DreamHost Testing New Rails Deployment

April 16th, 2008

Apparently DreamHost have been beta testing Phusion Passenger – a new and interesting mod_rails deployment tool – and so involved in the development, that they are mentioned in the release notes.

According to their website, Phusion Passenger makes deployment of applications built on the Ruby on Rails web framework a breeze, because:

  • Deployment is only a matter of uploading application files. No Ruby on Rails-specific server configuration required.
  • Built on the industry standard Apache web server.
  • Zero maintenance. No port management, server process monitoring or stale file cleanup required. Errors are automatically recovered whenever possible.
  • Designed for performance, stability and security. Passenger should never crash Apache even in case of crashing Rails applications.
  • Well-documented, for both system administrators and developers.

I’m very happy to see DreamHost continue to be involved in the Ruby on Rails community. DreamHost was one of the first major host to support Rails, and even though Rails deployment has been a challenge for a lot of hosting companies, I definitely think this is a point were DreamHost has the chance to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Currently I have no information about when mod_rails will be available on DreamHost servers. Please write a comment if you have any additional info.

Hat tip: Jamie

Gmail at DreamHost

April 8th, 2008

Gmail at DreamHost

DreamHost has just enabled an option to use Google’s Gmail for email on domains hosted with DreamHost. The new option is available in the Control Panel under Mail – Custom MX / Gmail.

If you move your email to Gmail you will get:

  • Gmail’s renowned interface as your webmail, but at http://mail.yourdomain.com
  • POP3/IMAP/SMTP access (as before), but now using Google’s servers
  • Awesome performance, reliability and spam filtering
  • The option to add your own logo to the Gmail web interface

You can also chose to setup subdomains for Google’s calendar, docs, sites and start.

You will normally still use DreamHost for everything besides email, but you can even change your domain to use pages.google.com for its main website, which would actually imply that you no longer would be using DreamHost for any services.

I would love to hear some feedback in the comments, if you already have switched your mail to Gmail.

Book Review: Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development

March 7th, 2008

Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension DevelopmentA while ago I advertised for readers wanting to review a number of books I was offered by Packt Publishing. There was quite a bit of interest and I had to randomly select three readers to receive one of the books. The third reader to get a review published is Robert Parker, who has read Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development.

Review of “Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development” by Joseph LeBlanc
Review by Robert Parker

Having been a “long time” Joomla! user (I used Mambo before the Mambo development team created Joomla!), I was excited to see this book make it into print. The recent release of Joomla 1.5 (Stable) brings to fruition many months of work toward making the Joomla! development environment more powerful and easier to use than ever before. While many, possibly most, Joomla! users find all the functionality they need in the Joomla! core and the many extensions made available by the community and third-party developers, one of Joomla!’s greatest strengths is its extensibility. This extensibility has for the most part, been primarily of interest to accomplished programmers who are able to “grok” the way Joomla! works internally, and the barriers to creating extensions for “casual users” or beginning programmers have been significant. Granted, there are many tutorials and resources available on the web to help surmount these barriers but, until now, there has not been a book dedicated to making some of this extensibility accessible to the “beginner” who wants to learn to write an extension.

“Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development” is “A practical tutorial for creating your first Joomla! 1.5 extensions with PHP”, and it does a very good job of introducing the fundamentals of using the new Joomla! 1.5 framework. The book provides exactly what it advertises and does not represent itself as a general purpose programming resource. You will not find in depth examination of the Joomla! 1.5 MVC (Model-View-Controller) implementation, or general PHP programming instruction, in its 158 pages (and index of less than three pages). The brevity of the book does not, in my opinion, lessen its usefulness as a tutorial. That said, readers should understand exactly what is provided for the publisher’s $34.99 US asking price.

Joseph LeBlanc’s book provides a very well-structured tour through the process of producing working Joomla! extensions, using an example application for publishing, managing, and manipulating restaurant reviews and producing related enhancements to that base application. I worked through the provided instructions, and code, and found everything working as advertised (readers should visit the publisher’s website to download errata for the code in the book). Working completely through the book will produce a real working extension that can be used “as is” to add a “restaurant reviews” service to a Joomla! site and can be easily modified to provide innumerable similar applications. The extension produced as the “final product” could be changed by the reader to produce an extension for publishing movie reviews, book reviews, concert reviews, a business directory, etcetera; with the framework of the application provided by the author, the reader can use his/her imagination to produce many other extensions.

The book is organized in a logical manner, and the tutorial flows well from chapter to chapter with the user finding no need to prowl around in the book to find explanations of what is going on. Beginning Joomla! developers will appreciate the first chapter’s “overview” material which prepares the reader to use the tools, and understand the terms, that follow. The real fun begins when the second chapter jumps right in “getting started” with developing the extension (component) in the Joomla! environment. There’s no laborious reading before you can start producing results; Chapters 3 and 4 proceed directly to developing the “back end” of the extension (the “under the hood stuff”) and the creation of the “front end” part of the restaurant review system (what is seen by the site visitor). From there, the pace stays brisk as Chapter 5 walks the reader through the process of developing “modules” to add functionality to the extension and provide extra features.

A basic introduction of the MVC framework used by Joomla! 1.5 is included in Chapter 6, where the author explains, in easy to understand terms, how to use models, views, and controllers to enhance the application. I particularly appreciate that the book shows how to use the “built in” tools the Joomla! 1.5 framework provides to save the programmer unnecessary coding and help maintain a “unified” appearance of the extension so that it “walks and talks” like an integral part of the overall Joomla! site.

Chapters 7 and 8 treat the reader to the development of a “plugin” to further enhance the utility of the extension being produced and describes how the developer can use configuration settings (parameters) to further control/customize aspects of the extension. The final chapter shows the reader how to package all the pieces of the project together for distribution and installation in any Joomla! 1.5 web site. While not absolutely necessary for the creation of the extension, this is a great help when it comes time to share your work with the greater Joomla! community.

I found this book to be particularly useful in that it allows anyone to produce a workable extension for Joomla! 1.5 without the considerable learning curve that normally accompanies “first attempts” at using an existing framework. The beginning programmer/reader who is truly interested in delving into the wonders of the Joomla! 1.5 framework will likely be left with many questions about why some of the code works the way it does, but none that will prevent him or her from producing something usable and seeing their first extension come to life. This “gentle” approach to Joomla! development goes a long way toward helping decipher some of the more advanced developers’ documentation provided by the Joomla! project.

While experienced programmers/developers may feel the book gives certain topics short shrift, if you use Joomla!, and have ever wanted to create something for your Joomla! sites that is really “your own” but feel much of the available documentation is too dense or obtuse for you to use, I highly recommend this book.

About the Reviewer:
Robert Parker is a California web developer who often uses Joomla!, and other CMS software, to produce websites for individuals and corporations. A long-time DreamHoster, and one of the Sysops of the DreamHost Wiki, he is an active participant on the DreamHost Discussion Forums where he can be found, on an almost daily basis, posting as “rlparker”.

DreamHost Newsletter – March 2008

March 5th, 2008

A very short newsletter this time:

  1. Easy zenphoto One-Click
    zenphoto
    DreamHost now offers zenphoto as a hosted application. When you install zenphoto as a hosted application, you don’t have to worry about upgrading the software, bandwidth usage, disk usage, etc., since it all runs from DreamHost’s server (vs. your own shared server). The downside is that you won’t be able to install your own plugins or themes and you won’t be able to customize the application.
  2. Get SSL Certs from DreamHost
    Previously you were only able to buy a SSL cert if you ordered it at sign up. Now existing customers can order it straight from the control panel.
  3. Add-on Callback Phone Support
    Now you can also order Callback Phone Support from the control panel. The price for 3 callbacks a month is $9.95/month extra.
  4. DHSOTM
    DreamHost Site of the Month: Scarlett Vision Media

Pay to Use DreamHost for Personal Storage

March 2nd, 2008

Two weeks ago, while on holiday, I received the following email from DreamHost:

Dear Unofficial DreamHost Blog,

Our system has noticed what seems to be a large amount of “backup/non-web” content on your account (#99999), mostly on user “*****” on the web server “bomberman”.

Unfortunately, our terms of service state:

The customer agrees to make use of DreamHost Web Hosting
servers primarily for the purpose of hosting a website, and
associated email functions. Data uploaded must be primarily
for this purpose; DreamHost Web Hosting servers are not
intended as a data backup or archiving service. DreamHost
Web Hosting reserves the right to negotiate additional
charges with the Customer and/or the discontinuation of
the backups/archives at their discretion.

At this point, we must ask you to do one of three things:

  • You can delete all backup/non-web files on your account.
  • You can close your account from our panel at:
    https://panel.dreamhost.com/?tree=billing.accounts
    (We are willing to refund to you any pre-paid amount you have remaining, even if you’re past the 97 days. Just reply to this email after closing your account from the panel.
    OR!
  • You may now enable your account for backup/non-web use!

If you’d like to enable your account to be used for non-web files, please visit the link below. You will be given the option to be charged $0.20 a month per GB of usage (the monthly average, with daily readings) across your whole account.

We don’t think there exists another online storage service that has anything near the same features, flexibility, and redundancy for less than this, so we sincerely hope you take us up on this offer!

In the future, we plan to allow the creation of a single “storage” user on your account which will have no web sites (or email). For now though, if you choose to enable your account for backups, nothing will change (apart from the charges).

If you want to enable backup/non-web use on this account, please go here:

https://panel.dreamhost.com/backups.cgi?g=99999999

If you choose not to enable this, you must delete all your non-web files within a week from when we sent this email (by 2008-02-22) or your account will be suspended.

If you have any questions about this or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.

Thank you very much for your understanding,
The Happy DreamHost Backup/Non-Web Use Team

Note: While personal backups will be allowed, the use of our services for the distribution, acquisition, or storage of illegal or illegally obtained copyrighted material still won’t be. Please make sure that all material hosted under your account is legal and was obtained legally!

I’ve got mixed feelings about this email…

It’s true that I’ve been using my account for backup purposes. I currently sync my two PCs to my DreamHost account, including a backup of all my digital photos – totally approximately 100 GB of data.

On one hand, I agree that these backups are not part of my websites, and I’m just happy that DreamHost now offers a solution where you can pay to use your storage for backup purposes. Actually I don’t find paying $20/month for backup of two PCs too bad. On the other hand I was under impressions that what I did was allowed – maybe not if you read the TOS very strict – but still accepted by DreamHost and that I already have paid to use up to 500 GB of storage.

Back in October DreamHost changed clarified their policies on using server space for personal storage and backup purposes. From being pretty relaxed about what you used your server space for, they now emphasized that files uploaded to your account should be provided with the intent of distributing them to others from your hosted sites.

Apparently the main reasoning was that the top 100 users were using 5% of DreamHost’s total disk space, and nearly all of these 100 users were keeping 200+ GB backups of copyrighted movies, tv shows, anime, p*rn, etc.

At the time I got a friendly email from Josh Jones, co-founder of DreamHost (as a response to my previous post), explaining all this, and that the plan was to notify about 20 users or so per week who were either using their accounts for 100s of GB of backups of copyrighted material, or keeping lots of extra backups of stuff DreamHost already was backing up (like mysql databases, websites or emails).

He even wrote:

If you’re using your account to back up one-of-a-kind personal files, even tons and tons of them, you really are never ever ever going to hear from us and we have no problem with that and things aren’t going to change AT ALL.

I’m not sure if DreamHost has changed their stand on using web space for private backups, if they see backups as a future source of income, or if it is some kind of mistake (fat fingers anyone? ;-) ). I will try to get a comment from support, but since I know this subject interests a lot of you, I decided to blog about if first. Any of you got the same email?

What do you think? Should keeping backups still be allowed or is pay-as-you-go a clever alternative? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Review Books for the Unofficial DreamHost Blog

February 20th, 2008

I’ve been offered two more review copies from Packt Publishing and once again I will offer the opportunity to readers of the Unofficial DreamHost Blog.

This time it’s two PHP related books: PHP Web 2.0 Mashup Projects and Building Responsive Web Applications with AJAX and PHP.

PHP Web 2.0 Mashup ProjectsBuilding Responsive Web Applications with AJAX and PHP

If you would like to receive one of these books in return for a review, please write a comment or send me an email. You will receive a hard copy of the book for you to keep and shipping/handling will be paid by Packt.

Your review should be at least 3-5 paragraphs and be send to me within a reasonable time frame from you receive the book (3-4 weeks). You will of course get full credit for your review and a link to your blog/website.

If there is more than two readers signing up for this opportunity I will randomly select the two lucky readers.

DreamHost Newsletter – February 2008

February 6th, 2008

This month’s newsletter in condensed form:

  1. Sorry About the Billing
    I guess all of you have heard about DreamHost’s billing error 3 weeks ago? Otherwise see Um, Whoops, The Aftermath and The Final Update.
  2. Easy WordPress One-Click
    DreamHost now offers an “easy mode” for WordPress (probably based on WordPress MU), where DreamHost will take of all updates and maintenance. The blog comes with a selection of 50+ themes, but the downside is that you won’t be able to customize your theme, install new themes or install extra plugins.

    WordPress MU

  3. Mongrel for Ruby on Rails
    DreamHost PS users can now deploy their Ruby on Rails applications on the Mongrel ruby application server. More info in the wiki.
  4. Delete Unused Promo Codes
    Now you can delete unused promo codes from your panel, but only if they never have been used.
  5. New charities
    Kidd’s Kids and MIND Research Institute
    Remember, DreamHost will match all donations given by their customers.
  6. DHSOTM
    DreamHost Site of the Month: Freeminders (Free WordPress Themes)

Worst Typing Error in History?

January 16th, 2008

A follow up to yesterday’s billing incident.

Everybody should have been refunded by now, and DreamHost has promised to do their best to take care of any incurred fee from your bank or credit card company.

I can belive how out of line some of the comments on DreamHost’s two blogs are – but no, Josh is not to blame for the sub-prime crisis and no, this is not the worst typing error in history:

  • Typing Error Causes $225M Loss at Tokyo Stock Exchange
    A typing error caused Mizuho Securities to lose at least 27 billion yen ($225 million) on a stock trade in December 2005. The trouble began when a trader tried to sell 610,000 shares at 1 yen (less than a penny) apiece instead of 1 share of 610,000 yen ($5,041).
  • Typing error causes nuclear scare
    The Sudanese government had a nasty shock in March 2005, when it read on a US Congress website that the Americans had conducted nuclear tests in the country. The report should have said Sedan, a test site in the US state of Nevada.
  • Human error caused loss of Mars orbiter
    Failure to convert English measures to metric values caused the loss of the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter, when the spacecraft smashed into the planet instead of reaching orbit in September 1999.

More coverage at TechCrunch and HostingFu.

DreamHost Accidently Bills Customers $7,500,000

January 15th, 2008

As you have probably seen by now – since it appears the story is all over the internet right now – DreamHost accidently billed customers for totally over 7.5 million dollars last nigh.

The error was first reported on the status blog and later an explanation was posted on the official blog.

The billing glitch happened when Josh was manually running the billing script for the last two weeks. Instead of inputting the billing date as 2007-12-31, he ran the script for 2008-12-31! This implied that any account which was going to be billed in 2008 was billed instantly and for at least one year of charges – and up to several thousand dollars! A total of more than $7,500,000.

DreamHost started to try to fix the error and refund all erroneously charged accounts as soon as they discovered it, but the error had already caused severe problems. People had their hosting accounts automatically disabled because of non-payments, bank accounts and credit cards were overdrafted (with overdraft fees as a consequence) and some even missed their mortgage payments because of this error.

Of course all this caused an outrage: More than 5,000 support messages, 1000+ comments on the status blog and currently 200+ comments on the official blog.

DreamHost has posted a long explanation on their blog: Uh, Whoops. If you’re not up for Josh’s usually funny style, the most important piece is here:

A new service is running right now (in parallel on all the controllers) that fixes all those future charges, re-enables your account if it was erroneously suspended, and if your credit card was automatically rebilled, refunds the payment automatically. You don’t have to contact us or your bank, and you’ll get an email when your account is finished fixing up. It’s going to take several more hours to complete. There are (or were, after this incident) a lot of you these days!

If, because of this billing mistake, you somehow incurred some fees from your bank or credit card company, please let us know after tomorrow (today we are just replying to all 10,000+ billing messages with a generic explanation) and we’ll do our best to make it right for you.

The story has already hit Digg’s front page, Blaugh made a fool out of DreamHost and Lunarpages took the opportunity to get revenge over DreamHost.

Ruby on Rails upgraded to 2.0.2

January 6th, 2008

Ruby on RailsDreamHost has just finished upgrading all servers to Ruby on Rails 2.0.2.

Rails 2.0 was released about a month ago and contains new features, loads of fixes and an incredible amount of polish.

The official Rails blog has an article describing a number of the more interesting new features in the release which appears to be quite extensive.

rails.dreamhosters.com have a list of all the updated gems and their new version numbers.