manager. She was probably about 10 years older than me she was a country mile out of my league.

Portsmouth

I went to University, came back for a year and juggled shows with working nights at a casino. I went back to university and then returned to Portsmouth Hospital Broadcasting, where over a number of years I went from a weekend slot to Chairman. I left PHB to allow it to move into it’s new premises at a PFI funded hospital under new leadership, a move away from Portsmouth was imminent for me and lots of changes is bad for any charity.

National

It was then that I started working with the HBA on a national level. I had been to one of their autumn conference events, which incorporated their Annual General Meeting some years prior, and soon I found myself their new Minutes Secretary at bimonthly Trustee Board meetings. It was strange really, I was nothing to do with the management of the Association but I was allowed to have a say. Maybe that was their first mistake.

During a communications review, I was asked to lead on preparing an Internal Communications paper. I wrote the paper, talking about how the HBA did not communicate within itself and presented the paper; to be told they wanted a paper about communications with their members… to this day I still argue that members are customers and customers are external.

The Newsletter

As part of the communications review I was asked to take on the new to launch Members’ Electronic Newsletter. I was given a vague remit along the lines of ‘it should be targeted to the management of our member hospital radio stations’ and so it became about the changes to charity law, the fundraising and grants lists and less about the really cool reports from station which appeared in the organisations seasonal magazine.

The Website

With the departure of the long standing webmaster the HBA then wanted a new website. A good idea and followed through, if not a bit haphazardly from me at times, although at the end of it there needed to be a new webmaster.

There wasn’t, I carried on blubbering along and worked on what I could figure out. I desperately needed a local environment to do some of the more detailed items, but alas after hundreds of hours of trying, I simply could not get a copy of the website installed on either a XAMPP stack or a VirtualBox machine.

Of course I was the only person who had this problem. “I have managed it, why can’t you, I will show you one day” was the response I would ever get to asking for help with it.

That meant that some fundamental flaws could not get patched as quick as I would have liked. No-one who should of, particularly cared though.

So What Now?

It’s time for me to take stock. I will probably pop back up somewhere in due time. I miss working locally to get things done for the benefit of others, which I made the mistake of leaving behind.

It probably won’t be back in hospital radio though; the scene has changed, the people have changed and their expectations have certainly changed. Some hospital radio stations reacted on the future, a bit like when Apple first packed an iMac behind a 4 inch screen, others have slowly wasted away, like the BlackBerry OS.

Me, I will take the slow walk through the market and pick and taste what takes my fancy, something I have not done for many years. One day though, I will meet the next Grant, or the next Iain, or even (as I mutter God Forbid under my breath in the nicest possible way) the next Nigel; who kept me there as long as they did and pushed me to firefight until the end. If I ever meet managers like those three, I will be willing to fight.

I will miss it, I already do.

 

Keeping Your E-mail Safe with a Contact Form

When was the last time you were worried about an e-mail attachment? Last weekend? Today? When did you last publish your e-mail address?

This was a question posed to me recently in the wake of the ‘WannaCry’ attack, that recently took out companies large and small and demanded $300 from each and every computer. You can be sure that there are a few BitCoin sellers who have made a profit from the last week or so; BTC was at an all time high against more traditional currencies in most markets.

At this mornings latest, there were over 40BTC residing at the known addresses published as part of the ransomware. Before the latest spike in the price of BitCoin that would be worth some £35,000 to £40,000.

But wait… there’s more. Even if you pay the ransom, along with the ransome are is DoublePulsar, a backdoor which does not get removed (to be confirmed) when you pay up. 

What remains to be seen however, is whether any of the computer users that just bury their heads in the sand have actually lost any data, this ransomware attack threatened total deletion of your documents, archives and videos if the payment was not made in 6 days.

So The Connection to E-mail is?

The payload for the latest massive ransomware attack, like so many others, was distributed by email. In most cases the format is an infected attachment which you might open, an executable file, a Word document with dodgy macros, the possibilities are multiple.

The question is though, how often do you expect them? I know I get a PDF weekly from one of a small group if people with my work schedule, I know I get a monthly invoice from my hosting provider, but very few that I would expect from an unknown sender.

So why would I solicit anything more than a text based message as a first contact?

I certainly do not want to be entertaining someone sending me a huge audio file, a game crack in an .exe file or some dodgy film; so why would I let them fill up my 2GB mailbox or 30GB G-Allowance with it?

A Safe Alternative is Always Easier

One thing that I have always been an advocate of, especially in one of the charities I work for, is using online storage. If you are paying for it, even more so, but thankfully this particular charity was awarded a Google for Nonprofits subscription. If you are working within a non-profit organisation you may be eligible for Google for Nonprofits too.

The charity has a sizable number of accounts and access to Google Drive, a whole 30GB per account to be shared between your mailbox and your file storage.

Why would you not want to keep control of your controlled documents? simple answer is to upload them to Drive and share a view-only link. You can limit who can see, who can edit, whether you have to be logged in with a particular domain; this is not a guide to the GSuite so we won’t digress from there.

If you are more of  a OneDrive convert then they have much the same functionality available. There are also a huge number of alternative providers out there, including delivery and download mechanisms.

Contact Forms

So contact forms can save you from an embarrassing visit to your LocalBitCoin vendor. If you set them up correctly you won’t notice the loss of functionality, but obviously you don’t want to necessarily be setting up huge hosting environments just to have a contact form. a mid-ground decorum is always the right way forward.

What I Have

I set most of mine up to only allow a name, email address and a message. There are one or two exceptions of course, I have a small number of contact forms on a charity website that allow for Word documents and PDF, others that allow images.

The most time I spend doing this is with Drupal and using their Webform functionality.  You can set up text fields and areas which are exactly what the say on the tin, you can set file uploads in both format and size:

You can also specify where the files are stored on your server and who has access to it. 

Think of it this way. I have a theoretical event to take scanned booking forms for. They can be stored on a secured section of the website for either the organisations management, the event team, the event booking person or any combination; to have access. 

Of course, it would be more logical to host the booking form itself as a webform if you have a payment mechanism in place… Let’s not digress. 

It’s Not Just Big Websites

It does not surprise me when I see single page, small business websites where the ‘for more information’ is a plain text email address.

The thing is many of these websites are built with website builders like Wix, which provide contact page templates.

Work as a one-man builder? A couple of photo upload slots would be ideal to prompt customers to include pictures of the work required. The last time I looked for quotes I provided an imgur folder with 5 or 6 pictures.

WannaCry about Round 2?

For those of you that have been worrying, keep worrying. The latest round of hacking is set to continue as the list of 200,000 WannaCry victims will be added to as a temporary fix gets circumvented.

On Friday, unless you have been hibernating in the deepest Amazonian forest all weekend, you will have heard about how the NHS was “targeted” and how an accident “saved the NHS”. No-one really mentioned the Vodafone impact, how Telefonica was hit and many more.

The truth is of course that a massive cyber assault has taken place against anyone who was brave enough to not update their computers, or not wise enough to not trust the Internet as computers across the world became locked down. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a variation of Friday’s attack, itself a variation of what was attacking honeypots at the start of March 2017; is already in the wild. Companies around the world are hurriedly patching computers ready for the start of the working week just a few hours away.

The Basics of How You Got Hacked

If you are on Windows and you did not update your computer in the March 2017 Microsoft update, then you could be vulnerable.

Microsoft patched the vulnerability, known as EternalBlue in its MS17-010 patch, deploying under Microsoft Vista Service Pack 2 and later. The exploit itself was published within a release of alleged NSA tools by the Shadow Brokers and Microsoft has critically reacted in record time. That does not mean that small and large businesses around the world ever took note, or trusted Microsoft updates at the same time though.

The Trojan encrypts a vast array of the files on your computer. For most of you, this will include files such as:

  • Archives
  • Video files (.avi, .mp3 for example)
  • Documents (.doc, .pdf for example)

On The Plus Side….

…. they are not actually after your information, they just don’t want you to get to it either.

The program that infects your computer, known as a worm, encrypts your data so that your computer can not get to it. This means that programs will not run and files will not open, unless you don’t pay the ransom and it decides to delete them. At the same time your computer is broadcasting the very same replicated virus across the Internet, through your e-mail accounts as attachments and hoping for more victims.

The Cost

Did you hear that the price of BitCoin has been sky-rocketing this week?  The ransom for your computer trove of information is apparently $300 of Bitcoin. It is anonymous (largely), difficult to track (largely) and that makes BitCoin the perfect currency.

Whether the ransom being paid has actually resulted in the unlocking of data is yet to be seen. Some variants of this theme in the past have continued to demand more currency, even threatening to wipe computers all together.

You also have to remember the double edge sword of the cost of BitCoin. If the hackers behind this have a large amount of BitCoin at their disposal, bought cheap and sold expensively… say to pay a ransom… double profits all round for the hackers.

They have the added bonus as well of getting the BitCoin back in their virtual wallets, you bought it from them, to pay them after all!

So What Can You Do?

Firstly, and most importantly, update your computer if you have not already. Also update your antivirus, especially if you have a set update routine such as the start of every month – this aggressive virus is still a current and evolving threat.

Information is available if you have Windows XP, Server 2003 or Windows 8 (rather than 8.1) which are technically out of support.

If you have any other build of Windows, then check this post on Reddit which lists the updates you should be looking out for on your Update History.

If you are not infected, backup, BACKUP, BACKUP.

Commonsense Best Practice

  • Right Now you should be questioning every single e-mail that gets to your inbox. Even if you know the sender, are you expecting an attachment from them? If in doubt, ask them if they sent it.
  • DO NOT enable macros for any document you have been sent unless you can absolutely verify it’s source and authenticity.
  • If you realise you are infected isolate the computer, disconnect your Ethernet cable and turn off wireless networking. You may not save all of your data but you might just prevent your computer broadcasting it to someone else. There is no guarantee that a new variant will not broadcast the Trojan far and wide.

If You Are Already Infected

Help is at hand (no, this it not a tout for business) if you know what to do.

Paying The Ransom Might Not Work

Even if you pay the $300, there is nothing to say that files will magically unlock. It is well known for these kind of attacks to simply take your money and do nothing… or even demand more!

Although you can not stop the damage your computer may have, you can reverse some of the damage it has already done.  At the moment, encrypted files can not be decrypted although the likes of Symantec and co are working on it. You should, after clearing your computer of the virus, restore the files from  back-ups.

You do have back-ups, don’t you? One of the simplest forms of doing this is using OneDrive or Dropbox to regularly back-up your Documents, Pictures and Downloads folder.

SpyHunter

There is anecdotal evidence that the SpyHunter software has been effective for removal. It’s free edition can tell you if it believes you are infected, but you need to pay $40 for it to remove anything. I am not linking the software here as the claims are not verified, but you can find the software on any search engine.

D.I.Y.

Head over to ValueWalk where there is an excellent guide to entering Safe Mode on your computer and do what you can to remove the virus.

Alternatively head over to Bleeping Computer.

So Until Tomorrow

Start backing up your computers, no-one know who will be first to open the attachment entitled YourAWinnerOpenNow.doc.pdf.exe and start round two.

…and just remember

This is alleged to have been a direct result from a National Security Agency (NSA) toolkit. The NSA use ‘illegal’ backdoors into software just like hackers. In the UK, the Government wants to force everything to have a backdoor – a backdoor that will be just as open to the right hackers as it is to the Corsham Computer Center.

 

My Compromised Skype *embarrassed face*

You know it can happen to anyone, right? You load up a program you have not used in a while and BAM! you find you are spamming everyone on your contact list. Today I have turned on *embarrassed face* Skype to find a friend sending me the inevitable 

I guessed something had gone wrong earlier this morning. I had an e-mail from the Microsoft Account Team telling me that my account might have been “accessed” and I should change my password. You know as well as I do that there are many good e-mail scams out there and so I resisted clicking the link and logged into my Microsoft account independently.

Microsoft let you access recent recorded activity of your Microsoft account, along with a glossary.

It will ask you to confirmed your account by sending an e-mail or a text , to be fair I found using a text message faster and easier, although – disclaimer time – your mobile phone provider may charge you for it.

Uh-Oh Skype Got Accessed

skypeaccess1

Now for those of the uninitiated let me give you a hint. If you want to hack my accounts, I am a very firm Marmite person when it comes to anything from Apple… I will only use it under protest.

So as you can see, I have a Skype account, which was accessed from Brazil on Sunday. There you can find the detail of what accessed it and where it thinks that it was, unfortunately I am not very experienced in tracing the IP to either a ISP or company.

You will also see I locked down my account before writing this blog. This was because I reacted to the Microsoft e-mail and changed all my passwords before looking at what happened.

A Quick Idea – Check Your Settings!

So what I think my failure might have been was to forget a small setting on my Skype software. Enabled by default – or so it would seem – Skype can load a preview of any web links that are sent. Now this is great if you have a contact list where only your contacts can , err, contact you; but when one gets infected, you can see the inevitable chain reaction.

Skype Settings Preview

So this is what I have turned off. I found it, on my Windows 10 edition of Skype Preview, simply in the first settings page. As you can see I have now turned it off. I am not sure, but I would expect that the Baidu link, which when sent to me even had my username in the URL, was previewed in Skype which somehow gave it access.

Now I Don’t Use Skype

I use to use Skype back in the day when it was popular, I even had one of those funky Skype phones that you plugged into your computer using USB. I don’t use it anymore though, I can easily get a cheap “burn” SIM for a mobile phone and I have a couple of old Blackberry handsets in the house.

If you must know – an old Torch 9800 (touch screen, with a full keyboard hidden under a slider) and the Z10 (all touch screen) 

So, I really don’t need Skype anymore; I tried to remove it.

Problem 1: Skype is Connected to My Windows Account

Can't Unlink Skype

Problem 2: Cancel Skype and You (Apparently) Cancel Your Whole Microsoft Account

Let's Cancel Everything

Problem 3: I have Windows and Office 365 connected to that Microsoft Account

That is the problem with the joined up digital infrastructure though, you need to be able to add and remove subscriptions, like my old XBox Live – unsubscribed for a while – and Office 365.

…. and while I remember

Make sure, for the Meaning of Life, that you have kept your account recovery up to day! With my own problems, I heard from a friend yesterday (he is probably now thinking “That pillock is no friend of mine”) that he was spending his evening on Microsoft Live Chat because he could not get into his account… and his recovery e-mail was now defunct.

I feel; been there on other accounts before and had an ex-girlfriends name as the recover password.

Update: The great customer service at Microsoft meant that in order to recover access to the Microsoft account; my friend had to buy the expired domain and re-create the recovery e-mail. Additional cost for what should be an easy to solve problem.

So In Conclusion

  • Check your Microsoft / Apple / Android activity
  • Change Your Passwords regularly (I do that at least once a year anyway)
  • Don’t click on Skype links from me
  • Turn off Web Preview (for every damn thing)

*embarassed face*

Publishing From FitBit to Facebook

When I invested in my FitBit Blaze four months ago I wanted to do one thing; shame my body into shape. I wanted automation to stop me intervening in the process of telling all my friends how bad I was at eating, boozing and not exercising and it looked very promising. The problem is that FitBit was not as social as it is cracked up to be, and that was a dilemma.

What I am going to do here is show exactly what FitBit can, and can not, embarrass you with. I will also tell you how to get the rest in place.

Social Media and the FitBit Dashboard

So I use the FitBit dashboard mostly on my Samsung Note4 smartphone but you can use it on any Android device as well as a Trusted Windows App – I am not sure if it is ‘Trusted’ in the same way as Apple screen apps in their AppStore; but hey, it’s all marketing gimmicks.

Don’t Rely on Your Apps

The first really confusing issue that you can not manage your social media accounts through either the Android or the Windows Apps. What you have to do is log in to your FitBit account though the good old trusty web browser and in my case Google Chrome.

So I am going to skip through all the process of logging in and showing you how to do that… if you have a FitBit and you are already using an App of some kind then I am not going to teach you how to suck (healthy, good for you and great sunny-side up) eggs. The URL that you need to edit your sharing settings is

https://www.fitbit.com/user/profile/share

and you will come to a screen like this, albeit without my Twitter account information…. of course:

Sharing on the FitBit Dashboard

At this point you can go ahead and link your FitBit account to your Twitter and hey presto, select a daily or weekly tweet and it will be posted automatically to your Twitter account using the script that it shows you. Here is one of mine from recently:

Thankfully I don’t think that anyone really reads my Twitter account as I know some of my followers are FitBit users themselves, but they have never thought to become friends on my FitBit. It is kind of embarrassing when you still struggle to reach the dizzy heights of 10,000 steps on a daily basis!

Don’t Rely on FitBit at all!

Have you noticed what is missing though? Facebook! Apparently you used to be able to connect the two accounts together and automate the embarrassment process between your exercise ad your friends. I have as few interested friends on Facebook as I have on Twitter, so lets work out how to annoy them all.

Most importantly you are going to need another third-party software to help you, called IFTTT.

IF This Then That

IF This Then That (IFTTT) is a free web service that for the very basic can help you automated a few things, but for the more complex can help you automated your whole life and make things not only more productive, but give you more time about more things to be more productive about… still with me?

Good!

So, if you want to delve into the world of productivity and automation with IFTTT then have a good rummage as there are over 200 different channels (aka connectable apps and devices) that may interest you from your e-mail account and social media, to MailChimp, BMW and GE Appliances…. yes all that home automation you hear about taking over the world is almost all on IFTTT!

A Simple IFTTT Recipe

So what we want to do is post some FitBit information daily to our Facebook account. Well I do, so that is what I am going to show you to do. Just like with FitBit Dashboard, you need a new account for IFTTT, it does not need to be a matching e-mail address or the same password as you will be connecting your various accounts very shortly.

First Screen of a New IFTTT Account

If you are brand new to IFTTT then this is what you see. It looks really easy and you might want to explore the random first recipe that it generates for you (mine was IF the weather forecast says it will rain tomorrow THEN e-mail me)

The place where we want to start though is at https://ifttt.com/channels because we already know that we want to create a recipe with our FitBit and our Facebook accounts.

So to demonstrate how to connect your accounts, simply type FitBit into the search bar on the channels page and click on the FitBit icon when it appears and it will either already see your FitBit profile on your Windows App, or prompt you to connect with a bit Connect Button:

IFTTT & FitBit Connect

If you have not previously logged onto FitBit on your computer and allowed it to remain logged on, nor you use the FitBit App; then you will need to log on to your FitBit account and authorise IFTTT to work.

Likewise you need to connect your Facebook account to IFTTT, authorising it to post to your wall so that it can publish what you want everyone to see…. or not.

 

One Month – Four Drupal Install Failures – Lousy “webmaster”

I am at one of those crossroads. I have a website I want to experiment with on a development server but after one more more I still can not install a Drupal / CiviCRM server onto anything.

For those that do not know, I became the “webmaster” of a charity website when it launched 15 months ago. I use the term loosely as I took over the role because I knew the most about the website when we had professional developers build it; I have known for a long time though that I have struggled to really understand a lot of it.

So what I wanted to do was take a copy of my Drupal website and put them on a locally stored server, which only I have access to. It is a far safer prospect than hosting a copy on web-hosting somewhere and even after wiping the database of users, having our systems somewhere.

So what have I tried to do?

  • Install a XXAMP server on Windows
  • Install a WAMP server on Windows
  • Install on VirtualBox
  • Install on a cobbled together Linux box

None of them have really worked. The closest I ever got was with VirtualBox, which will be great fun for you to decipher and probably laugh at if it is something obvious!

Why Not Install Drupal on the Cloud?

There are some very good reasons why I do not want to install it on the cloud and access it remotely:

  • When I signed up for a programming course (on Udemy) I got a years free hosting, I then upgraded the course and got a second year. The problem is that I can not verify the integrity of the hosting, there is no indication where in the world the servers are based and with a substantial amount of database and website I doubt the hosting was designed as a dev space for something so large.
  • I would pay out for a dev space somewhere but I am completely clueless how to go about it. I installed some test folders on the web-hosting for the Golden Blog and did what I thought was protecting them, but I could still access them from the outside, not worth the risk. To go one step further and pay out for hosting that is then exposed to the outside world is not thinkable.
  • I also have to consider the cost. I am a volunteer for a charity and I don’t want to be costing them more money than they can afford. They spent a lot of money on this new website that we really should make good use of, but I have not got the skills to get this far, so how can I ask for more expenses?

 

Installing to a VirtualBox

VirtualBox is really good in that you can install it on a Windows 10 computer, install Linux on it and then access the “computer” from your computer. I tried this the most as I have a reasonably powerful gaming laptop (an MSI GS70-2PC if you are interested) but I can never get it working right.

So setting up an installation is easy, you define the sizes and it creates a space. You then install Linux (in this case the Ubuntu 14.04LTS 32 Bit) from an image you download from your Linux provider of choice. I can easily afford it 4GB of RAM and 100GB of HDD while doing this sort of thing so it has a good system to install on. Installing Linux is actually very similar to installing Windows so it is nothing too taxing, but that is where the ease ends.

Packages

Ubuntu Package SelectorThe first thing I had to work out was which packages I need to install.

I can’t find the source again that I originally read this on, but it made sense that I needed a file server, the Linux, Apache2, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) server and SSH so that I could upload everything as a Superuser. Okay, so I probably don’t need SSH as it is installed on a local machine.

I am happy to learn the Linux command line, I can be a bit of a script monkey at times so it is not that difficult to understand things one I have seen them a few times. The thing I have to make sure I do though is limit the connection to to VirtualBox installation to host-only rather than give it access to the internet.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

Importantly, I at least know how to update everything. I am learning how to run things from the command line as I go here! Thankfully I also have a free Udemy course to get through although to be honest some of it is already familiar.

I also had to then install phpmyadmin because…. well…. I forgot.

 Importing the Database

Amazingly, for the first time, while I have restarted from scratch so I can document the process; the two databases have both created as they should and I have managed to import them using phpmyadmin.

I have been getting a number of errors, the easiest of those to fix has been where I needed to increase the file upload and post size in /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini

Importing the Drupal Files

So the next thing on my list is to move the files into the Linux virtual machine. Firstly I have made sure that I have ownership of the /var/www/html directory rather than root, using

sudo chown -R username:username /var/www

and then copying the files from the extracted backup using FileZilla.

Making it All Work

to try and make it all work I needed to make a few changes that I know of, namely in the Drupal settings.php and civicrm.settings.php files to use the root access for my SQL install – …. yes I know…. it’s dangerous, but it is a local machine, I am going to have no personal information on there and my laptop and VM is password protected and encrypted.

So in settings.php I changed:

  • The username and password for the db array
  • Note: I used the same db names as on the production install

and in civicrm.settings.php I changed:

  • The username and passwords in
    • define( ‘CIVICRM_UF_DSN’
    • define( ‘CIVICRM_DSN’
  • The absolute paths for
    • global $civicrm_root;
    • ‘CIVICRM_TEMPLATE_COMPILEDIR’
  • Changed define( ‘CIVICRM_UF_BASEURL’ to the IP of the VM (on host-only)

So in theory when I go to the IP of the virtual machine I should be able to see a copy of the website back-up; but it simply directs to the Apache2 “welcome screen” and so I know I can see my server, but not my website.

Thanks also go to a Drupal specialist from the Netherlands who pointed out:

and prompted me to check my sites.php

install.php

So I know that I can now see something. I think that the install is having difficulty seeing settings.php or something because I am now getting prompted to install Drupal. A quick search of the Drupal manual made me realise that for some reason sites/default had not copied across, so doing so, changing all the various settings above again in sites/default/settings.php and civicrm.settings.php (and a few clicks later when I realised I had put in the new db username) and I get…..

A 500 error on Google Chrome

 

Installing on a Linux box

I have lots of computer parts that are simply lying around the house. So I assembled the best that I had spare to create something that I could at least install a minimal Linux installation on, knowing that it would certainly be much slower than VirtualBox, but accessible on my home LAN network.

The problem is… well it was not powerful enough for Ubuntu:

Core2Duo 1.86Ghz Processor
4GB RAM
250GB HDD
An old video card

Ubuntu apparently now needs a minimum of 2Ghz CPU in order to even install from a USB, let alone run. So I tried installing Ubuntu MATE, which is apparently a stripped down version. I managed to do a few things to get it running but I realised I was on a losing battle when I tried to remove the GUI – I don’t need it if I am running it as a server – and it simply stopped booting.

Once I re-installed Ubuntu Mate though it should be good enough for the wife to do some surfing from the lounge TV and stream media from the web.

 

So Drupal at the Moment

I am still no closer to what I should be seeing. I made a monumental mistake somewhere with the changes I made when I re-uploaded sites/default and that is where I am heading next. For now though, I am going to work; this voluntary webmaster business is good for the brain taxing, but doesn’t earn any pennies!

Review | FitBit Blaze – First Impressions

It’s rare that I get the chance to indulge in some tech spending, but I have just gone and bought myself a fitness tracker-come-smat watch to try and sort out my distinct lack of exercise.

Fitbit Blaze

Yes I know I go to the gym (and still usually three time a week) but I know I can do more.

So while I stress from trying to work out how to be a webmaster (yes I know…. I have not blogged on that for a while ) I de-stress by lifting weight.

So this is where I start ranting about things.

Continue reading “Review | FitBit Blaze – First Impressions”

When A Scheduled Announcement Goes Wrong

This morning I woke up with a headache. It was not because I was partying in London for the New Year, I am long past partying, but because a planned announcement on a website fell over.

Needless to say I did have a bottle of Prosecco open at 23:55 and it took me until 01:30 to finish it all.

So what was I trying to do with my Drupal? I thought it would be quite simple;

  • Unpublish four or five pieces of content – older things that simply got in the way
  • Publish 2 pages – both time sensitive
  • Use CiviMail to send out a mailshot to around 440 addresses
  • Re-direct an existing page to one of the new pages, on a 302 basis, for about a month.

On the basis of it, although that is a lot going on around the same time, it should not be that taxing for even a shared server.

What I was going to do was simply leave out the re-direct and push our social media efforts to promote the URL of the news article itself. I wish I had.

After posing the question in the Drupal Answers Stack Exchange forum, which is a really useful place to look if you are relatively green to Drupal, I was pointed towards using the rules module. I read it, I actually could see the logic and understanding of what the contributor Pierres Vriens was doing.

I tested it a number of times with test pages and it all seemed to work. So I implemented it for the live event.