Category Archives: blog


A Post-Mortem on Yesterday’s Site Outage

Many of you probably noticed that this site was down for several hours yesterday. I’m not sure of the full extent, but looking at my Google Analytics data, it looks as if the site was down from about 9 am EST to sometime between noon and 1 pm EST. Let’s call it three hours.


Whenever the site is down I get stressed, knowing that it sucks to come to a site an get an obscure “Database connection error.” I was also annoyed because my host had recommended I move to another server and host platform a few months ago–something I did because they said it would greatly reduce the chance of an outage and improve the performance of the site.

The move certainly did the latter, but as yesterday showed, there was a major outage on the new platform. I spent some time working with the host to find out the root cause (database issues, not related to my site specifically) and what measures were being taken to reduce the chances of this happening again in the future. Being an IT person myself, I can talk their language and that helps a little.

In any case, I feel pretty confident that the chances are small that we’ll see another outage like this one–at least one related to the same cause.

I wanted to apologize for the outage yesterday, and for any frustration it may have caused. I am monitoring things here, and hopefully we won’t see this particular problem happen again.


Blog stats for 2014

With 2014 officially over, I can report the final blog stats for 20141. The blog had a remarkable 1.3 million page views in 2014, and more than 600,000 visitors. I’m stunned when I consider those numbers. I can still remember the days when my blog got about 30 pages views per day. In 2014 that was up to an average of about 3,500 page views per day.

Here’s what the day-to-day stats looked like:

Blog stats for 2014

I haven’t tracked RSS traffic as closely as I used to. But when I looked this evening, I found that RSS traffic added an additional 425,000 page views. That brings the grand total to about 1.75 million page views in 2014. That is about double of what I had last year.

Thank you to everyone who comes to the site. I am grateful to have such a wonderful audience. I’ll do another post on the most popular posts of 2014, but right now, I have to give the kids a bath.

  1. Caveats apply. The stats come primarily from Google Analytics. The RSS stats come from Feedburner. All stats must be taken with a grain of salt.

FitBit devices must have been a popular Christmas gift this year

As I mentioned late this summer, my blog traffic seemed to have peaked in late August or early September. I was probably averaging 4,000 visits/day at that point. At around the time I gave up my regularly scheduled Going Paperless posts1 the traffic started decreasing. These days I probably average right around 3,000 visits/day.

So yesterday was something of a surprise. I didn’t post anything new, and I was offline for much of the day, celebrating Christmas was the family. But I peeked at the stats late in the morning and was astonished to see an unusually large number of visits. Indeed, by the end of the day, I found that nearly 9,000 people visited the blog yesterday. That’s the most in  a single day in probably half a year. At one point, there were 112 active visitors on the site at the same time. I typically average around 15-20 active visitors at any one time.

Active Visitors

Naturally, I was curious as to why there would be such a large amount of activity on a day where I posted nothing new, and a major holiday at that. So I poked around and discovered that the vast majority of yesterday’s visitor were visiting posts I’d written on FitBit devices. From there, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together, and realize that there are probably a lot of people out there (my in-laws included) that received FitBit devices for the holidays, and were figuring out how to use them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go setup a couple of FitBit devices.


  1. Yes, there will be another one later today.

Server Upgrade is Completed

In the end, I probably made it a little more complicated than it needed to be, but the site has been moved to a better server environment with improved performance and room to grow. I’m hopeful this means an end to the downtime issues I’ve had over the last few months. They haven’t added up to much overall downtime, but each one of them is a minor headache for me, and I’d just as soon do without them.

Comments have been enabled again, and the site is back to normal. Thanks for your patience.

Temporarily Disabling Comments for Server Migration

In order to avoid changes to the site during the migration to the new server, I am temporarily disable comments. This is just temporary. Once the site is up and running on the new server, I will re-enable comments.

Possible Site Unavailability Over the Next Few Hours

Over the last several months, I’ve noticed some downgraded performance on the site, including some unexpected outages. Today I decided to take action. After discussing it with my service providers, I am moving the site from a set of older servers to some newer ones with much more potential for growth, as well as higher reliability.

Doing this is a little complicated (although being a VaultPress user has made the WordPress part of it much easer) because it involves updating DNS records, and those changes can lag. So sometime in the next few hours, I will be redirecting the domain to the new servers. This will likely cause some intermittent outage on the site, but I’m hoping that it won’t last too long.

And when the site is back up, it should be on the new, and better performing servers, and performance and reliability should be improved.

Experimenting with Medium

This morning I wrote a post over on Medium, just to see what it was like. I’ve read quite a few posts over at Medium and I like the clean looking interface. So I thought I’d see what it was like to write over there.

love the simplicity of the writing interface. That said, I don’t have any plans to write over there regularly. Mostly, I just wanted to try it out and see how it felt. I can see why so many people like writing there.

If you are interested, you can head over to Medium to check out my post, “My Best Time-Saving Hack: Audiobooks.”

Three Days in a Row of No Blogging!

So it appears I’ve gone 3 days without blogging, which I think is some kind of recent record for me, and for which I apologize. I’ve just been overwhelmed with work lately. This weekend, I escaped with the family to Kelly’s hometown, which was nice, but I also didn’t have much of a chance to get online and blog.

This is just a quick note to say that I am alive, and well, and will try to return things to normal around here.

Guest Post Over at SF Signal: “Daddy, What’s Dungeons & Dragons?”

Last week, the Little Man, now 5, asked me The Question when my copy of the latest edition of the Player’s Handbook arrived in the mail:

Well, when you’re five year-old asks, you’re kind of compelled to answer. So I wrote an article about it, and you can find the article over at SF Signal.

Daddy, What’s Dungeons and Dragons?

Many thanks to John DeNardo and company for having me over there today.

Please Listen Carefully as the Menu Options Have Changed

Just a heads-up to let folks know that I’ve updated the menu bar for the site, and some of the options may be different/unfamiliar.

New Menus

The main changes are:

  • Consolidated the About/Contact menus. My Contact menu can now be found as a sub-menu on About/Contact.
  • Added a link to my Site Policies from the About/Contact menu.
  • Added the Open Analytics menu option, which takes you to, my experimental site for publishing my real-time quantified self data. Right now, it’s just got my writing data.
  • Added the Software menu option, which takes you to my GitHub page, which is the authoritative source for all of the software I make.

There may be a few more tweaks here and there over the next few days, but this is the bulk of it.

Today’s Site Outage: My After-Action Report

Sometime around 4 pm today, this site had an outage. From what I can tell from my Google Analytics data, the outage started around 4 pm EDT and lasted for a little over an hour. I called the host to report the problem, and also pinged them on Twitter. It turned out to be an known issue, by 5:15, the site was up and running again.

Let me apologize for the outage. I get annoyed when I go to a site and it spins and spins and eventually spits out an error, and I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way.

A brief review of outages on this site

The previous outage I had on the site was back on April 24, not that long ago, relatively speaking. That outage didn’t last as long as this one, somewhere around 25 minutes.

Prior to that, the last outage I had was on September 10, 2012, back when the host fell under a DDoS attack.  That one lasted 4 hours.

A total of 6 hours downtown over a span of more than three years is a pretty good track record, over all, well above the 99.9% uptime commitment my hosting service. This is far better than what I had with my previous hosting service, and makes me glad that I made the switch. Problems have been very few and far between.

A pet-peeve about how host support handles these issues

The one complaint I have about today’s outage is an IT pet-peeve I have in general. Keep in mind, that I’ve worked in IT in a variety of capacities for more than 20 years now. For the first 10 or so, I was intimately involved with running a service desk, so I know a little about how these things work.

When I called to report the problem, I had already done my homework. Mostly, I verified that while I could not get to my sites (503 errors), I could get to the server that hosts the files. This tells me that the issue is with the web server. I pointed this out right away to the very pleasant support person I spoke to.

But these folks have to follow a support tree. I hate support trees because they virtually eliminate any possibility of creative thinking on the part of the support person, and they end up wasting a lot of unnecessary time.

For instance, today, I pointed out that I could access the file server but not the web server, which told me that there was an issues with the web server. The support person told me that there were no known issues with the web server at this time: that’s the first problem with a support tree.

It’s quite possible that there were no known issues and that I, acting as a canary,  was the first to report the problem. Rather than running down a rabbit hole of steps that are almost certainly unrelated to what is wrong, it would have been prudent at this point to check the web server. Instead, I was asked when the site was last working, I had this information from Google Analytics. The next question was when the site was last changed. It had days. One look the modified dates on the files in my directory would have told the support person this. But it was irrelevant because when unchanged files that accessible through one protocol but not another, the likely culprit is the other protocol.

Next, I was asked to perform the rather ridiculous task of renaming my .htaccess files in case someone the permissions got messed up. Mind you, the modified dates on these files were from months and years ago. Again, no changes. This is what I call a “customer comfort” task. I feel like I’m doing something useful. But it was a complete and utter waste because it was completely unrelated to the problem.

Eventually, lots of people started reporting the problem on Twitter, and not long after that, the site was up and running again. It was the web server, no doubt, just as I had figured. It might have saved a lot of customers some negative moments of truth, if only the support staff weren’t chained to those useless support trees.


With all of the data I collect about myself, I’ve been wanting to put together a kind of open dashboard that provides a window into the data through interesting visualizations. While my short term plans are nothing like the amazing things happening over at Aprilzero, I have put a very early prototype together of what I am calling

Right now, all the site does is make a live query to my Google Doc Writing Tracker spreadsheet, and renders the data in a chart on the site. Clicking on the links above the chart, you can see either the last 30 days of my writing data plotted out, or go back to the beginning of time (over 500 days).

For each visualization I publish, I plan to include a link to the “HOWTO” which will include the code I used and how I pulled the data I needed to make the visualization. That way, if others want to give it a try, there will be at least some documentation.

Eventually, I will come up with a framework for the site, and begin pulling in other data as well. For now, this is a quick-and-dirty prototype of what is possible with just a little bit of code. Take a peek at it and let me know what you think.