Another Migration

In the first post of this blog, I wrote about my decision to migrate to a new web hosting provider back in 2019. Last week, the site migrated again, but this time I stayed with the same web hosting provider. I moved from the cloud hosting platform (which uses a server cluster) to a newer single server platform.

Migrating a web site is rather like moving house. The removal company moves the content and will connect the large appliances in your new home, but there are a lot of little bits and pieces that you have to do yourself. You have to let everyone know you’ve moved and you need to get used to the new layout. Those handy tools that were in a certain location in the old place are now somewhere else. Gadgets need re-configuring. A convenient local service isn’t available and another one needs to be found.

In an analogous way, the web hosting company’s migration team moved over files and databases from the old servers onto the new one and set things up, but there are different paths and configurations on the new server that needed to be taken into account. Certain files lost their executable bit that had to be restored. Some code that worked in the old location doesn’t work in the new environment and had to be modified. The mail boxes had to be created manually, DNS records needed changing, and custom cron jobs had to be checked and set up.

The Domain Name System (DNS) provides public records associated with every domain. When you type an address in your browser, the browser needs to know where to go to fetch the file associated with that address. The DNS records provide the route to the server for the given domain (dickimaw-books.com in this case) and the information is cached (usually for around 24 hours) so that the browser doesn’t have to keep looking up the information as you move from one page to the next. Similarly, when you send an email, your mail server has to look up the appropriate entry in the DNS record to find out how to route your message.

When a site moves to a new server, all these records need to be updated, but there’s an additional delay as a result of caching. For a while, emails can’t be delivered, and visitors are directed to the old server and then, when the old site certificate becomes invalid, they find themselves confronted with a big scary warning message from the browser until the new certificate is sorted out.

There was a moment last week when I wondered why I’d been mad enough to consider migrating the site. Sure, the old cloud hosting package had its problems and it could be a little slow, but at least it had worked and I knew what tools were available and where to find them. However, eventually things were sorted out, the new server is much faster, and the stricter PHP settings flagged up a few bugs that I’ve now fixed.

Once the migration was successfully completed, the final step was to cancel the old cloud hosting package, but just before I did that I learnt that it had been marked for obsolescence and I would’ve had to have migrated in a month’s time anyway. So it all worked out for the best in the end. I’m sorry if you encountered any problems while trying to access the site last week, but it should mostly be operational now (except for the shop, which requires some further testing before it can be reopened).

If you are a regular visitor to the site, you may have noticed that there’s a new “Account” link in the main navigation bar. This is something I’ve been working on for some months now, and it was while working on it that I became so frustrated with the limitations of the cloud hosting package that I decided to move. I’ll describe it in more detail in the next post.

Farewell to the Hedgehog and Little Duck

Ingram (the parent company of Lightning Source, who print and distribute paperback titles published by Dickimaw Books) have announced that their saddle stitch format is being retired on 1st March 2021 because the software and equipment used to print that format have become obsolete. This means that the first editions of “The Foolish Hedgehog” and “Quack, Quack, Quack, Give My Hat Back!” will be going out of print on that date.

The saddle stitch format is where the pages are held together by staples down the spine. This works well for these illustrated children’s books, particularly “Quack, Quack, Quack, Give My Hat Back!” which has double spread images. The other paperback titles published by Dickimaw Books all use perfect bound (and so aren’t affected by this change), which has a stiff, flat, rectangular spine. Perfect bound doesn’t work well for young children’s books which are often opened out flat.

If you have been thinking about buying a copy of either of these books then you will have to order them from an online book seller before 1st March 2021. After that date, there may still be copies available from the Dickimaw Books store (once it reopens) until existing stock runs out.

SmashWords Ebook Sale

The DRM-free ebook retailer SmashWords has a sale from 18th December 2020 to 1st January 2021. My crime novel “The Private Enemy” has a 75% discount and my crime fiction short story “I’ve Heard the Mermaid Sing” has a 100% discount (i.e. free!) for the duration of the sale. Did you know that you can gift ebooks on SmashWords? If you’re stuck for a present for a book lover this provides a cheap and convenient option, especially if they’re far away or isolating.

Book Samples

The Dickimaw Books site now has a new book samples area. This provides a collection of sample images taken from pages of the selected paperback book with an accompanying audio track. At the moment there’s only one book listed (The Private Enemy) although I plan to add other fiction paperbacks at a later date.

The sample starts with an image of the jacket. You can navigate to the next available sample page using the “next page” icon (a right pointing arrowhead ), which can be found at the top right of the page image. Below the page image are links to further details about the book and to the book’s listing in the Dickimaw Books store . If there is an ebook edition (which there is for The Private Enemy), then there will also be a link to the ebook’s HTML sample.

The audio file accompanying the jacket image is simply an introduction. The audio files for the actual sample pages are of me reading out that page. This means that you can see how the text is actually typeset on the page of the paperback edition and you can hear the page content. If you prefer to just read the text then follow the link to the ebook sample instead. The navigational icons can be changed in the site settings page (see also the Sticky Hamburgers post).

Remember that the ebook edition of The Private Enemy is free for the duration of the “Authors Give Back” SmashWords sale (ends 31st May 2020), so now’s a good time to try it out!

Be Careful of Message Links

UK mobile networks are sending a “stay at home” message to everyone in response to the current nationwide lockdown. While the link in that specific message is safe, don’t click on links in text messages. It’s very easy for scammers to fake that message and replace the safe link with their own nasty version. It doesn’t take long to type “gov.uk” into the address bar of your browser and you can follow the appropriate link from that site’s home page.

Don’t click on links in text messages. Get into the habit of not clicking links, even if when it’s safe. There’s been a rise in scams and phishing attempts that prey on people’s fears. Please do take care.

If you’re unsure about whether or not a web address is genuine, type it into the search box of your favourite search engine. If the search box is also an address bar (as is the case for some browsers), you need to make sure it doesn’t get interpreted as a URL, which would take you to the site rather than allow you to investigate it first. For example, if you get a link to “example.com/important-info” then type something like “what is example.com” or “who is example.com” or “who owns example.com” as your search term. That should hopefully ensure that it’s interpreted as a search rather than an address. (You can also use the ICANN lookup to look up the registration data for the domain, but an Internet search may show up warnings and alerts.)

The same advice applies for emails, and with email messages you need to be even more careful as links are more dangerous in HTML content than in plain text messages because they are hidden behind the link text. On a desktop device you may be able to see the URL when you hover the mouse pointer over the link text, but you can’t do this on a mouseless mobile device. You may be able to copy the link (using a context popup menu or a long tap) but you need to take care that you don’t accidentally follow the link by mistake.

Always be very careful about emails that encourage you to click on a link or open an attachment even if they seem to be sent from a legitimate source. Sender addresses are usually sent in the form “Display Name” user@example.com. The “display name” part can be set to anything. For example, “Some Public Health Body” scammer@baddomain.com. So be careful not to trust the display name. Copy the domain part (after @) and paste it into a search engine to investigate it (bearing in mind the earlier advice about a search bar that doubles as an address bar).

The Dickimaw Books site has some functions that will send an automated email that may include a link. For example, if you report a bug and provide your email address for confirmation then you will receive a message informing you when your report is logged with a link to the topic page on the bug tracker. I’ve amended the template used for that message to additionally provide information on how to navigate your way to the topic page without clicking on the link. It’s less convenient but it’s safer.

Stay safe and practice both physical and digital hygiene.

“Authors Give Back” SmashWords Sale

The DRM-free ebook retailer SmashWords has a one month “Authors Give Back” sale from 20th March to 20th April 2020 [Update: closing date has been extended to 31st May 2020]. In response to the current Coronavirus situation that is leaving people housebound, authors are providing their ebooks at a discounted price or free. Both my crime novel “The Private Enemy” and my crime fiction short story “I’ve Heard the Mermaid Sing” are FREE for the duration of this sale.

A word of warning: “The Private Enemy” contains a point in the story where rioting results in a shortage of supplies and people being stuck inside getting bored and on each others nerves, so that may not be the kind of storyline you’ll be in the mood to read right now!

RSS Feeds and Other Notifications

Did you know that the Dickimaw Books site has a number of RSS feeds? These are links denoted with RSS Feed. This means you can pick up the latest news in your news aggregator. Some mail applications, such as Thunderbird, have an aggregator function.

The main RSS feed can be found on the banner at the top of the pages on the main part of this site (outside of this blog and the shop). If you have hidden that area on the banner using the settings page, then you can find the RSS feed link on the news page. That main feed is for the brief news items, such as updates to the site or software or new articles. Each news item is usually no more than one or two sentences.

The feed for this blog can be found at the top of the blog side bar. This picks up any new blog post and includes the entire post in the feed. There are also feeds for individual blog categories. For example, if you go to the “site” category, there’s a link to the category feed after the category title. If you subscribe to that feed, then you will just get the new posts for that particular category.

There isn’t a specific RSS feed for the shop, but if you have a store account then you can sign up for the shop newsletter. This doesn’t go out very often, just when there’s some particular news that’s specific to the store, such as new products, store closures or promotional offers.

If you don’t have a store account but you want to be notified when a new book is released then you can sign up for new book alerts.

So there are a number of different ways of picking up the latest news on this site. Alternatively, you can just drop in on the site from time to time and look at the recent news page.

TeX Live and Fedora

I’ve been using TeX Live on Fedora for years, but today I encountered an odd error when trying to perform the usual sudo tlmgr update package. I tried an Internet search of the error message but it didn’t provide any helpful clues. I finally worked out what had happened and, since it’s possible someone else might stumble on the same thing, I thought it might be useful to post about it in case it helps others.

First a little background information to supply some context. I normally use dnf to install or update software on Fedora, but not when it comes to TeX because I have found in the past that the Linux distros tend to have outdated TeX packages. Instead, I install TeX Live from the DVD (which I automatically receive as a joint member of UK TUG and TUG) as I have an iffy broadband connection, and I also have to update the TeX Live distributions for other family members. It’s easy to slap the DVD in the drive and set the installer going regardless of whether the computer has Linux or Windows. On my own device, I keep the TeX Live installations from the previous couple of years as it’s useful to be able to switch to an older version when trying to investigate a bug that has appeared with a new TeX Live release. (I have a symbolic link /usr/local/texlive/default that points to the release I want to use. All I need to do is change the link to switch to a different release.)

I don’t like automatic updates (it can be confusing if an update occurs without my noticing and causes an unexpected conflict) so I just periodically run sudo tlmgr update --all but today this resulted in an unexpected error. (The message suggests it’s a warning but the process fails.)

*** WARNING ***: Performing this action will likely destroy the Fedora TeXLive install on your system.
*** WARNING ***: This is almost NEVER what you want to do.
*** WARNING ***: Try using dnf install/update instead.
*** WARNING ***: If performing this action is really what you want to do, pass the "ignore-warning" option.
*** WARNING ***: But please do not file any bugs with the OS Vendor.

As is often the case, the problem is obvious in hindsight but it flummoxed me for a while. Why was the TeX Live manager suddenly telling me to use dnf when I’d installed it from the DVD? It had worked fine the last time (not that long ago), so what had changed since then? A few days ago I’d upgraded to Fedora 31.

It turned out that I now have an extra TeX Live installation that I didn’t know about in /usr/share/texlive/ with its own tlmgr in /bin (which is a symbolic link to /usr/bin). To add to the confusion my normal user PATH has /usr/local/texlive/default/bin/x86_64-linux near the start of the list but the /etc/sudoers file had it at the end:

Defaults    secure_path = /sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/usr/local/texlive/default/bin/x86_64-linux

This means that when I use TeX as a normal user it’s picking up the installation from the DVD, but with sudo it’s picking up the other installation, which requires dnf rather than tlmgr to update TeX packages. The question is, how did that other TeX Live installation suddenly appear?

Some years ago I installed texlive-dummy to satisfy dependencies in the event that I had to install software that required a TeX distribution. As far as I can tell, that texlive-dummy RPM no longer exists. My guess is that when I upgraded to Fedora 31, the upgrade process detected the TeX Live dependency, but texlive-dummy had disappeared, so it installed the complete TeX Live distribution instead. For now, I’ve simply edited the /etc/sudoers file so that /usr/local/texlive/default/bin/x86_64-linux is listed first in the path.