Heads Up! Server work ahead

edited May 2017 in General
Hi all,

What joins tax audits and root canals in my set of least favorite activities? Why it is upgrading the software for this discussion board. But, upgrade I must as the Vanilla software folks just issued a compulsory update mandate in response to the discovery of critical security flaws. We are on Vanilla V2.1.8 and must go to V2.3.1.

I dread these updates for a variety of reasons. 1) The PHP, CSS, javascript, MySQL, tpl, plugin, themes, etc. underpinnings of our site are painfully complex for someone with my skill set. Wading into this causes my head to hurt (at least metaphorically). 2) Everything breaks - the plugins, format tweaks, page design, etc. just seem to unravel with each upgrade.

I am now three days into making a updated version of the site on a staging server at home and it seems to be working reasonably well. Some things are still broken (the Google search function, minor formatting).


My certificate status (expired) might cause you to get a cautionary notice.

If you get a chance check it out. Kick the tires. post a few test messages, etc. and see if it works for you. Nothing you post there will survive the move to the new site so do not post anything you would like to keep available. Conversely, on the currently active site anything you post during the next week or so is subject to loss when I upgrade. I suggest you keep a local copy of any new posts so that you cam repost if necessary.

Note that this test implementation uses a data set c. 2015 and does not have members who joined after early 2015. I am interested in whether the email notification system is working for new registrants so it would be a help if a few of you could check this for me by creating new accounts. Again, this staging server version will disappear once the transition to new software is complete.

All for now. I will add additional information soon about the transition and the longer term future of the site.

ps. if the main site goes offline for some reason I will post updates in the discussion section of the Flickr KAP group.


  • Hi Cris,

    thanks very very much for all your efforts and time spent for keeping alive this KAP forum discussion

    what YOU do is a precious gift to all community; THANKS a lot

    wish you all the possible best for your today and future life

    SMAC from Italy
  • Thanks for the warning and the hours put into this, Cris.

    Out of curiosity, do you have a deputy admin? It seems to me that a sharing of knowledge might be useful to reduce the workload burden.

  • edited May 2017
    Kevin - thanks for bringing up the notion of a deputy admin. I would welcome some help with the KAP Discussion Page site. Here is a bit of background.

    I began hosting discussion software for the KAP community back in 1995 – over 20 years ago. The site has always been hosted (generously) on my college’s WWW servers and over the years I benefited from advice offered by the college’s tech staff. As professors go I was quite involved in early Internet media at Berkeley, which led to a good working relationship with our server folks and administration privileges for my little corner of the server. In the current day my situation has changed. My friends, the longtime WWW staff at the college, were replaced during the several years ago. Since my retirement, now four years ago, I am not onsite at the university and I have not developed much of a relationship with the new staff. With each passing year there is heightened pressure on our discussion site from spammers and hackers. The defensive measures require some time and effort on the part of myself and the college’s new computer staff. I sense they are starting to ponder the "now why exactly are we hosting this site?" question. I would not be surprised if hosting services were withdrawn at some point but this has yet to come.

    My duties in running the site have been quite straightforward. I check it a couple of times each day and vet (via email) applicants who have requested accounts. This has kept posts from spammers largely at bay. I respond to occasional requests from users for account resets or finding a post deep in the archives. Only rarely have I had to intervene when the tone of discussions turned dark and a note counseling politeness usually remedied this. Every year I have to wrestle with some sort of software / database / server failure but these are usually resolved in a day or so. Finally, I have maintained and upgraded the software that runs the site. This last task, absent the handy advice of the college’s tech staff, has worn me down. The major software upgrades come at about three year intervals (Vanilla has been updates in 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017) with each iteration seeming more complex.

    I started the discussion page using Microsoft Frontpage and it has evolved through several software environments. It is currently run using the Vanilla 2.1 software, a typical PHP/MySQL package. Packages of this sort – WordPress, Drupal, Vanilla, etc. – are frequently targeted by hackers. As vulnerabilities emerge revisions to the software are issued and these must be installed. The last software upgrade in 2015 was relatively complex and another has just come due. I dread the updates because they invariably break aspects of the site and lead to a multi-day round of debugging. I have promised myself after each upgrade that it will be my last.

    I should note that we would not be enjoying the current site at all if not for the technical assistance of Sebastian Kaliszewski (sebaska) during the 2012 upgrade. Sebastian worked out the javascript modifications that made the site and its embedded images scale to browser width. His technical assistance was a great asset.

    It would be a great help to have someone with technical competence collaborate on the site and particularly with these upgrades. I would welcome a co-administrator or, for that matter, someone willing take the site over whilst I retire to other pursuits. It would be easy enough to work out a gradual transition. Or, I could stay on board and continue the modest duties of vetting applicants and such.

    I have been quite proud of the KAP Discussion Page. It reflects an imaginative and cooperative community of international folks. The tone of the site has been remarkably positive and supportive. In retrospect I am delighted that it prospered without having to be part of some larger Google, Facebook, Yahoo type of environment – no ads, no data harvesting (by us anyway), no fees. I would like to see it continue this way.

  • Thanks Cris for ALL the back office / administration / user screening tasks. Thanks also to the server tech team a Berkeley for all they do. Agree the current state will not last for ever and the effort required to do the server up grades is significant.....but well appreciated by my fellow KAPers.

    I did a brief test of the new test site and the basic operations (posting, link from Flickr, YouTube, links to prior posts) all worked fine.

    I do not have the skills to perform the technical upgrades (tax returns / root canals!) but would be willing to help with the simpler tasks (user screening, other) if needed.

  • Well - I thought the post worked.....when I returned to the site .... I do not see the post. I did get a notice to reconfirm my e-mail address. Which I did but upon returning to the site and tried to sign in I got "Sorry, permission denied". Some how i am locked out of the test site.

  • Speaking for myself, I wouldn't like sole responsibility for the KAP forum, but would consider a 'part-time' role for want of a better term. My technical/programming skills are minimal, that's for sure, but as I check in here many days of the week then I don't see why I couldn't do some kind of moderation type role.

    A couple of thoughts spring to mind:

    - Having say 3 moderators/admins from locations around the world would be a good thing as checks can be done at different times of the day and any technical issues could be seen sooner;
    - Is there any scope for a forum migration to another platform, one that can be moderated on all main operating systems (Windows, iOS, Linux)? I'm on iOS and don't really want to partition off my drive to set up Windows via Boot Camp or similar.

    Anyone else able to offer some time to help Cris and/or relieve him of his duties?
  • edited May 2017
    Jim - The email confirmation routine somehow changed your status on our staging server from member to applicant. This is both unwanted and unexpected. Even worse it did so without notifying me that there was a pending applicant. I have made you a member again so you can test post.

    Have others run into this verify email request? I am looking now for a way to disable it.
  • edited May 2017
    Things have just gotten a bit more complicated. In coordinating the upgrade with the college's new IT staff I am informed that the discussion site will have to move to a dedicated account, rather than stay in a sub-folder on my research account. This will give it a new URL and presents some challenges in adapting the database and configuration files. The old site URL will be redirected to the new one.

    This may take a week or so to set up.
  • Cris,
    I really appreciate the effort you put in setting up and maintaining this forum. I wish I could help I have zero experience in database and system programming unless there's some non-computer tasks to do. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help. I'm on the Atlantic time (4 hours ahead Berkeley) if this could be of any help.

  • I tried "http://kapcris.com/d2/" but I'm getting an "Access denied" message.
  • Yvon - It looks like something occurred with the staging server that caused everyone to lose their status as members. Not a good thing with 2,000 accounts. I have been playing around with the MySQL tables and I believe everyone is restored to proper status on the staging server (the trial version of our new software).

    This has had no effect on the operation of our current live site.

    Thanks to you, Jim, and Kevin for offering to help. I think what we really need is someone who knows their way around the coding environment of the software platform. Perhaps such a hero / heroine will appear. Some years back it was Sebastian Kaliszewski who stepped in to save the day.
  • i just have to say thank you for your previous and current efforts.
    i only joined this forum a few months ago and the help from members has been excellent.
    i do have my own website slash blog that i have pay for myself but i hate advertising so i don't subject visitors to it either like most people i guess, i abhore advertisements specially those that scroll down the page with you. so another kudo for you not having ads on here either. :)
    i'd offer my help however my knowledge relates to very basic website design in blue griffon for my own personal use lol
    which means text and a few photos nothing more complicated than that sad to say.but i do hear you on the head hurting with thoughts on PHP, CSS, javascript, MySQL, tpl, plugins lol
    again many thanks for the maintainance and efforts
  • Able to login, post, edit, save draft, post flickr shot, post youtube video - all with no issues. Bold highlight did not work. rest is working great.

    Thanks again to Cris!

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