Pardon my Dust

The Other Shoe…

OK, so I mentioned a few days ago that I updated my blog theme, and as a part of the process of revamping the blog, I also thought it might be a good time to add some better analytics, since the analytics suite used by default at my web host (who shall remain nameless, despite my temptation to call them out publicly) had started throwing 502 errors pretty much all the time.

I decided on the Piwik analytics platform, which was suggested by one of my peers. The good news is that Piwik is pretty straightforward to install, and despite my lack of familiarity with PHP and MySQL (ASP.NET is more my speed, given that I’ve written a few books about it), I was able to get it up and running reasonably quickly.

…Drops

Alas, that’s where the good news ends. Once installed, Piwik was showing me a warning suggesting that the version of PHP on my hosting account was out of date, and might not be supported for long, so I emailed my hoster to ask if they could update my site to a newer version. Initially they said no, but eventually agreed to update to a somewhat newer version (though not the newest). Unfortunately, in the process, they managed to completely break my Piwik install, and it took longer than I’d hoped to even get a reply to my email about it, and no estimate of when it might be fixed.

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit…it’s the only way to be sure

In the meantime, this here blog started acting up as well, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me, since it’s a completely separate web site on that hosting account, and various images started going missing. Then later this morning, it looked like none of my CSS was being loaded properly, which made for a whole mess of ugly. It also looked like jQuery wasn’t loading properly either (local version, not from a CDN). I started working through some potential backup plans*, while testing a local version of the blog, which seemed to be working fine. Eventually I simply copied over the data from the live site (so I’d have the most recent blog posts), and then backed up and nuked the live site. So if you tried to reach the blog this morning, and couldn’t get in, my apologies!

Once having nuked the old site, I uploaded a fresh copy of the site from my working local version, and thankfully was able to resolve the issues with the blog. Yay!

Nuke it again!

Having resolved the issues with the blog, I decided that rather than wait for the support folks at my hosting company to try to figure out what was wrong, I’d just nuke the stats site, and recreate it from scratch, since there wasn’t much data to lose. So I deleted the site data, deleted the old site, deleted the database, and started from scratch. The good news is that it worked, and I’m now able to see stats on my blog again. The bad news is that if Piwik does end up dropping support for the version of PHP on my account, I may have to go through all this again, or find alternate hosting.

Lessons Learned

While I could’ve done without the frustration of having to fix all this stuff, I did learn that it’s critical to have local backups of your sites. Had I not had a local copy of my blog, fixing the issues I encountered might have proven a lot more difficult. I will be making it a point to back things up on a regular basis. The amount of storage required is minimal, and the time it saved me was significant.

The other lesson is that you get what you pay for. I am using an inexpensive shared hosting plan. While that’s easy on my wallet, the downside is that support is a good deal more hit or miss when compared to higher-priced hosting options. I’ve used this hoster for several years now, and this is the biggest problem I’ve encountered during that time. But if I continue to encounter issues, I may need to expand my budget and go with someone that provides better support.

Thanks for your patience while I work out any remaining issues. Please let me know if you see any missing images or other irregularities, and I’ll address them ASAP.

* My backup plan consisted of getting versions of both sites up and running on Windows Azure web sites, which was fairly easy to do. If I had not already paid for two years in advance, I might be moving over to Azure Web Sites for hosting right now. The nice thing is that since both the sites I created are on the free tier, I can leave them in place and activate them on short notice, if the need arises.

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