WordPress White Screen of Death

Suddenly all of the managed sites I have have gone “white”. That is WordPress just returns nothing to a curl. This is apparently a very common thing and there are three common issues:

  1. You are out of PHP memory
  2. You have a bad plugin
  3. You have a bad theme. Change back to a default them

Here are the diagnostic procedures

  1. While you can use ftp to do this, It is way more convenient if you enable webdav so that you can actually edit things directly from your computer.
  2. If you do this, then you can connect to the server from say the Mac with Connect to Server and then typing in the appropriate url https://box211.bluehost.com:2078 is an example that would you connect to Bluehost.com and their server named box211. Note that you definitely want to use encryption, so that is why you have port 2078
  3. If you do this then you can go to terminal and just edit or you can see if in finder.
  4. The fix is to go to wp-contents/plugins and rename it to something else, this disables all plugins and you should be able to get access to your wp-admin page. Now rename it back and all the plugins are deactivate.
  5. Activate them one at a time and keep refreshing your home page until you find it.

In our case, the automatic update is normally a great thing, but if a plugin distribution is bad then this will happen. It looks like the latest version captcha fwiw has the problem. You shouldn’t need it if you do not have comment and so forth enabled.

Photo sharing redux for Android and IOS

I’ve been using a combination of bluehost.com with phpgallery for private photos plus iCloud Photo sharing, but there are two problems:

  1. Bluehost.com shared hosting is just unbearably slow for this purpose, not surprising given the low fee, even with unlimited storage it takes a long time to load and managing the gallery is definitely a pain.
  2. iCloud works pretty well for iOS users, but not at all for Android. Also, with sharing, they limit the resolution of the photos to 2Kx2K which isn’t so nice with 50MP images, so you don’t get high resolution. You can pay more, but they are pretty expensive.

There are a couple of options that are marginal cost zero if you already have Amazon Prime or use Google Gsuite to manage your mail for you anyway because Spam stinks. Both allow unlimited photo storage at unlimited resolutions (if you pay for Google Drive unlimited at $10/month).

The main issues are:

Amazon Prime Photos. This is great and free and allows unlimited storage. The main gotcha is that you lose control of the naming of the photos. This makes it pretty useless if you’ve got say 40K photos across five families (hint!). It basically names it all to Date.jpg

Google Photos. This is a pretty chimera, you basically have a separate uploader that only works against non-network drives for Mac and Windows. There is a buried checkbox that says, when you are uploading photos, do you also want them to go into Google Photos. There is also another buried option in Google Drive which says do you want to see your Google Photos inside Google Drive. If you do this, then you can download.

The other interesting oddity if that if your photos are less than 2MP and videos are 1080P then it doesn’t count against your Google Drive quota.

Synology does have a Cloud Connect feature so you can in the background dump all your files onto Google Drive. This is not the same as Hyper Backup which does the same but at the block level for storage. However, if you can’t use Cloud Connect to upload Google Photos.

So if you have photos say on a network server, the only way to do this is to download your photos to your laptop so it isn’t a network drive and then upload it with the batch uploader with the Google Photos option checked.

Net, net, the best way so far seems to be to use Google Drive to host all the photos using the $10/month unlimited GSuite plan and then selective add those photos to Google Photos for album sharing.

I haven’t gone through the whole process yet, but it does look like you do lose all the directory and file names like Amazon Photos. So there isn’t an answer quite yet. I may in the end have to host my own Digital Ocean site with a custom gallery 🙁

Using Mavic for videos and photos..

Well I haven’t crashed the drone yet, but now it’s time to get the most quality video and photos from it, first some dumb things:

  1. For a long time I could not figure out how to change the resolution of the camera. I kept on going to the upper right settings menu and the only options there are about the gimbal. What you actually have to do is to click on the button just below the shutter button on the lower right. You will then get resolution choices. Note that the video and photo modes give totally different settings.
  2. So what settings to pick, well first get a huge SD card and a fast one (UHD) so you can shoot in 4K video. I normally pick 4160 because why not and then you get 24fps, if you are shooting fast stuff, then 1080p at 60fps might be your choice, but not for landscapes.

So what if you want to actually shoot professionally, then you really tweak the settings. You have to shoot so you can image process later:

  1. Basically this means shoot in D.Lux if you are going to process, although Standard seems decent.
  2. You also should take it out of AWB or automatic white balance otherwise the color will shift depending on what you are looking at so something in the 5500-6000 Color Temperature makes sense.
  3. Finally, you want to manually set the ISO as low as possible and to prevent weird artifacts, you need to shoot at a low shutter speed.
  4. The rule of thumb is 1/(2xframe rate). So at 24fps, you want to shoot at 1/50th or so. This means you will want a set of neutral density filters so it doesn’t look overexposed.
  5. Set the color settings to “1 0 1” for later use.


Ubuntu 16.04 fails on reboot on VMware Fusion

I’ve been having this strange problem with Ubuntu 16.04 in VMware Fusion where it eventually fail with a graphics mode failure, it was horrible to debug but this is what helped:

  1. First when you have this kind of hang, see if you can get just a terminal windows with CTRL-ALT-F1. Now this is tricky on the new MacBook Pro’s with touch screens, but basically you hold the FN-CTRL-OPT F1. This should get you to a terminal window and you can login in character mode.
  2. Now you can check the /var/log/syslog to see what happened. In this case, look for Failed and you will see that Light Display Manager does not start
  3. First you should remove the quietness when Linux is starting, so you can at least see the error messages.
  4. You should edit the /etc/default/grub and remove “quiet splash” from theGRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT line. Then run `sudo update-grub` and try to reboot. In many cases, this can be solved by making sure you are up to the latest version with `sudo apt-get upgrade` and then do see what you get, with things like Light Display Manager, you will often see packages held back.
  5. What is happening is that there is a deep change to a package and you can’t simply update it, instead, you use `sudo apt-get dist-upgrade` and this will handle dependencies. For instance this most often happens when there is a deep change in the kernel images say `linux-image-4.4.0-generic` gets bumped, then the packages that need it says `linux-image-generic` also needs a bump, so `dist-upgrade` handles this. You often see this `packages held back` which means that there was a deep update particularly in something like `xserver-xorg-*`
  6. Now this thing can cause big problems, so most of the time do a simple apt-get upgrade. Then just reboot and pray.

In this case, we see that Light Display Manager failed to start. At first I thought it was because of some problem with VMware, but now I can see that it was more likely a deep dependency in X11 server which runs the graphical interface.

Outfitting a new apartment

Wow this has gotten way easier thanks to cooksillustrated.com, sweethome.com and consumerreports.org. Subscriptions are required for the first and last but totally worth it:

  1. Tramontina. This is the Walmart.com has a knockoff Allclad triple-ply pans that can last a lifetime. For a limited time $109 gets you a set of 8 (really four pots).
  2. Tramontina Restaurant quality no-stick pans. Same deal, really excellent pans and they are only $40 at Walmart.
  3. Lodge Stew pot. We use our Lodge pot more than any other pot for stews and they are super inexpensive.

Knives are probably the other item people neglected item, but there is nothing that lasts longer and make a difference when cooking:

  1. Victorinox. While you can get a set of knives, if you look cooks illustrated, you can get an amazing knife set for very little if you are willing to put up with a little less uniform look. The 8″ chef knife, the 3.5″ paring knife are the two goto’s that we use all the time and are super reasonable.
  2. Mercer Cullinary Millenia 10-inch bread knife.
  3. Chicago Cutlery steak knives. While you can get your flatware at Ikea (I’ve done it), the knives are a different story. At $4 a knife, these are beautiful walnut and really high quality.
  4. Chef Choice knife sharpeners. Even with great knives, they need to be straightened. It turns out that most of the time you do not want to remove material, but just unbend an invisible turn in your knives, while expensive the Chef Choice are the goto.

Next up is the bedding, while it seems silly, having a bed that lasts 10 years is actually a great investment and now with direct-to–consumer lines, it’s never been easier to avoid all those mattress scams. The state of the art are the new foam mattresses, they do not need a box spring and shape to your body

  1. Thread and Needle. This is a startup that offers direct only through Amazon. At $550 for a full size, they are a great deal with a 10-year warranty and 100-day return policy.
  2. Protect-a-Bed AllerZip. It is frightening to think about bed bugs and this simple wrap isolates the bed from those nasty things.
  3. Zinio Tufted Premium Platform Bed. If you don’t want to go to Ikea, the folks at Zinio make a  nice bed but also have a nice slatted bed for just $200.

Using your Synology for SSH Jumping

Well most of the time you have to use some sort of VPN to get back into your machine, but you can also use your Synology for SSH port jumping (if you dare!). Here’s how:

  1. Enable SSH with Control Panel/Terminal & SNMP/Enable SSH Service
  2. Enable Home folders with Control Panel/User/Advanced/Enable User Home. You have to scroll all the way down on Advanced to see this option.


Google Slides Backspace at head

Ok this has to be the most undiscoverable feature in any product:

  1. Google Slides doesn’t have a ruler so if you have a bullet and want to remove it, you still have a hanging indent. The solution is to go the line and hit backspace there is an invisible character there which controls the indenting.
  2. One mystery I haven’t solved is that in a Google Slides master, I can’t seem to figure out a way to get rid of bullets. You can add them to a text box, but in normal mode, clicking again on the bullet button removes the bullet, but in master mode it just shows you all the bullet options.

Mechanical keyboards, Cherry MX madness

Then the make geek thing these days, mechanical keyboards.


There are an incredible number of guides from keyboard.co, but here are some models to consider, it is nice to have them backlit I find, but here is a list of top models to consider sorted by price:

  1. WASD Keyboard Tester. If you are really not sure get the $16 keyboard tester which is a single key of each type so you can see what you like.
  2. Corsair K70 Lux RGB. This is a “budget” keyboard relatively speaking at $130, but you can get it in the really common formats the Cherry Blue (clicky and loud but good for developers), Cherry MX Brown (the middle road, has tactile bump for feedback but is silent) or Cherry MX Red (completely linear good for gaming). It is much cheaper than the K95 particularly if you do not need all those macro keys for gaming. They also the new Cherry MX Rapidfire which is even less force than the Red.
  3. WASD CODE 87-key. Most developers don’t need 104 keys and would rather have a shorter one especially for programmers, so that is why the CODE was invented. Also, WASD has all the additional other types with Cherry MX Green (the blue with more actuation force, so you don’t have to click all the way down and the MX Cherry Clear Keyboard ($150) which is the Cherry Brown with more actuation force so you can be faster. When you are typing a lot, the MX Cherry Clear is a great tradeoff, not as clicky as the Blue but not linear as the Cherry Red. Get the Cherry Green if you want some click and are not in a shared office space. Or get dampeners if you want a little more quiet. These are $15 from Amazon (plus a $6 keyboard cap puller) but you have to install them yourself or $30 if WASD installs them for you.
  4. Das Keyboard. This is the keyboard that kind of started it all, it is 104 keys and $180 so it is quite expensive but generally considered the “category creator”. About $200.
  5. Topre Realforce 87U. ($244 at Amazon) This uses the Topre keys from Japan and is considered by some the absolute best. Brian Kernighan for instance uses the HHKB which is a 60 key model that uses the Topre. This is a whopping $250 on Amazon so the prince of keyboards, but it has their magic electro capacitive keys which are supposed to be amazing.

The main thing is the many different types of keys that are the heart of a keyboard, so here’s a decoder ring and a technical one plus a gamer POV. Or if you love curves, you can see actuation graphically at WASD.

The tl;dr is that if you are gaming, the Cherry Red is nice, if you are alone, then the Cherry Blue is great and the compromise is a Cherry Brown which has the bump but isn’t noisy. Calvin loves the Clear and that’s probably the other one to try for developers doing lots of typing particularly if you are in a shared office space:

  • Cherry MX Black. 1984. Stiff at 60cN activation force, so used for point of sale terminals and not really for typing.
  • Cherry MX Red. 2008. 2mm to actuation point. Low activation force of 45 cN so good for gaming as you want to spam keys fast.  I’m using one at work and it really smooth so no feedback, nice for gaming and certainly better than a $10 dome keyboard or an Apple wireless keyboard. We have a Razor Vengeance K70 with Cherry MX Brown and it is definitely quiet and smooth but doesn’t have the feedback for fast typing.
  • Cherry MX Brown. 1994. They have a 45 cN but adds a tactile bump so you know you have hit them but are silent. It a good middle of the road option with light touch but tactile. The nice thing about the tactile feedback is that you don’t have to press all the way down so it can be faster.
  • Cherry MX Blue. 2007. These are 50cN but have both a tactile bump and an audible click. They are definitely louder and not as good for an open office. We have these at home and they definitely are clicky and quite satisfying but loud. We have a Razor Black Widow which has a knockoff of the Cherry MX Blue with same 50cN actuation but high activation point and cheaper (just $80).

Then there are some less common keys but the Clear and Green are ones to look at:

  • Cherry MX Silent Red (aka Pink). These are quieter versions MX Red with 45cN actuation.
  • Cherry Clear. Stiffer version of the Cherry Brown with a tactile bump but still silent. If you typing a lot the harder actuation prevents mistyping (the thing I absolutely dislike about the MacBook Pro 2016 where I’m generating errors all the time). The nice thing about the clear is that you don’t bottom out as much.
  • Cherry Green. Stiffer versions of the blue at 80 cN so you have the same advantages as the clear, but again it is noisy!

Then there are some other considerations:

  • Keycap material. The main thing is that as the key wear out, you do not want uncoated ABS, ideally you want the PBT variety but these are more expensive.
  • O-ring sound dampeners. These are Made by WASD and reduce the bottoming so they are quieter.

Finally the size of the keyboard is an issue:

  • 104 key. These have the number keypad. This is mainly useless unless you have Ubuntu are are using the keys for Compiz Grid, but you can remap them.
  • 87 keys. Way smaller and the mouse is closer, this is a good portable size.

Then finally there are:

  • Backlighting. Some consider this a nerd feature, but I type enough at night that I love it. It’s the main reason to get the WASD Code over the WASD v2 by the way, the WASD v2 isn’t backlit.

Synology DS212j and Blinking Blue Light of Death and reset with three beeps

Man it took me a month to figure this out. I’ve loved Synology for a long time, but for the first time I’ve had a serious problem. We have has the 1812+, the 2413+ and I got a little 216j. Everything was working fine until. But then I got an upgrade message and tried to upgrade the DSM (their operating system) and all hell broke loose.

Here is a list of symptoms:

  1. The system did boot and showed the user interface, but could not see either of the two mirrored hard disks.
  2. I tried a host of other disks (3, 4, 6 and 10TB from Seagate and WD) and without fail none of them were recognized. No matter what, non of the drives would ever spin up, they would just click.
  3. I did insert two 1TB Samsung SSDs and it worked flawlessly.
  4. If you put in just a single disk, then it would not get to a web interface
  5. With the SSDs in, it would not upgrade the DSM.

At first, I thought it was because the hard drives were from old RAID systems and perhaps had old RAID information on there. But even with a wipe on a Mac, this didn’t help at all. I also spent lots of time trolling through old posts and Google queries until I hit the magic “blinking power on light or blue light of death”.

One totally confusing thing about Synology is that it actually needs a hard disk to boot and it writes the operating system there. So when you load up, it is too steps update the firmware and then update the disks.

Rebuild for Synology

Synology has just the worst overall diagnostics, but here is what to do if you have trouble:

  1. Remove all the hard drives and boot the system. If the blue power light stays blinking it means that it did not make it through power on self test and the motherboard is bad. Send a trouble ticket into Synology and get an RMA. if it takes a minute or so and you get a solid blue light and a beep then you have successfully POSTed.
  2. If it does boot, then you likely have a bad firmware installation. If the installation fails then you get your firmware into a state where it sometimes boots and sometimes doesn’t. So the best thing to do it to start all over again. Synology does write information onto its disks (like all good RAID systems), so you can recover.
  3. Here’s the trick, the full reset instructions on Synology site are wrong! It says, press the reset wait for a beep, then immediate press again and wait for the next beep. That is wrong! You need to wait for three beeps. The way you can tell if this worked is to load the Synology Assistant onto your PC or Mac and see if it says in Status Not Configuredbut if it says Not Installed you have not fully reset it.
  4. Now you should get to a web page, look at the Synology Assistant for the ip address or use the default DNS names diskstation.local. You then go back to the Synology website and download the correct operating system image.
  5. Now you put all your disks back in and it should recognize them. If you failed, then go back to #3 and try again.