turns one

The ancient druidic belief is that on Halloween night demons and evil spirits roamed the earth with joy. Halloween 2016 made me wonder if demons infiltrated cyberspace and danced with Unix daemons of our web server.

Our development team of two – the Chair and Vice Chair of the IEEE Long Island Computer Society Chapter – just completed the new website. We moved from a static website, hard to manage and requiring a knowledge of web-design, to a WordPress-based Content Management System (CMS). WordPress is the most popular open source content management system, used in almost 100 million websites. Myriads of plugins and templates power a flexible and simple interface, which reduces cost and deployment time. Most importantly, it allows every registered user to post articles and content with no need to know HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or any of the web design technologies. The new website created a good way to allow the Section’s Executive Committee members who wish to do so to connect better with the section’s membership base, and a great way for professional engineers and volunteers to showcase and share their knowledge.

WordPress requires a database. We used MySQL, a new element not being used on the old and static website. Since the new website went live in May 2016, it occasionally misbehaved. The database connection would be interrupted from time to time, and on one occasion this caused database corruption. The development team of two stretched the time overnight to restore corrupted data. We asked for the assistance from the hosting company but received only an opinion that our design is, in a way, too complex and that we use plugins that are possibly not stable. Our team did not agree. We analyzed the problems further and found that the database Unix daemon stops from time to time. There was evidently a problem on the hosting server.

On the Halloween night of 2016, the database daemon not only stopped but caused another large corruption of the database. The only way to recover was to reach for the backup. The situation was unsustainable; we had to do something, do it fast. Metodi Filipov, the long-year Chair and Vice Chair of our Computer Society Chapter, making up 50% of the development team, suggested we move to Digital Ocean. And so we did. Digital Ocean is a hosting company offering virtual servers called ‘droplets.’ We spun a new droplet, configured it for our needs, installed WordPress, moved the database, and set up a copy of the website on the new virtual server. It did take several hours, but all-in-all, it was fast, and with no problems. The necessary security hardening was pretty fast, too, so the new server was ready to go by the morning of the All Saints Day 2016. All that was needed was a DNS zone change.

Normally an easy task, the DNS zone change is when we hit the hurdle. For non-technical reasons, our initial change of DNS zone for the existing domain was reverted. With not available, we had to use something else to make the website accessible. In the team’s view, was not a good choice anyway. The top-level domain “.li,” for Liechtenstein (reference: ISO 3166 standard), managed by the registrar in Switzerland, did not look like a proper choice. What if there is an IEEE Section in Liechtenstein? We hijacked a domain that they should be using. IEEE itself is using dot-org (.org) domain, which is designed to be used by organizations. When you google or bing for IEEE Long Island organization, it is unlikely that ‘li’ would translate to ‘Long Island.’ We went to search for an obvious alternative: IEEE Long Island at dot-org. was available. We snatched it, configured the DNS zone, and our new website was live on on November 01, 2016. That was precisely a year ago.

Happy birthday number 1,

By Davor Dokonal, Editor – Pulse of Long Island, Vice Chair – Computer Society Chapter, member of the Web Development and Support team

Image: A logo of BSD Unix distro – The BSD daemon, also called Beastie (a near homophone of the letters B-S-D pronounced slurred together),  drawn by John Lasseter.  Copyright Marshall Kirk McKusick.

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