Moving from Stablehost shared hosting to Amazon Lightsail

[Apologies to teacher subscribers of my site who receive this update expecting an email about science teaching. I’ve written about this as a record of the poor service from my web hosting provider so that others might find it and make an informed decision based on my experience. I’m posting this under the personal section of my site.]

A few weeks ago I received an email from my hosting provider, Stablehost, informing me: “This mail is to inform you about your account fiendish activities. As per our terms of services, you may not: Use 75% or more of system resources for longer than 90 seconds. … According to your monitoring data, we can see that your account is constantly overplaying the allocated CPU and memory usage. You can check that yourself from cPanel >> CPU and Concurrent Connections. For your reference, I’ve also attached the same to this ticket.”

As you can see I was given a nice helpful graph with no labels for the bottom axis (important because it helps identify if this is a temporary problem or a longer-term issue) There was no discussion, and despite having access to my records seeing that my sites have been hosted there for many years, my account was unceremoniously deactivated.  When I contacted support I was told tersely (some might say rudely) simply they could only respond to me by email and I had to reply to the original email I had been sent.

Checking Cloudflare (who sit between my website and my hosting provider to help reduce demand on their servers, overkill for a tiny little site like mine) I could see a flurry of activity from foreign web servers that matched the times of increased demand (I found these in my CPanel once they reactivated my account, not from anyone in support) In fact when attempting to glean additional data from support I was simply told: “I have checked and noticed now you [Sic] account usage is normal.”

Following a server snafu the previous year, I had already moved my DNS entries to Cloudflare as Stablehost simply deleted my DNS records, including my MX entries, so all my mail stopped being delivered (they did helpfully reinstate it when I pointed out their mistake). The lack of information about my usage didn’t fill me with confidence and I ended up regularly checking my usage figures once my site was back up and running (with no idea if I had used 75% of resources for 90 seconds as the data they provide in the control panel is not that granular)

I thought about moving to another host but that could be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, so I decided to look elsewhere. I could move my site over to WordPress.com which would provide automatic updates but I’d lose a lot of the flexibility that comes from self-hosting (including my plugins that repeatedly Tweet my posts) I decided to try Amazon Lightsail who provide a ready to use WordPress experience (at the same price as WordPress.com – £3 per month) with hosting in London.

Moving over my content took a little tweaking of the settings in Lightsail (I was using the all-in-one WP migration plugin) and we were ready to go. There are plenty of guides in the documentation and that previous adopters have shared so I won’t list them here. I would say that Lightsail is best suited to someone who has the experience or the willingness to tinker with the settings as it isn’t quite as simple as click and play (especially if you want to enable https)

My site has been running on Amazon’s servers for several weeks now and I have noticed is a massive improvement in speed over the shared hosting. The whole site (browsing and the admin panel) are now quick and responsive – a huge leap forward from shared hosting with Stablehost. As expected, my tiny site isn’t using much processing power which makes me suspect the information I was given my Stablehost…

If you are starting out and want your own website/blog, and you don’t mind having a WordPress URL and adverts on your site, the free option from WordPress.com is probably best for you and avoids any potential security issues with having to keep your WordPress installation up to date.

 

Score yourself some cheap train tickets – how I saved £87 on a single journey

I’ve read plenty of articles about saving money on train journeys and thought this wouldn’t apply to me or that the savings would be minimal.
I recently had cause to visit Bristol for the day on business. A quick check of trains on the National Rail site revealed that I’d be travelling on a Cross Country train.  I had to arrive in Bristol before 11am which meant a peak-time departure.
A quick search on Cross Country trains alongside the Trainline site offered me a ticket for £158 (or slightly less if I booked two singles). There are several routes to Bristol – all came in at the same price but the journey time varied from under three hours to nearly four hours depending on the date chosen.

I wondered if it might be possible to get a split ticket – and a quick google search revealed the site https://www.splitticketing.com/
The user interface for split ticketing is bare-bones and a little clunky. Clicking the wrong option (like leave after/arrive before) would show no routes available. Banging in the times and clicking on the proceed button brings up the individual legs of the journey. This site charges you an admin fee based on your saving – and I wasn’t keen on booking specific trains, I like the flexibility to catch a later (or earlier) train if I’m working and don’t know what time I might leave a meeting.

Using the information from the split ticketing site I decided to book my own tickets, hoping I could book individual day-return tickets. Unfortunately, neither the TrainLine website nor CrossCountry Trains would display day-returns when I put in the times of the individual trains but the East Midlands Trains site did (I’ve no idea why since they all appear to use the same software and interface)
I ended up buying three sets of tickets. I split my trip into three journeys, each with a seat reservation where available and for a total cost of £71.10 (selecting the cheapest tickets offered to me for each leg of the journey) and saving me £87

The upsides to buying this way are simple, you save money. If I’d bought the ticket I was offered first I’d have paid more than double the cost of split tickets! I also felt a bit mean not booking through Split Tickets but I didn’t want the ticket options they offered (and as I was claiming my travel back I felt their ‘fee’ could be hard to justify on an expenses claim form!)
The downsides were several. Searching for the same journey on different dates brings up different journey times and ticket splits, so you can’t always be sure you are being given the cheapest route (The route I took should be available every weekday but searching for other dates routed me through Wales adding an hour to the journey and changing the ticket split).
Because I booked three separate journeys, I had three booking reference numbers and had to go to the ticket machine and repeat the collection procedure three times. This resulted in fourteen tickets being printed – the photo at the top of this posts shows the ones I had left at the end of the day. Before my journey, I sorted them in order ready for checking on the train.
I had booked onto a busy route and on the way back my seat reservation was different for each leg of the journey. The train was packed and I sat watching people evicting each other from reserved seats so be aware that you might have to move mid-journey which can be a problem if you are carrying heavy luggage.
Booking a split ticket means that the train has to stop at the stations where you’ve split your ticket. To reserve seats on these trains yourself, you need to know the exact time of the stop where you break your journey so you can reserve your seat on the onward part of the journey after the break. This adds a significant amount of time and effort to the booking process (if you are travelling on a quieter route you can skip this step and save yourself a good deal of grief!)
Would I do this again?  Yes to save over £80, and watching people showing the train manager their tickets, I wasn’t the only one to split my journey to save money.
What this does show is what a shambles the whole ticket booking system is for travel by train. When we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and use public transport, it shouldn’t be so hard to get a cheap train ticket.

Update: 23/10/18
Yesterday I repeated the technique. Again I had to book my own tickets because the ticket split site did not offer the chance to make sure every ticket was a day ticket (handy for flexibility) By splitting my ticket I saved £60 this time off a quoted direct ticket price of £128. Again I had a handful of tickets (which the bemused ticket inspector clipped all at once) but I didn’t want to risk my phone battery running out with e-tickets

Cauda equina update – final edition (hopefully!)


Four years ago I’d had one of those life-changing events that you read about on Facebook.  I’d just undergone emergency surgery for cauda equina – one of my discs had slipped out of place in my spine and was crushing my spinal cord. Fortunately it was caught early and I was rushed in for emergency surgery.
After a week in Derby Royal Hospital, I was discharged from hospital and began the slow rehabilitation back to normality.  Walking was the first battle I won, with nerve damage to the muscles/skin down the back of my legs I had to walk with a stick. A large patient German Shepherd got me walking again and whilst I have reduced sensation down the back of my legs/feet I walk miles, the same as before my condition started.
The second big change was learning to self-catheterise.  The first few times I did this I felt like I was going to pass out (if you’ve seen the length of a male catheter you might appreciate why!) but I learned to do it quickly at home and at work (who had special equipment installed at work).  It’s been a year now since I was discharged from urology as my nerves had regenerated sufficiently that I no longer needed to use the catheters (saving the NHS around £1.50 per visit to the men’s room!)
I still have a rise and fall desk at work but very rarely need to use it in the upright position, and I have an amazing memory foam seat that prevents backache (and it drives me mad when anyone touches the myriad of levers on the underside of the chair as I don’t know what most of them do!)
So why the update – I still get lots of messages from people who have suffered from some kind of spinal/back trauma and either suffered cauda equina or something similar.  I know that your recovery might be slower than mine, or may take a different route but don’t give up.  Hang on in there and keep doing the things you want to, it will get better!
Follow my cauda equina history here