Sky Q Boo Hoo: The Glitches

Switched on my Sky Q Silver box after getting back home from work.  “No Satellite Signal”.  Reboot fixed it.  The Sky Q mini keeps losing its TV guide every few days.  A reboot fixes that too.  Additionally the Sky Q Silver box has warned me about my broadband.  It’s absolutely fine (Sky Fibre Broadband Pro).

And last night every single channel was showing “Mrs. Brown’s Boys” on the Sky Q mini.  This is the strangest plot Brendan O’Carroll has written yet:

This is a good episode of Mrs. Brown's Boys - they remove her brain and she becomes a zombie, with an appetite for eating other people's brains.
This is a good episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys – they remove her brain and she becomes a zombie, with an appetite for eating other people’s brains.

Methinks the developers at Sky need to do a bit more work to get those bugs out the system..


The Hub by Premier Inn: The future of the hotel

Update (14th January 2017): Have booked to stay again in Edinburgh at The Hub in a few months time. Surprisingly far, far cheaper than staying at any of the IHG owned hotels, of which I avidly collect points for.  Stay tuned for an update!

As a frequent(ish) traveller, I like my technology, and having had my fair share of staying in Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses and whatnot, it’s frustrating seeing the same old stuff every time one stays at these places: all too small TVs (at least they’re flatscreen, right?), inconveniently located light switches and wall sockets, and having to remember to stick your keycard into the wall to make sure that the lights and AC remain on. And then you have a thermostat that’s probably older than you and that it never gets the right temperature that you want, so you’re fiddling with it constantly.

Then you have to wait 600 years in reception checking and checking out.

Yawn, yawn, yawn.  But at least you get a decent bed, and a good night’s sleep, yes?  Maybe.

There’s a new kid in town, and it’s aiming to make staying a budget conscious (usually – subject to supply and demand and seasons, etc.) a tech lover’s dream.

Edinburgh Waverly station - the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.
Edinburgh Waverly station – the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.

For my trip to Edinburgh, I booked The Hub by Preimer Inn.  As the name implies, it’s a sister hotel to the regular Premier Inn, but with more emphasis on technology and efficiency.  But not at the expense of either (nor comfort for that matter).  From check in through to turning the lights on and off, you’ll be exposed to the future of proper hotel comfort using a contactless keycard and a mobile app to control your room’s temperature and lighting.

But that’s not all.

You get a huge comfortable bed, a desk and chair (sometimes the desk is hidden away, sometimes you’ll get a slightly bigger room with the desk in a permanent position), a 40″ smart TV with a dedicated panel for HDMI, RGB connectors and USB in, a control panel that controls all the lights, temperature, and the “Do not make up room” and “Do not disturb” electronic signs that light up outside your room.

Check-in was simplicity itself.  There’s a QR code with your booking that you scan in the check-in machine (don’t worry – there’s staff on hand to guide you through the whole process) and you then confirm a few details on the touchscreen.  You then take a blank, contactless room card and then put it into the reader/writer.  You’re then checked in.  Two minutes!  No queues!

But you can control all that through The Hub’s own iOS (or Android) app if you wish.  It’s a tiny bit buggy, but works more or less most of the time.  It’s perfectly possible, when connected to the hotel’s superfast (and I do mean it) Wi-Fi and sitting downstairs in the deli seating area to set the temperature ready for when you get back to your room.

When you do leave the room, lights and AC are turned off/or set to a low level.  On your return, everything comes back on without you having to stick your contactless room card in a slot or do anything else.  It Just Works(tm).  No more thumbling around for that light switch.

The Hub by Premier Inn's superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
The Hub by Premier Inn’s superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

Speaking of food, I ordered breakfast for all 4 days that I was staying at the hotel.  Breakfast consists one of four choices and comes with a sandwich, bagel or muffin, a hot drink (from Costa – so I could enjoy my favourite mochas every day), and a cold drink (typically orange juice).  I tended to combine this with a pain au chocolate (£2 extra).  The Great British breakfast was delicious – bacon in a toasted sandwich.

The Great British breakfast
The Great British breakfast “box”. Pain au chocolat extra £2.

I also tried other items on the menu (a tuna/cheese toasted sandwich and a decent, hearty soup containing chickpeas) and I can attest that the quality of the ingredients is excellent, The in house restaurant/deli is effectively a branch of The Proven Dough.  It’s not a brand I had heard of before, but would certainly be happy to use again.

The rooms, by the way, don’t have any kettles (they do have hairdryers, however).  But that’s okay.  You have 24/7 access to unlimited coffee and tea downstairs in the deli/reception area.  I tested this by heading down at 1am and there were still members of staff milling around.  I went back to the room and promptly tripped, emptying the entire contents of the tea onto the floor.  Sigh.

As The Hub’s deli is that – a deli – if you want something a bit more substantial, the location of the hotel in Edinburgh puts you right at the Royal Mile.  Literally a two minute walk.  But you can also use the regular Premier Inn restaurant – which is 30 seconds away, but I would recommend booking in advance wherever possible.

If you’re waiting for somebody, or need to look something up, or are holding an impromptu meeting – there are Android tablets in reception for you to play with. I struggled with the browser (which oddly told me it was a trial version).

The only downside was that I couldn’t get AirPlay to work with the Smart TV.  I suspect that the implementation by Samsung/Premier Inn isn’t quite compatible with iOS 9.3.  I still had that superfast Wi-Fi, and the 12.9″ inches of my iPad Pro to watch Netflix and Amazon.  So it was no big deal.  A nice idea from Premier Inn, however.

As you can see, The Hub by Premier Inn offers people like me a hotel that makes sense. The Hub by Premier Inn is perfect for the business traveller (the deli/seating area has built in chargers for phones, and electrical sockets for laptops).

Travelodge and Holiday Inn (Express) ought to take note.  The Hub by Premier Inn is the future of the modern mass market hotel.  While still only available in limited locations for now, I hope that Premier Inn will roll out more Hubs to other cities and towns.

I absolutely loved my stay at The Hub by Premier Inn (Edinburgh Royal Mile) and I’m already planning on going back later this year.  What was even better was the price.  For the four nights I was away, it cost me only £218.  Had I stayed at a local hotel, it’d have cost me £320, and given the experience of my manager who popped up to go to the same conference as me (I combined a working day with a holiday) had, I definitely made the right choice.

EasyApache 4: Making cPanel/WHM more sysadmin friendly

One of the reasons for popping up to Edinburgh last week was to hear various representatives from cPanel/WHM talk about the many features of the cPanel/WHM ecosystem as well as glimpsing upcoming new features to make everybody’s life a bit more easier.

As as systems administrator of some 20 years (has it been that long?), I am most comfortable with a command line interface and a decent text editor.  cPanel/WHM provides a user friendly web interface to many of the complex tasks that one would to go through to configure a web hosting environment.  But I must admit to loving cPanel/WHM just as I love the command line because it is easier to set-up a blog like this through cPanel/WHM than it would take me to set-up nginx, php-fpm, MySQL (or MariaDB, or PerconaDB) from scratch.  That said, to get the very best out of cPanel/WHM, you should still know some Linux commands because not everything can (or should be) handled through a web interface.

As cPanel/WHM development storms ahead, we’re getting to the point where cPanel/WHM is becoming more standardised so that you’ll be able to manage it just as you would any other kind of bare bones Linux box, with full LSB compliance (with configuration files and scripts in meaningful places) along with full API and command line support for most features.

With the forthcoming EasyApache 4, for example, you can set-up Apache and PHP through the use of RPMs rather than having to wait for cPanel/WHM to compile everything for you.  I cannot tell you how much faster it is installing everything through a Linux package management system.

EasyApache 4 is still considered beta, with plans for it to be released within the next major release of cPanel/WHM – version 58, which is about 12-16 weeks away.  Beta or not, EasyApache 4 is perfectly serviceable right now.  With EasyApache 4, it’ll make it much easier for folk to run multiple versions of PHP (so older sites can run PHP 5.3/5.4 and WordPress and the ilk can run PHP 7).  Of course, one would recommend deploying CloudLinux to provide a greater amount of segregation and security for the older, potentially more exploitable apps, but this feature in EasyApache 4 makes it possible for all folk to run multiple versions of PHP side-by-side.

There will still be a user interface to configure EasyApache profiles.  Indeed, I used it to specify the relevant Apache and PHP packages for this server.  The MultiPHP INI editor is a wonderful inclusion that makes it dead simple to go through all the php.ini options and set them to your liking.  The changes will be applied to whatever PHP handler is being used.

Full PHP-FPM support is among one of the biggest and greatest features I’ve been waiting for in cPanel/WHM.  It should be fully supported in version 58, but I’m making great use of it right now with a bit of command line tinkering.  I’m running this blog (and the stats system) on PHP 7 with PHP-FPM.  It wasn’t difficult, and I find that I’m loving the performance from having made the effort.  Having nginx would be a nice have (as a web server rather than as a front end proxy to Apache), but beggars can’t be choosers and Apache 2.4’s performance is pretty decent as it is.

Brings a whole new definition to the word “clean-up”

Info Insecurity

I shouldn’t laugh at a fellow web hosting company’s misfortune, but when I heard about the almighty muck-up from 123-reg inadvertently nuking customer’s virtual private servers (source: BBC)  during routine maintenance, I couldn’t help but to try and stifle a chuckle.

But on a more serious note it highlights a couple of problems (least of which is to be very, very sure about what stuff you’re doing on the underlying host platform):

  • Virtualisation = multi-tenant server, therefore a dedicated server will be home to quite a few other clients, all doing their own thing.  Unless you’re using some form of shared storage for the virtual server image, or can quickly hot swap the drives out to a new standby chassis – if the server goes TITSUP (see below), many people will be affected, and for quite some time!
  • Backups.  I can’t believe people aren’t making multiple backups.  Especially if you’re not paying the hosting provider for the privilege.  NEVER assume that your hosting provider is taking backups of your data.  But there are many options available to ensure that you have sufficient coverage in the case of a failure. Some hosting providers usually provide something (at cost), but it’s always recommended that you store backups both away the hosting platform, in a different datacentre, and at least one copy preferably away from the hosting company.  Why not use a third party utility such as rclone to make sure you’re backing up valuable data to another service?  I’ve written a guide for cPanel server users here.
  • Redundancy.  If your business is truly that important, you’ll be looking at high availability options that can include, but are not limited to, load balancing (multiple web front ends, multiple DB and file backends).  If one more servers goes TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance), others can take over.  Failover options are well worth investigating.  Note: it’s rarely cheap, but if you really value uptime of your business – it’s a must.

I think the best attitude to have in this situation is to tell yourself what would you do WHEN these things go wrong – not IF.  Aside from all of the above, your web site may be affected by malware (especially if you’re running legacy versions of the server components, or if your CMS or web site is itself based around legacy components – make sure you keep it up-to-date!), denial of service attacks, or a combination of both.

Running a web site and managing your email is fun, fun, fun!

I’ll take the high road..

I’ve just returned from a marvellous few days in Edinburgh, having gone up there to attend the cP1Con (cPanel one-day conference).

I also spent a couple of days exploring the sights and sounds of Edinburgh, and have utterly fallen in love with the place.  I’ll post much more about that later, but in the mean time, here’s a shoddily put together video (assembled in my hotel room, on the iPad Pro)  of footage that I shot at Edinburgh Zoo.  Please note, the headless penguin isn’t headless and the one that looks to be dead isn’t. Oh, you’ll see what I mean..

(Note: the meerkats in the hailstorm isn’t a visual effect – it actually happened – a lot)