DreamHost Beta-Testing RoundCube

January 5th, 2008

DreamHost is currently beta-testing RoundCube as a new webmail client at roundcube.dreamhost.com.

RoundCube is a modern browser-based webmail client with an application-like user interface (kind of like Gmail). The use of AJAX makes tasks like folder manipulation, message searching and spell checking a lot easier.

DreamHost RoundCube webmail

We first wrote about RoundCube about 2 years ago, and we know that a replacement for SquirrelMail has been high on the Suggestions List.

You can give DreamHost feedback in the forums.

Hattip: Tom

Book Review: Moodle Teaching Techniques

December 27th, 2007

Moodle Teaching TechniquesI recently 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 second reader to get a review published is Matt Heavner, who has read Moodle Teaching Techniques.

 

Review of “Moodle Teaching Techniques” by William H Rice IV
Review by Matt Heavner

I’m writing this as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. We use “UASOnline” which is a home-grown learning management system which includes some components of moodle.

Overall, this book was a worthwhile read for its intended audience of educators, trainers, or professors who are already familiar with moodle (or, I’d add, another learning management system). Moodle Teaching Techniques shines when it sticks to goal of engaging moodle users in thinking about the most effective methods for teaching with moodle. For example, discussion in Chapter 6 on wiki solutions includes a detailed comparison of wiki vs forum, journal, blog, and assignment specifically focused on relevancy to teaching methods. Another successful chapter is Chapter 4 “Quiz Solutions” which describes effectively using the immediate feedback of online quizzes to enhance student learning. The chapter on Chat also had useful discussion of specific teaching methods to improve learning using moodle.

This book veered off of this prescribed path of discussing moodle teaching techniques in two directions. Sometimes too much technical detail regarding an obscure moodle (or worse, network setting) issue was covered in 5 or more pages. The most egregious waste of pages in the book are the section on “Host a Proctored, Timed Test from a Secure Location”. This is probably an important concept for many users of moodle, but the author feels secure in not spending a single word of the text on installation and configuration initially, so why the author would spend pages 77-82 on details such as non-routable IP spaces is not at all clear. The greatest irony of this is that due to a typo in the Figure on page 80, a single IP address is repeated for both networks, completely invalidating the example. Another unneeded lengthy discussion occurs at the beginning of Chapter 2. Pages 21-29 are spent on configuring a single-student forum. As this was the first main chapter, I felt completely derailed after the lofty introduction about learning methods that would be discussed because the author felt the need to spend so much time on a moodle work-around/hack. Another cognitive disconnect in the text occurred in Chapter 5. Immediately after introducing the idea of “moodling through a course” in any order the student desires (on page 87), the author states “We don’t want our students to ‘meander’ or wander through the course items”. I was looking forward to a discussion of when “moodling” through the course may enhance learning and when a more structured series of sequential activities would be better for learning. There was no such discussion, just a six page exposition on how to force flow control onto a class moodle installation.

I would love to see an additional 50 pages added to this book, with 20 pages of the configuration discussion converted to effective teaching methods discussion to add an additional 70 total pages of teaching discussion. I felt the last four chapters were much too brief and did not give enough discussion of teaching methodology of four different techniques which seemed to hold high potential. I would also suggest that Chapter 9 be moved to follow Chapter 1 as it is an overview of “Course Solutions”–and more fleshed out overview of moodle learning concepts in the course context would be a good starting point rather than a detailed discussion of a work-around to setup an individual student forum. Chapter 8 could be expanded and also brought in earlier in the book–if indeed the choice activity discussed in this chapter is “the simplest type of activity” moodle offers. Beginning with an overview of the class and then the simplest activity for a specific example would improve the flow of the book as well as provide much more direct discussion of moodle teaching techniques.

To summarize, I recommend this book to users of learning management systems such as moodle. Several thought provoking sections should enhance a reader’s thoughts regarding effective teaching using moodle or some other learning management system. However, the digressions into unnecessary moodle work-arounds or network configuration discussion are distracting.

DreamHost Newsletter – December 2007

December 5th, 2007

Another newsletter translated from Josh’s gibberish.

  1. Spacey Moved
    The “spacey” cluster was successfully moved to a new datacenter. More server moves are planned over the next few months – watch the status blog for updates.
  2. DreamHost PS Update
    DreamHost is making progress on the waitlist for DreamHost PS (Private Server) and MySQL PS. If you sign up now, you will most likely be able to get your server before Christmas.
  3. Promo Code Change
    Big promo code change effective next Tuesday. No DreamHost promo code can any longer give a discount greater than $50. All new and existing codes will be capped at this amount off. You still get $97 (minus the discount given) for somebody using your promo code, but now that discount can’t be more than $50.
    This will probably result in fewer uses of people’s promo codes, but on the plus side, the minimum you as a referrer will make from a promo code will go from $0 to $47.
  4. Help us Screen Suggestions
    The Suggestions area has been revamped and you’re now able to see pending suggestions. Pending suggestions are the suggestions which haven’t made it to the voting procedure yet, but now you can help decide, which suggestions should be put to a vote.
    For each pending suggestions you can choose “Reject it!” (for duplicate or nonsensical suggestions), “Just do it, DreamHost!” (for really easy suggestions or system bugs) or “Let us vote on it!”.
    There is currently 600 active suggestions to vote on and 572 pending suggestions for consideration.
  5. Two Silly Features
    You can now show and hide your subdomains in the Manage Domains area:

    Hide Subdomains

    You can now restore your accidentally deleted MySQL databases up to five days after they have been deleted.

    MySQL Recycle

  6. Charity Addition
    New charity: Union Rescue Mission. DreamHost match all donations received, another donor is matching their donations, so basically your donation is being quadrupled!
  7. DHSOTM
    DreamHost Site of the Month: Squawk

Book Review: WordPress Complete

November 12th, 2007

Wordpress CompleteI recently 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 first reader to get a review published is Chris Lindsey, who has read WordPress Complete.

I recently received a review copy of WordPress Complete by Hasin Hayder and published by Packt Publishing. The back cover of the book explains that the book is a beginner’s guide, while also saying “any IT-confident user will be able to use the book to produce an impressive blog.”

WordPress Complete is divided into ten chapters. The first entails the basics of blogging and the book progresses all the way to usage of WordPress MU (multiuser).

Chapter 1 provides a beginner’s guide to blogging. It explains blogging and the different types of blogs (audio, video, etc), and also provides a list of common terminology. I found the list of common terms a little lacking; it did not include “theme” or “plug-in”, while it provided an incomplete explanation of permalinks. The first chapter also provides a good overview of the major blogging engines (providers and software), but in a copyediting gaffe, the screenshots of each engine are on the page immediately following the description of the engine. The end of this chapter describes using the WordPress forums, finding themes, finding plug-ins, and getting news about WordPress.

Chapter 2 provides the basics of installing WordPress and the first actions when setting up a new blog. Chapter 3 deals with themes, and details the popular places to find themes, how to install them, and how to make basic changes to the design.

Chapter 4 explains posting, and all the options related to posting new items in WordPress. Chapter 4 also explains comments and the administrative settings regarding comments. While the book touches on the topic of comment spam in this chapter, it provides no useful resources in stopping spam. Especially surprising is that the book does not discuss Akismet, the spam fighting tool created by the makers of WordPress. The book also explains gravatars, but makes no effort to explain implementing gravatars into a WordPress installation.

Chapter 5 describes using using WordPress as a content management system, or CMS, to run a website (as opposed to a blog). This mainly entails editing a theme to make WordPress look less like a blog and more like a website for a business. This section is really important and provides some insight into a rarely used ability of WordPress.

Chapter 6 describes feeds (syndication) and podcasting. This chapter goes way too in-depth when explaining feeds, because WordPress provides feeds automatically. A WordPress beginner does not need to know the complete history of the RSS 2.0 format or the HTML behind a feed. The podcasting section, though, provides a useful in-depth look at audio blogging that would be especially helpful for those wishing to utilize WordPress to podcast.

Chapter 7 goes through the motions of making a theme for WordPress. While providing a good look at how themes work, this Chapter is not needed for the beginning blogger. There are thousands of WordPress themes out there for beginners to use, while those who wish to create their own most likely already know where to find this information and would not be buying this book.

Chapter 8 discusses using WordPress MU (multiuser) to multi-blog, and Chapter 9 tells of how to create plug-ins and widgets.

Chapter 10 might provide the best information for the beginning WordPress user. This chapter describes how to backup a WordPress blog (something few users do and many regret not doing) and how to upgrade to a newer version of WordPress.

Overall I found the book very informative and useful for the beginning WordPress user. I did, however, take issue to the large number of spelling, grammar, and English language usage mistakes. The preface of the book contained the most glaring error, misspelling “blog” as “blod”, which is extremely ironic when one remembers the subject of the book. If you can overlook the many errors in the book (I cringed many times while reading elementary mistakes), WordPress Complete is a nearly complete beginner’s guide to WordPress.

Get a free Ruby on Rails book from SitePoint

October 31st, 2007

Build Your Own Ruby-on-Rails Web ApplicationsSitePoint is now giving away the full PDF version of their Ruby on Rails books Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications.

I briefly mentioned the book back in February, when they were giving away the first four chapters, but this time it’s the entire book (12 chapters – 447 pages) you can download.

The book covers everything from installing Ruby, Rails and MySQL (well I guess DreamHost does this part for you), to building and deploying a fully featured web application.

Complete Rails Book Free

The offer has already been very popular and the book has now been downloaded more than 50.000 times.

The giveaway expires by the end of November.

The Big 6-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!

October 30th, 2007

Just weeks after DreamHost could celebrate their 10th anniversary, they can now celebrate another milestone. DreamHost is now hosting more than 600.000 domains according to WebHosting.Info.

600.000 domains hosted by DreamHost

They are thereby continuing their explosive growth and are still adding 600 domains on average every single day.

Top Hosting Companies Worldwide

Looking at the Top Hosting Companies Worldwide DreamHost is now placed as 14th, but more intesting is the fact that only WildWestDomains.com (which is a GoDaddy sister company), Yahoo, and 1&1 really offer web hosting. The rest is either domain sellers, domain parkers or domain squatters.

Is DreamHost really the 4th biggest web host in the World (by number of domains hosted)? Or who is bigger? Anybody got some info on this?

Review Books for the Unofficial DreamHost Blog

October 22nd, 2007

Packt Publishing – the publisher of 100+ computer related books – has offered me review copies of three of their books. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment, so I’m offering my readers this opportunity.

The three books are all about one of DreamHost’s One-Click Installs: the blogging engine WordPress, the Joomla! CMS and the brand new course management system Moodle.

WordPress Complete Learning Joomla! 1.5 Extension Development Moodle Teaching Techniques

If any of you readers 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 receive full credit for your review and a link to your blog/website.

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

Using DreamHost for Personal Storage & Backups

October 21st, 2007

Three days ago DreamHost posted a clarification regarding their policies on the use of their services for personal storage and backup purposes. They emphasized that files uploaded to your account should be provided with the intent of distributing them to others from your hosted sites.

The main concern is apparently that DreamHost’s servers are being filled with rsync backups of entire hard drives, copies of DVD rips, music collection, etc., even when the Terms of Service prohibits this kind of use.

The post quickly received tons of comments – both requests for clarifications of the clarification and outcries from customers thinking this rule is unfair.

DreamHost insists that the policies have not been changes, and that this rule has always existed, but I think it’s easy to see why people are confused.

Terms of Service

First of all let’s take a look at the current Terms of Service:

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.

From the current ToS it’s pretty clear you can’t use your web hosting space for backups, but just a month ago the ToS read:

The customer agrees to make use of DreamHost Web Hosting servers primarily for the purpose of hosting a website, and associated email functions. Servers are shared with other customers, and as such IRC-related activities or severely CPU intensive CGI scripts (e.g. chat scripts, proxy scripts, scripts which have bugs causing them to not close properly after being run) are not encouraged. Any application that listens for inbound network connections (even if the application would otherwise be allowed) are not permitted. BitTorrent clients, IRC bots and bouncers (BNC) specifically may not be run on any DreamHost Web Hosting server. If your processes are adversely affecting server performance disproportionately DreamHost Web Hosting reserves the right to negotiate additional charges with the Customer and/or the discontinuation of the offending processes.

Although the paragraph mentions that the servers are primarily for hosting a website, it seems more geared towards avoiding abusive or CPU intensive scripts and doesn’t mention backup or archiving specifically.

Bandwaggon

It’s less than 4 months since DreamHost announced a partner deal with Bandwagon, a Mac software program that allows you to backup and sync your iTunes library with an FTP server. The deal gave every DreamHost customer a free year of Bandwagon and Bandwagon users one free year of DreamHost. The deal was still available in the control panel when DreamHost posted the clarifications, but has since been removed.

So was DreamHost actually advertising a service that wasn’t allowed according to their own ToS? Strange…

It’s quite understandable if DreamHost customers thought they were allowed to backup their music collection to DreamHost after this.

Discussion Forum and Wiki

The issue of using your DreamHost account for backups has often been discussed in the forums:

While DreamHost employees rarely participate in the forums, there is usually a rather strict self-policing in the forums where other users will point out violations of both written and unwritten rules, but I’ve never seen anyone mention that backups would be against the ToS. In fact one of the threads actually had an employee giving green lights for using your account to backup your mp3s as long as you were not distributing copyrighted material.

Likewise the wiki used to contain information about how to back up your PC to your web hosting space. Although the article wasn’t created by DreamHost, it must have existed with their knowledge.

Why can’t we use our web space as we want to?

Basically I think the furor boils down to that it is hard to understand why we shouldn’t be allowed to use all our assigned disk space. Why are we given 500 GB disk space, if we’re not allowed to use it? What’s the difference between a backup of 20 GB of photos and an online gallery with 20 GB of photos? Why can I theoretically distribute 50 GB of different Linux ISO’s from my web site using up terabytes of bandwidth every month, but not have a 50 GB backup of my own PC, which hopefully never will be downloaded?

I guess it’s related to the math of overselling, and there is a huge difference between 0.1% of your customers using 100+ GB of storage and 1% using the same space, but wouldn’t it be better to give some more realistic storage limits that you can actually use, and then increase them on a case-by-case basis if necessary?

I’ve used DreamHost servers for a backup of my PC myself, and I really liked to have a secure, off-site backup for worst case scenarios. I wish DreamHost would see the increased use of their service for backups as a great way to differentiate themselves from other web hosting companies, or a opportunity for them to create a niche product they could sell for a premium.

Now I guess, I have to start to look for backup alternatives…

Free Hosting to Lunarpages Refugees

October 10th, 2007

Lunarpages has silently added a new 404 File Not Found page to all customer accounts. The page displays the domain name of the account holder, a search box which returns sponsored ad results and a number of links (dating, mortgage, ringtones, etc.) to Oversee’s PPC search engine searchportal.information.com.

While the customer’s domain name is displayed, there is no link back to the customer’s website and Lunarpages are thereby effectively stealing traffic from its customers!

You can see an example error page if you go to aeroeco.net/404.

Lunarpages 404 File Not Found

If you recognize the layout of the error page it’s because the same page is used by many domain parking services and expired domain holding pages.

The issue has been discussed intensely at Web Hosting Talk, while any threads about the issue started at Lunarpages Forums are apparently swiftly deleted.

When the legality of these error pages was brought up, Lunarpages quickly updated their TOS to include the following passage:

In an effort to help create the best possible user experience we have created a series of content sensitive error pages which are displayed in the event any user enters an erroneous URL for any activated domain name within the Lunarpages server structure. You may use our error page at no extra charge and you hereby grant to Lunarpages a limited, non-exclusive license to use any right you may have in any mark consisting of, derivative of or related to the domain name for the purpose of displaying such error pages under your domain name or any sub-page thereof in the event that for any reason your page fails to resolve or does not exist. Such error pages may at the option of lunarpages contain links to your domain, to Lunarpages or to any other site or service.

In a move to lure away customers from their competitor, DreamHost is now offering one year of free hosting for Lunarpages refugees who want to escape this sleazy practice.

New Pricing Structure at DreamHost

September 24th, 2007

Looks like DreamHost is launching a new pricing structure together with their birthday promo.

Features included with all accounts

There is currently only 1 service plan (which includes 500 GB disk storage and 5 TB monthly bandwidth) and a number of new add-on options:

  • Premium Phone Support ($9.95/month)
  • Double to 1 TB Disk Storage ($9.95/month)
  • Double to 10 TB Bandwidth ($9.95/month)
  • VPN Access ($19.95/month)

DreamHost Account Upgrades

So goodbye Crazy Domain Insane, Sweet Dreams, Code Monster and Strictly Business. Hello One Plan Fits All!

Actually the change is not that big, since the last couple of years the biggest difference between the plans has been that the Crazy Domain Insane didn’t include phone support and the Strictly Business included VPN access and a free secure certificate.

Another change to the payment structure is the payment periods. It is now possible to prepay for 10 years!

  • Pay Monthly @ $10.95/month + $49.95 setup = $60.90
  • Pay Yearly @ $9.95/month + no setup = $119.40 (9% off)
  • Pay for 2 Years @ $8.95/month + no setup = $214.80 (18% off)
  • Pay for 3 Years @ $7.95/month + no setup = $286.20 (27% off)
  • Pay for 5 Years @ $6.95/month + no setup = $417.00 (36% off)
  • Pay for 10 Years @ $5.95/month + no setup = $714.00 (45% off)

New customers signing up today will get an additional $110.10 discount.

10 years is a life time in the hosting business, so I can’t imaging many will use this option, but probably quite a few will sign up for 2-3 years.