rabbit holes

I spent several hours today working on an increasingly frustrating string of technical problems I should not have even been working on.

It all started with me trying to get a working version of my rudimentary NYPD stop and frisk data grapher online for public commentary (and hopefully statistics help-- I slept through my 8am stats class in college, so I never really learned how to normalize data).

While investigating, I fell down the following rabbit holes, which were all only moderately related to the problem at hand:

  • Amazon Web Services: I first considered putting the app on an Amazon EC2 instance, so I looked at my list of instances and found out that the one hosting this blog was about to be retired. I tried to stop it and migrate my blog to another instance, but it hung on the stopping part, so I had to file a support ticket and they presumably stopped it for me.
  • HTTPS: When I finally managed to migrate my blog over, I remembered that argh.gr doesn't have HTTPS, so I looked into what it would take to get an SSL certificate. I visited LetsEncrypt and learned that they only really work when you have shell access, so I looked through my old notes and realized I had SSH access to the argh.gr server. (This blog's server is completely different, and I redirect with an .htaccess file.)
  • Plesk: My web host uses Plesk to help me manage permissions and stuff for the site. I found an SSH terminal feature built directly into it. I tried using it and was told to download Java. I downloaded Java and was told to download another package. I downloaded that and the terminal application opened, then crashed, citing a faulty security certificate.
  • SSH: So I tried SSHing into argh.gr with my FTP credentials like I was once able to. That didn't work, but I managed to do several other things with my FTP credentials, like telnet and log in with ProFTPD commands, neither of which I'd ever used before (except for watching ASCII Star Wars). I finally filed another support ticket and was told that SSH access is now restricted to a specific port, and that I can't just use my FTP password to authenticate anymore. Luckily they were able to put some new keys into the server so I could log in (and promptly change them, because they sent me the private key via email). I logged in, remembered that the server uses nothing but vi, and promptly logged out.
  • Bitnami: After migrating my blog, I tried to update a CSS file on my instance of Ghost, whose Amazon EC2 image was provided by Bitnami. After changing the file and pulling it into the server, I found that the CSS file name was garbled in the browser. I discovered that Bitnami uses Pagespeed, hence the garbled file names, and set about turning that off in their Apache configuration. Then I realized I had to restart the whole Bitnami setup to get Apache to reload and to recompile the one CSS file I had changed.

While I was waiting for the support people to grant me SSH access to my site, I discovered that Heroku now has a MySQL add-on with a free tier, so I actually got the data graphing app built and on Heroku from my Github repo in about thirty seconds. I still have to configure the database and add the datasets to it, but that'll take me less time tomorrow than all of these other shenanigans put together.

All things considered, the five seven hours I spent on this was only maybe a fifth as frustrating as listening to yesterday's US presidential debate for five minutes. I might have even learned something new.


bunny running away suddenly