Changing to web fonts

While you can add Windows fonts to Linux installations, I have found that their display can be flaky to say the least. Linux Mint and Ubuntu display them as sharp as I’d like but I have struggled to get the same sort of results from Arch Linux while I am not so sure about Fedora or openSUSE either.

That has caused me to look at web fonts for my websites with Google Web Fonts doing what I need with both Open Sans and Arimo doing what I need so far. There have been others with which I have dallied, such as Droid Sans, but these are the ones on which I have settled for now. Both are in use on this website now and I added calls for them to the web page headers using the following code (lines are wrapping due to space constraints):

<link href=”http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:300italic,400italic,600italic,700italic,400,300,600,700” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css“>
<link href=’http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Arimo:400,400italic,700,700italic‘ rel=’stylesheet‘ type=’text/css‘>

With those lines in place, it then is a matter of updating font-family and font declarations in CSS style sheets with “Open Sans” or “Arimo” as needed while keeping alternatives defined in case the Google font service goes down for whatever reason. A look at a development release of the WordPress Twenty Twelve theme caused me to come across Open Sans and I like it for its clean lines and Arimo, which was found by looking through the growing Google Web Fonts catalogue, is not far behind. Looking through that catalogue now causes for me a round of indecision since there is so much choice. For that reason, I think it better to be open to the recommendations of others.

Sorting out MySQL on Arch Linux

Seeing Arch Linux running so solidly in a VirtualBox virtual box has me contemplating whether I should have it installed on a real PC. Saying that, recent announcements regarding the implementation of GNOME 3 in Linux Mint have caught my interest even if the idea of using a rolling distribution as my main home operating system still has a lot of appeal for me. Having an upheaval come my way every six months when a new version of Linux Mint is released is the main cause of that.

While remaining undecided, I continue to evaluate the idea of Arch Linux acting as my main OS for day-to-day home computing. Towards that end, I have set up a working web server instance on there using the usual combination of Apache, Perl, PHP and MySQL. Of these, it was MySQL that went the least smoothly of all because the daemon wouldn’t start for me.

It was then that I started to turn to Google for inspiration and a range of actions resulted that combined to give the result that I wanted. One problem was a lack of disk space caused by months of software upgrades. Since tools like it in other Linux distros allow you to clear some disk space of obsolete installation files, I decided to see if it was possible to do the same with pacman, the Arch Linux command line package manager. The following command, executed as root, cleared about 2 GB of cruft for me:

pacman -Sc

The S in the switch tells pacman to perform package database synchronization while the c instructs it to clear its cache of obsolete packages. In fact, using the following command as root every time an update is performed both updates software and removes redundant or outmoded packages:

pacman -Syuc

So I don’t forget the needful housekeeping, this will be what I use in future with the y being the switch for a refresh and the u triggering a system upgrade. It’s nice to have everything happen together without too much effort.

To do the required debugging that led me to the above along with other things, I issued the following command:

mysqld_safe --datadir=/var/lib/mysql/ &

This starts up the MySQL daemon in safe mode if all is working properly and it wasn’t in my case. Nevertheless, it creates a useful log file called myhost.err in /var/lib/mysql/. This gave me the messages that allowed the debugging of what was happening. It led me to installing net-tools and inettools using pacman; it was the latter of these that put hostname on my system and got the MySQL server startup a little further along. Other actions included unlocking the ibdata1 data file and removing the ib_logfile0 and ib_logfile1 files so as to gain something of a clean sheet. The kill command was used to shut down any lingering mysqld sessions too. To ensure that the ibdata1 file was unlocked, I executed the following commands:

mv ibdata1 ibdata1.bad
cp -a ibdata1.bad ibdata1

These renamed the original and then crated a new duplicate of it with the -a switch on the cp command forcing copying with greater integrity than normal. Along with the various file operations, I also created a link to my.cnf, the MySQL configuration file on Linux systems, in /etc using the following command executed by root:

ln -s /etc/mysql/ my.cnf /etc/my.cnf

While I am unsure if this made a real difference, uncommenting the lines in the same file that pertained to InnoDB tables. What directed me to these were complaints from mysqld_safe in the myhost.err log file. All I did was to uncomment the lines beginning with “innodb” and these were 116-118, 121-122 and 124-127 in my configuration file but it may be different in yours.

After all the above, the MySQL daemon ran happily and, more importantly, started when I rebooted the virtual machine. Thinking about it now, I believe that was a lack of disk space, the locking of a data file and the lack of InnoDB support that was stopping the MySQL service from running.Running commands like mysqld start weren’t yielding useful messages so a lot of digging was needed to get the result that I needed. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I am sharing my experiences here.

In the end, creating databases and loading them with data was all that was needed for me to start see functioning websites on my (virtual) Arch Linux system. It turned out to be another step on the way to making it workable as a potential replacement for the Linux distributions that I use most often (Linux Mint, Fedora and Ubuntu).

A waiting game

Having been away every weekend in July, I was looking forward to a quiet one at home to start August. However, there was a problem with one of my websites hosted by Fasthosts that was set to occupy me for the weekend and a few weekday evenings afterwards.

The issue appeared to be slow site response so I followed advice given to me by second line support when this website displayed the same type of behaviour: upgrade from Apache 1.3 to 2.2 using the control panel. Unfortunately for me, that didn’t work smoothly at all and there seemed to be serious file loss as a result. Raising a ticket with the support desk only got me the answer that I had to wait for completion and I now have come to the conclusion that the migration process may have got stuck somewhere along the way. Maybe another ticket is in order.

There were a number of causes of the waiting that gave rise to the title of this post. Firstly, support for low costing isn’t exactly timely and I do wonder if it’s any better for more prominent websites. Restoration of websites by FTP is another activity that takes up plenty of time as does rebuilding databases and populating them with data. Lastly, there’s changing the DNS details for a website. In hindsight, there may be ways of reducing the time demands of these. For instance, contacting a support team by telephone may be quicker unless there is a massive queue awaiting attention and there was a wait of several hours one night when a security changeover affected a multitude of Fasthosts users. Of course, it is not a panacea at the best of times as we have known since all those stories began to do the rounds in the middle of the 1990’s. Doing regular backups would help the second though the ones that I was using for the restoration weren’t too bad at all. Nevertheless, they weren’t complete so there was unfinished business that required resolution later. The last of these is helped along by more regular PC restarts so that unexpected discovery will remain a lesson for the future though I don’t plan on moving websites around for a while. After all, getting DNS details propagated more quickly really is a big help.

While awaiting a response from Fasthosts, I began to ponder the idea of using an alternative provider. Perusal of the latest digital edition of .Net (I now subscribe to the non-paper edition so as to cut down on the clutter caused by having paper copies about the place) ensued before I decided to investigate the option of using Webfusion. Having decided to stick with shared hosting, I gave their Unlimited Linux option a go. For someone accustomed to monthly billing, it was unusual to see annual biannual and triannual payment schemes too. The first of these appears to be the default option so a little care and attention is needed if you want something else. In order to encourage you to stay with Webfusion longer, the per month is on sliding scale: the longer the period you buy, the lower the cost of a month’s hosting.

Once the account was set up, I added a database and set to the long process of uploading files from my local development site using FileZilla. Having got a MySQL backup from the Fasthosts site, I used the provided PHPMyAdmin interface to upload the data in pieces not exceeding the 8 MB file size limitation. It isn’t possible to connect remotely to the MySQL server using the likes of MySQL Administrator so I bear with this not so smooth process. SSH is another connection option that isn’t available but I never use it much on Fasthosts sites anyway. There were some questions to the support people along and the first of these got a timely answer though later ones took longer before I got an answer. Still, getting advice on the address of the test website was a big help while I was sorting out the DNS changeover.

Speaking of the latter, it took a little doing and not little poking around Webfusion’s FAQ’s before I made it happen. First, I tried using name servers that I found listed in one of the articles but this didn’t seem to achieve the end that I needed. Mind you, I would have seen the effects of this change a little earlier if I had rebooted my PC earlier than I did than I did but it didn’t occur to me at the time. In the end, I switched to using my domain provider’s name servers and added the required information to them to get things going. It was then that my website was back online in some fashion so I could any outstanding loose ends.

With the site essentially operating again, it was time to iron out the rough edges. The biggest of these was that MOD_REWRITE doesn’t seem to work the same on the Webfusion server like it does on the Fasthosts ones. This meant that I needed to use the SCRIPT_URI CGI variable instead of PATH_INFO in order to keep using clean URL’s for a PHP-powered photo gallery that I have. It took me a while to figure that out and I felt much better when I managed to get the results that I needed. However, I also took the chance to tidy up site addresses with redirections in my .htaccess file in an attempt to ensure that I lost no regular readers, something that I seem to have achieved with some success because one such visitor later commented on a new entry in the outdoors blog.

Once any remaining missing images were instated or references to them removed, it was then time to do a full backup for sake of safety. The first of these activities was yet another consumer while the second didn’t take so long and I need to do this more often in case anything happens. Hopefully though, the relocated site’s performance continues to be as solid as it is now.

The question as to what to do with the Fasthosts webspace remains outstanding. Currently, they are offering free upgrades to existing hosting packages so long as you commit for a year. After my recent experience, I cannot say that I’m so sure about doing that kind of thing. In fact, the observation leaves me wondering if instating that very extension was the cause of breaking my site. In fact, it appears that the migration from Apache 1.3 to 2.2 seems to have got stuck for whatever reason. Maybe another ticket should be raised but I am not decided on that yet. All in all, what happened to that Fasthosts website wasn’t the greatest of experiences but the service offered by Webfusion is rock solid thus far. While wondering if the service from Fasthosts wasn’t as good as it once was, I’ll keep an open mind and wait to see if my impressions change over time.

Tinkering with Textpattern

Textpattern 5 may be on the way but that isn’t to say that work on the 4.x branch is completely stopped though it is less of a priority at the moment. After all, version 4.40 was slipped out not so long ago as a security release, a discovery that I made while giving a section of my outdoors website a spring refresh. During that activity, the TinyMCE plugin started to grate with its issuing of error messages in the form of dialogue boxes needing user input to get rid of them every time an article was opened or saved. Because of that nuisance, the guilty hak_tinymce plugin was ejected with joh_admin_ckeditor replacing it and bringing CKEditor into use for editing my Textpattern articles. It is working well though the narrow editing area is causing the editor toolbars to take up too much vertical space but you can resize the editor to solve this though it would be better if it could be made to remember those size settings.

Another find was atb_editarea, a plugin that colour codes (X)HTML, PHP and CSS by augmenting the standard text editing for pages and stylesheets in the Presentation part of the administration interface. If I had this at the start of my redesign, it would have made doing the needful that bit more user-friendly than the basic editing facilities that Textpattern offers by default. Of course, the tinkering never stops so there’s no such thing as finding something too late in the day for it to be useful.

Textpattern may not be getting the attention that some of its competitors are getting but it isn’t being neglected either; its users and developer community see to that. Saying that, it needs to get better at announcing new versions of the CMS so they don’t slip by the likes of me who isn’t looking all the time. With a major change of version number involved, curiosity is aroused as what is coming next. So far, Textpattern appears to be taking an evolutionary course and there’s a lot to be said for such an approach.

Changing to CKEditor from FCKEditor for WordPress Content Editing

The post editor that I have been using on my WordPress-powered outdoors blog has not been TinyMCE but FCKEditor. My use of that editor has meant that WordPress’ autosave and word counting features have not been available to me but that was my choice, as strange as it will sound to some. However, there have been times when I have missed the autosaving functionality and lost work. Since FCKEditor has been replaced by CKEditor, there are plugins available for adding that editor to WordPress’ administration interface. Recently, I got to replacing the old FCKEditor plugin with a newer CKEditor one and that has gained me post or page autosaving. The more cosmetic word counting feature is not active until a draft is manually saved but I can live with that. Other than that, the interface remains familiar with all (X)HTML tags on show in the source code view without any being hidden away from view like in WordPress’ implementation of TinyMCE. That isn’t to see that WordPress is doing something wrong but just that there are alternative way of doing things that are equally valid. After all, why would there be choices if there only ever was one right way to do anything?

Like any WordPress plugins, those replacing the default content editor in WordPress can be vulnerable to changes in the publishing platform and there is one of those in the pipeline for 3.2: a minimalist post/page editor that is billed as being non-distracting. That planned new feature is drawing inspiration from the likes of QuietWrite, where you can write content and transfer it over to WordPress or leave it where it was written. Even with bigger changes like this, my experience never has been that design decisions made for new WordPress releases have restricted to any great extent how I use the thing. That’s not to say that my usage hasn’t changed over time but I have felt that any decisions were mine to make and not all made for me. In that light, I can foresee CKEditor continuing to work on WordPress 3.2 but I’ll be doing some testing ahead of time to be sure that is the case.