Hosting from home for free – loads of bandwidth and space

Whilst the price of shared hosting is falling, trusting your website to an unknown company is always a risk. Even some of the largest sellers oversell bandwidth and space, so who do you trust your website to? I decided to host my site on my own server at home – since I pay for a 24/7 internet connection.

When I set up my server, I was new to DNS and hosting, and decided to move my domain to dyndns.com who provide a dynamic DNS service. They offer free accounts with popular names like dyn-o-saur.com or you can go for your own top level .com domain.

What they don’t say is that you can use their free account and register your domain name with a cheap provider like godaddy. This saves you around $30 per domain – worth it if you have a lot of domains.

All you do is set up your free account with your dynamic provider (and install the update client which tells their servers if your ip address changes). You register your domain with your preferred provider and set up a cname record which points to your free domain name. This means that any traffic going to your registered address is redirected to your free dynamic dns account.

All you then need to do is set up your web server to recognise the new sites you have added and bingo – you can run dozens of sites from one machine. This is the guide I followed.

There are downsides to hosting your own server. First of all you have to pay for your own internet and electricity which is not an insignificant cost. My cable modem offers 400k/s incoming and 40 k/s outgoing (with peak time traffic shaping) for the equivalent of $50 a month. Electricity in the UK is also rapidly rising in price thanks to the lack of freedom in the European energy market – my Dell server costs the equivalent of $10 – $12 a month. Another downside is technical knowledge. Your server is continually exposed to the internet and you need to make sure you only open ports you need, and that you keep the server patched and up to date.

With energy prices rising so rapidly, I regularly review my decision to host from home. Using an older more energy friendly PC will help keep the costs down but there is no short cut to gaining technical knowledge (although you could run a preconfigured server on a virtual machine!).

Do you host from home? Are you looking for free hosting for a blog? Leave me a comment below.

Edit: 15/09/08 Since I posted this originally my workload has increased and I just didn’t have time to maintain my installations (updating the ubuntu server was easy, updating joomla/wordpress a bit more time consuming).  I decided to move my blog back to blogger and rely on Google Analytics for my visitor information.  (That and I also needed to turn the ‘office room’ back into a guest bedroom and the server was too noisy for someone to get any sleep!).

Find out where your spam comes from….

Ever wondered where spammers get your email address from? This is how you can find out – it only works when you start with a new domain or new googlemail account.

Method 1

If you have a custom domain you registered e.g. fiendishlyclever.com you own all the email addresses at that domain. If you set all the emails to forward to your current email address you will get all the email that comes to every address. Then all you need to do is when you sign up for a site, you include the site name in the email address you give for that site. For example if you were shopping on Amazon, you would give your email address as [email protected] where you swap domainname.com for your own. When you start getting spam email you can see where they have come from.

Method 2

This is very similar but uses Googlemail (Gmail). Google mail has a set of features only recently documented. Because of the way Google parses the email addresses, you can change your email address in 2 different ways and still receive your email. Googlemail takes no notice of where the dots are before the @ sign so you can change these when you give out your email address – although this is not as useful as the next feature. You can also add a plus sign (+) and extra characters after your username and before the @ sign. This has been confirmed to work with regular googlemail and googlemail for domains. This can be used now in the same way as method 1. When you sign up for a new site, add +sitename before the @ sign. For example [email protected] if you were shopping at Amazon. You could also do this when you give out your email address to friends. When you start to get spam email – have a look and see who sold you out! I’ve started using this method so it will be interesting to see if the email addresses of my incoming spam change!

Science demonstrations

I was at the Nottinghamshire Subject Leaders’ conference lately and one of the sessions looked at impressive science demonstrations. I’ve taken some of these back to school and rehearsed them. Methane soap bubbles were fun (even after burning all the hairs off my arm!) and this week I blew the bottom off the water cooler bottle whilst doing the whoosh bottle. For those who have never seen these demonstrations before, have a look at these videos on teachers.tv. You will have to register with the site.

http://www.teachers.tv/video/20295

http://www.teachers.tv/video/20297

Assessment for Learning

afl

It’s amazing how many people I meet on my travels who struggle with the concept of assessment for learning (AfL). Some people think it’s a new invention, others think that it is something that must be shoe-horned into schemes of work in a formulaic way along with a 3 part lesson. Some people get obsessed with the idea of tests.

The cartoon explains simply the AfL cycle. It’s a simple process of assessing where a learner is now (that’s the assessment part!) and looking to see where the next step is. Knowing how to get there is an important step and completes the cycle.

So what does AfL look like in action?

  • Marking of work: Comments that tell pupils what they need to do to improve their work, so the pupil knows what they have to do next
  • Oral feedback: Do comments given to pupils in lessons deliver the 3 steps above? (telling them where they are and what they need to do to improve and how to go about it?)
  • Self assessment: Pupils assessing themselves against a set of levelled learning outcomes. They can see how they are performing and where they need to focus their efforts.
  • Peer assessment: Pupils are very good at assessing the work of their peers. I’ve worked in mainstream schools with pupils who have been very good at assessing each others work and setting a target for improvement. Even at a special school level the pupils are very good at recognising success and giving helpful advice for improvement.
  • Level assessed tasks: These have suddenly become very popular in science amongst other subjects. Free and commercial tasks are given to pupils which have a set of levelled outcomes, so pupils are able to see what needs to go into their own work, they can assess each others work and see how to get to the next level. (This is classic AfL and also very good for getting pupils working together).
  • Target setting: IEPs are a classic idea of setting targets that are not only achievable but give the learner an idea of how to reach that target.
  • Learning objectives in lessons: If you’ve heard of WALT (we are learning to/will all learn today) and WILF (what I’m looking for) when you’re doing this already. Setting learning objectives at the start of lessons and then checking pupils have reached this learning objective is nothing new. Good teachers have always done this – but it is still good AfL practice.

I hope that this overview has been useful. Feel free to get in touch (contact us) if you have any comments or questions.