The Ghost of bava

This is kind of a record keeping post, it turns out when you’ve been blogging for nearly 15 years posts can be useful to remind you of what you did years earlier that you presently have no recollection of. It’s my small battle against the ever-creeping memory loss that follows on the heels of balding and additional chins—blog against the dying of the light!

Anyway, I’m trying to keep on top of my various sites and recently I realized that as a result of extracting this blog out of my long-standing WordPress Multisite in 2018, followed by a recent move over to Digital Ocean this January a number of images in posts that were syndicated from bavatuesdays to sites like https://jimgroom.umwblogs.org were breaking. The work of keeping link rot at bay is daunting, but we have the technology. I was able to login to UMW Blogs database and run the following SQL query:

UPDATE wp_13_posts SET post_content = replace(post_content, 'http://bavatuesdays.com/files/', 'https://bavatuesdays.com/wp-content/uploads/')

That brought those images back, and it reminds me that I may need to do something similar for the ds106.us site given I have a few hundred posts syndicated into that site that probably have broken images now. 

But the other site I discovered had broken images as a result of my various moves was the Ghost instance I’ve kept around since 2014. I initially started this site as a sandbox on AWS in order to get a Bitnami image of Ghost running, which was my first time playing with that space in earnest back in 2014. That period was when Tim and I were trying to convince UMW’s IT department to explore AWS in earnest. In fact, we would soon move UMW Blogs to AWS as a proof-of-concept but also to try and pave the way for hosting more through Cloud-based services like Digital Ocean, etc. 

It’s also the time when the idea of servers in the “Cloud” seemed amazing and the idea of new applications running on stacks other than LAMP became real for me. Ghost was one of those. It was the promise of a brave new world, a next-generation sandbox, which was around the time Tim setup container-based hosting for both Ghost and Discourse through Reclaim Hosting as a bit of an experiment. Both worked quite well and were extremely reliable, but there was not much demand and in terms of support it continued to rely too heavily on Tim for us to sustain it without a more robust container-based infrastructure. We discontinued both services a while back, and are finally shutting down those servers once and for all. And while we had hopes for Cloudron over the last several years, in the end that’s not a direction we’re planning on pursuing. Folks have many options for hosting applications like JupyterHub and the like, and the cost concerns of container-based hosting remains a big question mark—something I learned quickly when using Kinsta.

Part of what makes Reclaim so attractive is we can provide excellent support in tandem with an extremely affordable service. It’s a delicate balance to say the least, but we’ve remained lean, investment free, and as a result have been able to manage it adroitly. We are still convinced that for most folks a $30 per year hosting plan with a free domain will go a long way towards getting them much of what they need when it comes to a web presence. If we were to double or triple that cost by moving to a container-based infrastructure it would remove us from our core mission: provide affordable spaces for folks to explore and learn about the web.* What’s more, in light of the current uncertainties we all face we’re even more committed to keeping costs low and support dialed-in. 

Ghost in a Shell

So, I’m not sure why this record keeping post became a manifesto on affordability, but there you have it ? All this to say while we have been removing our Discourse forum application servers we also decided to use the occasion to migrate our Ghost instances that we’re currently hosting (which are only a very few) to shared hosting so that we can retire the my.reclaim.domains server that was running them on top of Cloudron. So, Tim and I spent a morning last week going over his guide for setting up Ghost through our shared hosting on cPanel, and it still works.† The only change is now you need to use Node.js version 10+ for the latest version of Ghost.

He migrated his Ghost blog to our shared hosting, and I did the same for mine (which only has a few posts).  He has been blogging on Ghost for several years now and I have to say I like the software a lot. It’s clean and quite elegant, and their mission and transparency is a model! But if you don’t have the expertise to install it yourself (whether on cPanel or a VPS) hosting it through them comes at a bit of a cost, with plans starting at about $30 per month. That price-point is a non-starter for most folks starting out. What’s more, there’s little to no room to dig deeper into the various elements of web hosting afforded by cPanel for an entire year (including a domain) versus the same cost for just one month of hosting for only one site.

So, I have toyed with the idea of trying to move all my posts over to Ghost, but when I consider the cost as well as the fact it has no native way to deal with commenting cleanly, it  quickly becomes a non-starter. With over 14,000 comments on this blog, I can’t imagine they would be migrated to anything resembling a clean solution that would not result in just that much more link rot. I guess I am still WordPress #4life ?


*And while it remains something we are keenly interested in doing, we are not seeing it as an immediate path given the trade-off between investment costs and the idea a per-container costs for certain applications which would radically change our pricing model.

†He had to help me figure out some issues I ran into as a result of running the commands as root.

Digital Ocean’s One-Click Apps vs. Cloudron

Digital Ocean has been en fuego as of late. They announced a whole bunch of new droplet plans, and the price-point for all of them has gone down. This is very good news for Reclaim Hosting because it gives us some breathing room with our infrastructure costs allowing us to continue to keep costs low.  We have been slowly moving most of our infrastructure from Linode and ReliableSite to Digital Ocean, and we could not be happier. They are constantly improving their offerings, and being in a virtual environment where we can increase storage or scale CPU instantaneously makes our life (and our clients’) a lot easier.
One-click Apps at Digital Ocean

One-click Apps at Digital Ocean

In addition to new plans and pricing, I noticed they were featuring one-click apps as well (though not sure how new this is), and I took a peak to see what they offered. It was interesting to see that some of the application they featured, namely Discourse (the forum software) and Ghost (the blogging app), were apps Reclaim was offering beyond our shared hosting cPanel-based LAMP stack. Given we’ve been exploring a one-click option with Cloudron (I recently blogged about setting up Ghost using Cloudron) I wanted to compare Digital Ocean’s idea of one-click to Cloudron’s. Long story short, there is no comparison. Here is Digital Ocean’s command line interface for setting up Ghost:

Command line interface during Ghost setup on Digital Ocean’s one-click apps

Here is Cloudron’s:

One-click install of Ghost on Cloudron

Digital Ocean is amazing at what they do, but their idea of one-click installs still assumes a sysadmin level of knowledge, which, to be fair, make sense given they are a service designed for sysadmins. When I tried the Ghost app it was, indeed, installed on a droplet in seconds, but the actual configuration to setup required full-blown tutorial for command line editing the setup. In addition to the domain pointing, this was setting up SSL and Nginx, granted that simply meant typing “yes” or “no” and clicking enter, but even when you did the setup was not guaranteed. After following the tutorial to the letter I still got the Nginx 502 bad gateway error, which means I was stuck.

Ghost 502 Bad Gateway Nginx Error

I could have tried to troubleshoot the 502 error, but at this point it was just a test and from my experience it was far from one-click.

Discourse example

I then tried the Discourse, and this was definitely easier than Ghost. It still required a tutorial, but that was primarily focused on setting up an SMTP account through Mailgun so the application could send email. After that, the setup was simple, but again the one-click setup process on Digital Ocean assumes an understanding of API-driven transactional email services like Mailgun or Sparkpost. Cloudron does not have a Discourse installer, so no real comparison there, but if it could manage the SMTP email setup in the background, I imagine it would be just as simple as their Ghost installer. I’m glad I explored Digital Ocean’s one-click application offerings because it confirms for me the potential power of tools like Cloudron that truly make it simple to install applications. Our community by and large will not be folks with sysadmin level knowledge, so integrating a solution that is truly one-click, avoiding DNS and command line editing,  would be essential.

Look a(nother) Ghost

Since May of 2014 I have been playing on and off with the blogging platform Ghost. It has been an on again off again affair, and I have never left WordPress for it, but rather use it as a test bed for exploring how Reclaim might host applications outside the LAMP stack—an ongoing theme for us over the last 3 or 4 years. So, I have been marking my progress with running Ghost both here on the bava as well as on my Ghost blog. I talked about the idea of this as the Next Generation Sandbox, experimented with getting Ghost running on AWS using Bitnami, feeble terminal work, setting up key pairs in AWS, moving to Reclaim’s container-based setup for a kind of multi-site Ghost, setting up mail for Ghost, and most recently using Cloudron to setup Ghost.

Seven posts over three years about (and on) Ghost is not that much in the end (running out of punny titles), but reading over them whiling writing this I realized there’s a lot of learning wrapped up in trying to figure out AWS, Bitnami images, command line, Docker containers, and Cloudron. All stuff I have been trying to focus on more an more, so this side site in many ways lives up to its subtitle: “Letters from the Cloud.” And I came back to it recently because while I blogged about setting up Ghost through Cloudron back in September, my Ghost instance on Reclaim had been terminated when we decided to no longer offer it through Reclaim Hosting. Given my Ghost blogging had been dormant for a while, I totally forgot I was hosting it through Reclaim and it vanished. Luckily I blogged everything on Ghost through the bava, so nothing was lost, and I had backups of all images, etc. So, I used the occasion of things finally slowing down at Reclaim Hosting and my being under the weather to finally get BavaGhost back online, and now it is!

Continue reading “Look a(nother) Ghost”

Ghost in a Shell

I woke up this morning with an excited texts from Tim “the wonderful wizard of Reclaim” Owens pointing me to some work he did on our Cloudron test instance. Short version: it is awesome.

Now for the slightly longer version. First off, for more background on Cloudron and why we are even exploring it, check out these two posts. Tim has made good on his promise to make this as simple as possible, and below I will use a series of screenshots to narrate the process of spinning up a Docker image of the node.js blogging application Ghost using Cloudron.

Continue reading “Ghost in a Shell”