Posted by Oli

Let’s have another go at this


Ok, so here's how it is. Every so often I have a hankering to start this here site / blog back up again. I have thoughts, you see. Some of them are intelligible. Most are not. I want somewhere to put them when they are, though. Twitter just doesn't always cut it.

So here we are again. I'm using my old Pelican site, still hosted on Webfaction - partly because I've been paying for it all this time so might as well use it. Mostly because I don't have the time to sit and migrate, recreate and generally mess around like I used to. This already exists, though I may fiddle a bit. We'll see.

Content won't be regular. It won't be on set topics. It won't always be...interesting, probably. So be it.

A note on why I decided to wipe the existing posts. Well, all but two. We'll come to that in a minute.

For starters, I wanted a fresh start. There was some giberish here before. Stuff posted for the sake of posting something. I don't want that, nobody wants that. There are, however, a few posts that were worthwhile, and while they are out of date in a few ways, they do get some traffic. The biggest of those is the one post that still exists - the post that was linked to by Marco Arment of Overcast, and Instapaper fame. That's not the kind of URL you want failing when people try to reach it for reasons that will be obvious if you read it.

You should, by the way.

I might be adding a few more posts back in - one or two that seem to be getting hits at the moment, for whatever reason - tidying the tags and such as I go. There won't be many, though.

So here we are. Hi. /waves.


Why Marco's (probably) wrong about home-hosting

Both Marco Arment and Brent Simmons have been in something of a dialogue of late, discussing the various benefits of running your own server over having it managed by someone else such as Amazon Web Services. There are undoubtedly plenty of reasons to go either route, and I wouldn't want to get in the middle of such an argument, especially considering I neither develop apps nor have a clue about where to even start.

What did catch my eye during Marco's latest post on the subject though is the way he suggests that anyone running a server from home is 'doing it wrong' and that they should 'start over.'

(Also, while I know Brent knows this, to be perfectly clear to everyone else: if you’re running a public-facing server in your house, office, or anywhere except a datacenter, you’re doing it wrong. Start over.)

Now I'll argue against that until I'm blue in the face. The comment came after Simmons said that at one point his blog was running on a machine running at his home - something that obviously isn't the case now. But he did it early on in his career, and there's nothing wrong with that. We all need to learn.

Very early in my career I ran one of these in my bedroom behind an ISDN connection. It would crash once or twice a week. I ran a system extension (I forget the name) that automatically rebooted in case of a crash. Sometimes this happened at 4 am and we’d wake up in panic at the sound of the Macintosh startup chime.

As I've probably mentioned before, this blog/website/rarely viewed collection of musings is also running on my home server. To be more accurate, it's a Pelican install that's running in an Ubuntu-based VM. And, assuming you're reading this, it works just fine.

It works fine because at the end of it all, this is here as a way of me learning things. It's taught me more about virtual machines than I could have picked up from reading. It's taught me how to configure Apache (well, I try!) and it's taught me how to install Pelican as well as pick up some basic PHP skills to boot. And it's cost me nothing except the electricity the host machine uses. But that's on anyway because it's where all my backups live, so there's that.

I'm sure Marco meant to qualify his comment, and that he meant that people are doing it wrong if they're running a business, or that they're getting hundreds of thousands of hits a day. I'm doing neither of those things, and most of you reading this aren't either. This site never goes down unless I break it, but that's what VM snapshots are for, and another reason I like to have everything within touching distance rather than on a machine in a data centre somewhere.

My fear is that people will read Marco's comments and not try things out because they were told not to. I've nothing but respect for Marco - how many businesses have I built and sold? - but I do hope that his semi-elitest slant on things doesn't stop someone from playing, someone from learning or someone from honing new skills because they can't afford to get a host elsewhere. After all, VPSes etc can be daunting when starting out, too.

Home servers have a place, and certainly a use for many. Myself included.

Of course, if Marco was to get wind of this and tweet a link to it then the chances are none of you will be able to read it thanks to my home broadband connection falling over long before the VM does.

But that's never going to happen, is it?

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Why the awesome Bonjour Sleep Proxy is... awesome.

Every so often I come across something that I somehow managed to miss the first time around. Rarely, it's something that is so awesome that I then spend the next few hours reading everything I can find online that even remotely links to it.

Today, that thing was Bonjour Sleep Proxy.

Sometimes also simply referred to as Sleep Proxy, I stumbled upon this little gem earlier today, completely by accident. Here's the background...

iStat Server

I've been playing around with Bjango's excellent iStat Server software that allows me to, thanks to the accompanying iOS app, monitor my Windows server and MacBook from anywhere. CPU usage, disk usage, network traffic, processes - you get the idea.

What I noticed when monitoring the MacBook was that even when the Mac was asleep, I could still see up-to-date stats. I assumed that the MacBook was simply being woken up via WOL, so I wandered into the office to have a look. The screen was off. The external monitor was in standby. But the standby indicator on the MacBook itself wasn't flashing. Something was afoot!

iStat for iOS

So, fast-forward to now, and a few hours of Googling later. The answer, apparently, is Bonjour Sleep Proxy.

From what I can glean, and I've been doing this while trying to keep a 15-month old from wrecking our house1 so I'm still a bit sketchy, any Bonjour advertised service can 'Dark Wake' a Mac assuming you have a Sleep Proxy in place. And it turns out I do, even if I didn't know about it.

According to Apple's own resources:

... works by partnering with a Bonjour Sleep Proxy running on your AirPort Base Station, Time Capsule or Apple TV (when no AirPort Base Station or Time Capsule is present on the network). Note: Apple TV will act as a Bonjour Sleep Proxy even if it is in sleep mode.

I told you it was magic.

So, to cut an already long story short, it seems that when I launch the iStat app on my iPhone or iPad the Apple TV knows where my MacBook is on the network, and asks it to allow access to the required Bonjour service - the iStat Server in this instance. The beauty of the whole thing is that the Mac never wakes up. At least, not properly. Oh, and once you're done using the service, OS X puts the Mac back to sleep.

The upshot of all this is that you can have a shared printer, or an iTunes library, or just a shared drive that can be accessible even if your Mac is asleep. It works for SSH too, for those of us that like that kind of thing. If not, screen sharing works as well.

Now if none of that made too much sense, allow me to point you to Stuart Cheshire. The website doesn't seem to have been updated in quite some time, but from his LinkedIn profile it seems he works at Apple. And he knows is....Apples, too.

I can't be the only person that didn't know this existed, can I?

  1. And I managed it too. For the most part. 

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