Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Minimum viable product?

31st October 2022

While I have done my styling for websites that I have, this one has used third-party themes since its inception. This approach does have its advantages because you can benefit from the efforts of others; it can be a way to get added functionality and gain an appearance that is more contemporary in feel.

Naturally, there also are drawbacks. Getting the desired appearance can be challenging without paying for it, and your tastes may not match current fashions. Then, there are restrictions on customisation. Where user interfaces are available, these cannot be limitless. A fallback is to tweak code but ever-increasing complexity hampers that and an automated update can erase a modification, even if child themes are a possibility on at least one content management system.

For me, the drawbacks now outweigh the advantages so I have created my own design and that is what you now see. Behind the scenes, there is a back-to-basics approach and everything should look brighter. As the title of this post suggests, this is a start with further tweaks coming in time. For now, I hope that what you find will be sufficient to please.

Changing the Ansible Vault editor from Vi to Nano

15th August 2022

Recently, I got to experimenting with Ansible after reading about the orchestration tool in a copy of Admin magazine. It came in handy for updating a few web servers that I have as well as updating my main Linux workstation. For the former, automated entry of SSH passwords sufficed but the same did not apply for sudo usage on my local machine. This meant that I needed to use Ansible Vault to store the administrator password and doing so opened up a file in the Vi editor. since I am not familiar with Vi and wanted to get things sorted quickly, I fancied using something more user-friendly like Nano.

Doing this meant adding the following line to .bashrc:

export EDITOR=nano

Saving and closing the file followed by reloading the session set me up for what was needed.

Upgrading from OpenMediaVault 5.x to OpenMediaVault 6.x

8th June 2022

Having an older PC to upgrade, I decided to install OpenMediaVault on there a few years ago after adding in 6 TB and 4 TB hard drives for storage, a Gigabit network card to speed up backups and a new BeQuiet! power supply to make it quieter. It has been working smoothly since then and the release of OpenMediaVault 6.x had me wondering how to move to it.

Usefully, I enabled an SSH service for remote logins and set up an account for anything that I needed to do. This includes upgrades, taking backups of what is on my NAS drives and even shutting down the machine when I am done with what I need to do with it.

Using an SSH session, the first step was to switch to the administrator account and issue the following command to ensure that my OpenMediaVault 5.x installation was as up to date as it could be:

omv-update

Once that had completed what it needed to do, the next step was to do the upgrade itself with the following command:

omv-release-upgrade

With that complete, it was time to reboot the system and I fired up the web administration interface and spotted a kernel update that I applied. Again the system was restarted and further updates were noticed and these were applied, again through the web interface. The whole thing is based on Debian 11.x but I am not complaining since it quietly does exactly what I need of it.

Removing obsolete libraries from Flatpak

1st February 2020

Along with various pieces of software, Flatpak also installs KDE and GNOME libraries needed to support them. However, it does not always remove obsolete versions of those libraries whenever software gets updated. One result is that messages regarding obsolete versions of GNOME may be issued and this has been known to cause confusion because there is the GNOME instance that is part of a Linux distro like Ubuntu and using Flatpak adds another one for its software packages to use. My use of Linux Mint may lesson the chances of misunderstanding.

Thankfully, executing a single command will remove any obsolete Flatpak libraries so the messages no longer appear and there then is no need to touch your actual Linux installation. This then is the command that sorted it for me:

flatpak uninstall --unused && sudo flatpak repair

The first part that removes any unused libraries is run as a normal user so there is no error in the above command. Administrative privileges are needed for the second section that does any repairs that are needed. It might be better if Flatpak did all this for you using the update command but that is not how the thing works. At least, there is a quick way to address this state of affairs and there might be some good reasons for having things work as they do.

Ensuring that Flatpak remains up to date on Linux Mint 19.2

25th October 2019

The Flatpak concept offers a useful way of getting the latest version of software like LibreOffice or GIMP on Linux machines because repositories are managed conservatively when it comes to the versions of included software. Ubuntu has Snaps, which are similar in concept. Both options bundle dependencies with the packaged software so that its operation can use later versions of system libraries that what may be available with a particular distribution.

However, even Flatpak depends on what is available through the repositories for a distribution as I found when a software update needed a version of the tool. The solution was to add PPA using the following command and agreeing to the prompts that arise (answering Y, in other words):

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alexlarsson/flatpak

With the new PPA instated, the usual apt commands were used to update the Flatpak package and continue with the required updates. Since then, all has gone smoothly as expected.

Fixing an update error in OpenMediaVault 4.0

10th June 2019

For a time, I found that executing the command omv-update in OpenMediaVault 4.0 produced the following Python errors appeared among other more benign messages:

Exception ignored in: <function WeakValueDictionary.__init__.<locals>.remove at 0xb7099d64>
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/lib/python3.5/weakref.py", line 117, in remove
TypeError: 'NoneType' object is not callable
Exception ignored in: <function WeakValueDictionary.__init__.<locals>.remove at 0xb7099d64>
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/lib/python3.5/weakref.py", line 117, in remove
TypeError: 'NoneType' object is not callable

Not wanting a failed update, I decided that I needed to investigate this and found that /usr/lib/python3.5/weakref.py required the following updates to lines 109 and 117, respectively:

def remove(wr, selfref=ref(self), _atomic_removal=_remove_dead_weakref):

_atomic_removal(d, wr.key)

To be more clear, the line beginning with “def” is how line 109 should appear while the line beginning with _atomic_removal is how line 117 should appear. Once the required edits were made and the file closed, re-running omv-update revealed that the problem was fixed and that is how things remain at the time of writing.

Moving a website from shared hosting to a virtual private server

24th November 2018

This year has seen some optimisation being applied to my web presences guided by the results of GTMetrix scans. It is was then that I realised how slow things were so server loads were reduced. Anything that slowed response times, such as WordPress plugins, got removed. Matomo usage also was curtailed in favour of Google Analytics while HTML, CSS and JS minification followed. What had not happened was a search for a faster server and another website has been moved onto a virtual private server (VPS) to see how that would go.

Speed was not the only consideration since security was a factor too. After all, a VPS is more locked away from other users that a folder on a shared server. There also is the added sense of control so Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates can be added using the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Certbot. That avoids the expense of using an SSL certificate provided through my shared hosting provider and a successful transition for my travel website may mean that this one undergoes the same move.

For the VPS, I chose Ubuntu 18.04 as its operating system and it came with the LAMP stack already in place. Have offload development websites, the mix of Apache, MySQL and PHP is more familiar to me than anything using Nginx or Python. It also means that .htaccess files become more useful than they were on my previous Nginx-based platform. Having full access to the operating system by means of SSH helps too and should mean that I have less calls on technical support since I can do more for myself. Any extra tinkering should not affect others either since this type of setup is well known to me and having an offline counterpart means that anything riskier is tried there beforehand.

Naturally, there were niggles to overcome with the move. The first to fix was to make the MySQL instance accept calls from outside the server so that I could migrate data there from elsewhere and I even got my shared hosting setup to start using the new database to see what performance boost it might give. To make all this happen, I first found the location of the relevant my.cnf configuration file using the following command:

find / -name my.cnf

Once I had the right file, I commented out the following line that it contained and restarted the database service afterwards using another command to stop the appearance of any error 111 messages:

bind-address 127.0.0.1
service mysql restart

After that, things worked as required and I moved onto another matter: uploading the requisite files. That meant installing an FTP server so I chose proftpd since I knew that well from previous tinkering. Once that was in place, file transfer commenced.

When that was done, I could do some testing to see if I had an active web server that loaded the website. Along the way, I also instated some Apache modules like mod-rewrite using the a2enmod command, restarting Apache each time I enabled another module.

Then, I discovered that Textpattern needed php-7.2-xml installed so the following command was executed to do this:

apt install php7.2-xml

Then, the following line was uncommented in the correct php.ini configuration file that I found using the same method as that described already for the my.cnf configuration and that was followed by yet another Apache restart:

extension=php_xmlrpc.dll

Addressing the above issues yield enough success for me to change the IP address in my Cloudflare dashboard so it point at the VPS and not the shared server. The changeover happened seamlessly without having to await DNS updates as once would have been the case. It had the added advantage of making both WordPress and Textpattern work fully.

With everything working to my satisfaction, I then followed the instructions on Certbot to set up my new Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate. Aside from a tweak to a configuration file and another Apache restart, the process was more automated than I had expected so I was ready to embark on some fine tuning to embed the new security arrangements. That meant updating .htaccess files and Textpattern has its own so the following addition was needed there:

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on
RewriteRule ^ https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

This complemented what was already in the main .htaccess file and WordPress allows you include http(s) in the address it uses so that was another task completed. The general .htaccess only needed the following lines to be added:

RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.assortedexplorations.com/$1 [R,L]

What all these achieve is to redirect insecure connections to secure ones for every visitor to the website. After that, internal hyperlinks without https needed updating along with any forms so that a padlock sign could be shown for all pages.

With the main work completed, it was time to sort out a lingering niggle regarding the appearance of an FTP login page every time a WordPress installation or update was requested. The main solution was to make the web server account the owner of the files and directories but the following line was added to wp-config.php as part of the fix even if it probably is not necessary:

define('FS_METHOD', 'direct');

There also was the non-operation of WP Cron and that was addressed using WP-CLI and a script from Bjorn Johansen. To make double sure of its effectiveness, the following was added to wp-config.php to turn off the usual WP-Cron behaviour:

define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true);

Intriguingly, WP-CLI offers a long list of possible commands that are worth investigating. A few have been examined but more await attention.

Before those, I still need to get my new VPS to send emails. So far, sendmail has been installed, the hostname changed from localhost and the server restarted. More investigations are needed but what I have not is faster that what was there before so the effort has been rewarded already.

Updating Flatpack applications on Linux Mint 19

10th August 2018

Since upgrading to Linux Mint 19, I have installed some software from Flatpack. The cause for my curiosity was that you could have the latest versions of applications like GIMP or Libreoffice without having to depend on a third-party PPA. Installation is straightforward given the support built into Linux Mint. You just need to download the relevant package from the Flatpack website and running the file through the GUI installer. Because the packages come with extras to ensure cross-compatibility, more disk space is used but there is no added system overhead beyond that from what I have seen. Updating should be as easy as running the following single command too:

flatpack update

However, I needed to do a little extra work before this was possible. The first step was to update the configuration file at ~/.local/share/flatpak/repo/config to add the following lines:

[remote "flathub"]
gpg-verify=true
gpg-verify-summary=true
url=https://flathub.org/repo/
xa.title=Flathub

Once that was completed, I ran the following commands to import the required GPG key:

wget https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.gpg
flatpak --user remote-modify --gpg-import=flathub.gpg flathub

With this complete, I was able to run the update process and update any applications as necessary. After that first run, it has been integrated in to my normal processes by adding the command to the relevant alias definition.

Sorting out sluggish start-up and shutdown times in Linux Mint 19

9th August 2018

The Linux Mint team never pushes anyone into upgrading to the latest version of their distribution but curiosity often is strong enough an impulse to make me do just that. When it brings me across some rough edges, then the wisdom of leaving things alone is evident. Nevertheless, doing so also brings its share of learning and that is what I am sharing in this post. It also also me to collect a number of titbits that may be of use to others.

Again, I went with the in-situ upgrade option though the addition of the Timeshift backup tool means that it is less frowned upon than once would have been the case. It worked well too part from slow start-up and shutdown times so I set about track down the causes on the two machines that I have running Linux Mint. As it happens, the cause was different on each machine.

On one PC, it was networking that holding up things. The cause was my specifying a fixed IP address in /etc/network/interfaces instead of using the Network Settings GUI tool. Resetting the configuration file back to its defaults and using the Cinnamon settings interface took away the delays. It was inspecting /var/log/boot.log that highlighted problem so that is worth checking if I ever encounter slow start times again.

As I mentioned earlier, the second PC had a very different problem though it also involved a configuration file. What had happened was that /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/resume contained the wrong UUID for my system’s swap drive so I was seeing messages like the following:

W: initramfs-tools configuration sets RESUME=UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>
W: but no matching swap device is available.
I: The initramfs will attempt to resume from <specified file system location>
I: (UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>)
I: Set the RESUME variable to override this.

Correcting the file and executing the following command fixed the issue by updating the affected initramfs image for all installed kernels and speeded up PC start-up times:

sudo update-initramfs -u -k all

Though it was not a cause of system sluggishness, I also sorted another message that I kept seeing during kernel updates and removals on both machines. This has been there for a while and causes warning messages about my system locale not being recognised. The problem has been described elsewhere as follows: /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/root_locale is expecting to see individual locale directories in /usr/lib/locale but locale-gen is configured to generate an archive file by default.  Issuing the following command sorted that:

sudo locale-gen --purge --no-archive

Following these, my new Linux Mint 19 installations have stabilised with more speedy start-up and shutdown times. That allows me to look at what is on Flathub to see what applications and if they get updated to the latest version on an ongoing basis. That may be a topic for another entry on here but the applications that I have tried work well so far.

Halting constant disk activity on a WD My Cloud NAS

6th June 2018

Recently, I noticed that the disk in my WD My Cloud NAS was active all the time so it reminded me of another time when this happened. Then, I needed to activate the SSH service on the device and log in as root with the password welc0me. That default password was changed before doing anything else. Since the device runs on Debian Linux, that was a simple case of using the passwd command and following the prompts. One word of caution is in order since only root can be used for SSH connections to a WD My Cloud NAS and any other user that you set up will not have these privileges.

The cause of all the activity was two services: wdmcserverd and wdphotodbmergerd. One way to halt their actions is to stop the services using these commands:

/etc/init.d/wdmcserverd stop
/etc/init.d/wdphotodbmergerd stop

The above act only works until the next system restart so these command should make for a more persistent disabling of the culprits:

update-rc.d -f wdmcserverd remove
update-rc.d -f wdphotodbmergerd remove

If all else fails, removing executable privileges from the normally executable files that the services need will work and it is a solution that I have tried with success between system updates:

cd /etc/init.d
chmod 644 wdmcserverd
reboot

Between all of these, it should be possible to have you WD My Cloud NAS go into power saving mode as it should though turning off additional services such as DLNA may be what some need to do. Having turned off these already, I only needed to disable the photo thumbnail services that were the cause of my machine’s troubles.

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