Eastern European Road Trip Begins

It’s been a long time in the planning but it’s finally upon us! Shweta and I are off for a month around Eastern Europe, taking our own car over 6,000 miles, visiting in excess of 12 countries and reaching as far East as the Black Sea coast of Romania and Bulgaria.

As you would expect there is a little technology backing us up along the way and so if you click on the tyre tracks on the right or follow this tracker link, you’ll be taken to a dedicated trip page where you can follow our progress and share in some of the travel excitement.

We hope you enjoy our updates and we look forward to meeting up with friends upon our return to tell our travel stories!


Hashing phpBB Passwords

At some point in the future I’ll be writing a more comprehensive article on linking external applications authentication to the phpBB user system, but in the meantime, if you just want to hash passwords or compare hashes then the following code is really useful

define('IN_PHPBB', true);
$phpbb_root_path = './';
$phpEx = substr(strrchr(__FILE__, '.'), 1);
include($phpbb_root_path . 'common.' . $phpEx);

$password = 'password';
$hash = phpbb_hash($password);

if (phpbb_check_hash($password, $hash)) {
echo '"Hash "'.$hash.'" matches password "'.$password.'"';

It allows you to run a separate php file which utilises phpBB functions to hash passwords; call it from a shell script, use it to login to servers etc.

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Renaming WordPress index.php

Now as any developer who’s dabbled with WordPress knows, it’s easy to change the root directory location of WordPress so that directory structure wise different CMS systems can play nicely alongside one another.

What about, however, the situation where two CMS systems both require a root file of index.php? Well there you have a problem because if you change the name of the WordPress index file, which on the face of it seems easiest, you break the search feature (and possibly other things I’ve not found yet).

Fortunately I found a simple 3 step method which requires modifying only 1 line in 1 core file, which compared to other CMS systems, is not that many.

  1. Firstly you’ll want to follow the instructions on the link at the start of the article to move your WordPress root away from the root of your site so that it can co-exist with your other app. Then, instead of creating a file named index.php in your website root, you create wordpress.php or another name of your choosing
  2. Secondly, in the .htaccess file you created as part of the aforementioned guide, replace instances of index.php with wordpress.php or whatever name you chose
  3. Now, for the final bit of magic, locate the following file wp-includes/class-wp-rewrite.php and replace

    public $index = 'index.php';


    public $index = 'wordpress.php';

    taking care to use your alternative file name if it differs

That’s a wrap as they say! You should find that WordPress works fine, including the search feature, all the while leaving index.php free for use by another CMS. Do let me know in comments how you get along with this if you try it.

Oh and remember, if you upgrade WordPress, which will happen every now and again, do check to make sure your core file change gets put back – I hate to change core, but as index.php is hard-coded, it’s the only way.

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Last FM 1.0.1 Released

I’ve just pushed out a quick update to Last FM for WordPress. As well as validating compatibility with recent changes to WordPress core, the release comes with a number of useful bug fixes and features, including a rather nice one that permits the display of album covers alongside the track listing. Hope you enjoy the release!

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Calendar 1.3.10 Released

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a blog update on the WordPress Calendar plugin, but as I’ve just pushed out another bug fix version I thought it a good idea to outline what has changed since I last posted and what is to come.

Firstly in skipping the last 2 versions worth of blog posts I’ve missed trumpeting a really useful new feature. I was contacted by an individual at the BBC last year who wanted to use my calendar (amongst others) to syndicate music event listings across a number of websites for a local radio station. What emerged was an iCalendar feed which both provided long desired functionality to the masses as well as allowing BBC local radio to syndicate events to their own music pages from dozens of local music related websites. Beers all round I think. The 1.3.10 release contains some well deserved fixes to this new functionality along with the usual checks to ensure the latest version of WordPress causes no issues.

In the pipeline then are performance boosts and a semi-rewrite which will seek to harmonise the visuals of a much loved and actively used front-end with developments and improvements in the big wide world of online calendaring. I’d like to provide a date, but as ever, these things take time and thought, neither of which are easy to estimate when holding down a day job and a hectic social schedule.

As ever it’s well worth hitting the update button to get hold of 1.3.10. Any problems or questions in the forums as usual please.

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Expanded ULEZ Consultation Response

Living in Central London I recently submitted the following response to the consultation on expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone from the congestion charging area outwards to the boundaries of the North and South circular roads. While I strongly believe that greener vehicles alongside reduced car use is essential for the improvement of our health and environment, I feel it’s not right to impose such things at a local level in such a way as to cause those who are already doing their bit to end up paying a pseudo tax.

While the rationale behind these proposals is extremely laudable, the financial implications for residents living within the proposed expanded ULEZ zone who own non-compliant light vehicles is simply unacceptable. For car users in this category, many will be faced with the prospect of borrowing large sums of money to replace perfectly serviceable vehicles or paying a pseudo tax every time they drive their existing car (the word pseudo is used here because if there is little choice in the matter it equates to a tax). The daily charge is most likely then to be paid by infrequent car users as such a cost would be significantly less than replacing their vehicle and yet these infrequent car users are the ones who should be supported; though infrequent car use they necessarily use public transport where possible and in turn will be at the bottom end of the scale in terms of contributors to pollution and congestion amongst the car owning public. These issues are compounded by the fact that there is no proposed sunset period for expanded ULEZ area residents which might have allowed for either a period of saving for replacement or natural wastage in terms of eventual expensive repairs necessitating replacement anyway. Despite the undoubted health and environmental benefits for such residents, the uncompromising nature of the proposals make it impossible for these individuals to support these plans which is very great shame.

Having shared my response, I now feel that I should explain my position in an attempt to solicit a response from readers. I own a car, but use it infrequently – primarily for visiting friends or family out of town at weekends or to facilitate hiking trips. It is an old car, but as current electric vehicles are not capable of the kind of range I would require, I’m retaining my existing car until such time as technology improves to allow me to make the switch.

I feel this is the greener option; if I was to switch immediately, it would likely be to another fossil fuel vehicle which I would then keep for much longer on account of the investment cost and thus would, most probably, end up contributing more negatively to emissions. Insight and opinions from those with a better knowledge of these matters would be most welcome!

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Family Christmas 2017

Continuing the tradition of a family photo at the Christmas dinner table before tucking into the festive feast. Shweta’s Father was able to join us from India this year which made the occasion all the more special.

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Let’s Encrypt – Doing it Properly

A while ago I made a passing comment about replacing StartSSL using Let’s Encrypt and while it’s true you can use it in the way I described, it’s not as simple as the command would imply and there are a number of pitfalls – not least that if you side-step most of them by going a truly manual route, your efforts only last for 3 months – let’s encrypt certificates expire after only 3 months.

What this all boils down to is that in order to make proper use of this excellent free service you have to automate the process of obtaining and renewing certificates. Not just that though, because their python tooling (certbot) will do this in a general fashion for you, but to truly implement a hands off one size fits all solution. I articulated this as the following requirements.

  • Tool must check for impending expiry and renew in time to avoid nag e-mails
  • Support should be available for adding new certificate requests to the “pool”, not just to renew existing ones
  • A fixed, permanent web server must not be required
  • Servers running on non-standard ports must be supproted
  • Servers not ordinarily accessible to the public must be supported
  • Firewall must not be required to always be open to Let’s Encrypt servers
  • Tool must support servers who’s control IP (SSH etc.) differs from that to which an SSL certificate is to be assigned (A record of SSL domain)

A evening of hacking around on a Raspberry Pi to get certbot running and some hasty coding in bash revealed a solution which essentially, does the following, in order, for each domain requiring a certificate.

  1. Checks to see if the domain has a cert and if it’s expiring
  2. Creates a remote directory from which files will be served as part of the renewal process
  3. Inserts a temporary firewall rule to allow Lets’ Encrypt servers to validate the served files
  4. Starts a temporary lightweight webserver to serve said files and runs it on a port that Let’s Encrypt supports (80)
  5. Mounts this served directory locally on the certbot machine so that certbot can load files into it
  6. Runs certbot to create/renew the certificate
  7. Unmounts the temporary server directory
  8. Stops the temporary webserver
  9. Removes the temporary firewall rule
  10. Cleans up temporary files
  11. Load the certificate files onto the remote server over SSH
  12. Bounces any services that use them so that they are picked up (e.g. Apache)

Before I share the script, a few words of warning and a few pointers

  • Everything needs to run as root
  • I mounted a NAS share of my certificate files so that they were stored and backed up centrally. Certbot expects to find everything in /etc/letsencrypt so that will need to be your mount point if you use the NAS option
  • The script assumes that the server on which it is running has SSH keys setup on all hosts it needs to connect to such that passwordless root is possible.

If you don’t know how to do any of these things then you probably shouldn’t try using the script. It’s not that you won’t be capable or anything, rather that there are a lot of moving parts and basic Linux knowledge that would allow you to achieve these 3 points will go a long way in helping you to debug any issues with the script.

Finally then, the script; configured for two dummy domains, running on the same box, one serving from apache, the other a custom process.

# Configuration section
remotePort=80 # Lets encrypt only supports 80 - ouch - we'll need to stop servers while doing this
domains=('one.domain.com' 'two.domain.com')
hosts=('' '')
sshHosts=('' '')
sslPathOnServer=('/etc/apache2/ssl/' '/etc/specialprocess/ssl/')
keyFileNameOnServer=('www.key' 'pub.key')
certFileNameOnServer=('www.crt' 'cert.crt')
chainFileNameOnServer=('www-chain.pem' 'chain.pem')
serverStopCommand=('/etc/init.d/apache2 stop' '/etc/init.d/specialprocess stop')
serverStartCommand=('/etc/init.d/apache2 start' '/etc/init.d/specialprocess start')

# Work is done here, no further edits!
for domain in ${domains[@]}; do
        # Ascertain if the certificate will expire in 3 weeks or less - stops lets encrypt nagging e-mails
        if [ -d "$certPath$domain" ]
                openssl x509 -in $certPath$domain/cert.pem -checkend $(( 86400 * 21 )) -noout
        if [[ $result == 1 ]]
                # Report the status
                if [[ $new == 1 ]]
                        echo "Certificate for $domain [New]"
                        echo "Running certificate creation process..."
                        echo "Ceritificate for $domain [Expiring]"
                        echo "Running renewal process..."
                # Start renewal process; create remote directory, iptables rule, start remote server
                echo -n "       Setting up iptables rules on remote server, stopping server process using certs & starting temporary micro server..."
                rule="INPUT 1 -p tcp -m tcp --dport $remotePort -d ${hosts[i]} -j ACCEPT"
                ssh root@${sshHosts[i]} << ENDSSH > /dev/null 2>&1
                eval ${serverStopCommand[i]}
                mkdir /tmp/$domain
                iptables -I $rule
                cd /tmp/$domain
                python -m SimpleHTTPServer $remotePort > /dev/null 2>&1 &
                echo " Done"

                # Mount remote directory locally over SSHFS
                echo -n "       Creating mount to directory served by temporary micro server..."
                if [ -d /tmp/certbot ]
                        rm -rf /tmp/certbot
                mkdir /tmp/certbot
                sshfs ${sshHosts[i]}:/tmp/$domain /tmp/certbot
                echo " Done"

                # Call letsencrypt to renew/create
                echo -n "       Call letsencrypt to renew the certificate in our store..."
                letsencrypt certonly --webroot -n -w /tmp/certbot -m $email -d $domain > /dev/null 2>&1
                echo " Done"

                # Unmount remote SSHFS directory
                echo -n "       Unmounting micro server directory and cleaning mount point..."
                umount /tmp/certbot
                rm -rf /tmp/certbot
                echo " Done"

                # SCP certificate/chain/key files to remote host
                echo -n "       Copying new certificate files to the server..."
                scp $certPath$domain/cert.pem ${sshHosts[i]}:${sslPathOnServer[i]}${certFileNameOnServer[i]} > /dev/null 2>&1
                scp $certPath$domain/privkey.pem ${sshHosts[i]}:${sslPathOnServer[i]}${keyFileNameOnServer[i]} > /dev/null 2>&1
                scp $certPath$domain/chain.pem ${sshHosts[i]}:${sslPathOnServer[i]}${chainFileNameOnServer[i]} > /dev/null 2>&1
                echo " Done"

                # Cleanup remote host; stop temp server, reload default iptables, cleanup temp directory, restart server process
                echo -n "       Stop micro server, clean up iptables rule & start server process using certs... "
                ssh ${sshHosts[i]} << ENDSSH > /dev/null 2>&1
                kill \`ps -ef | grep SimpleHTTPServer | grep -v grep | awk '{ print \$2; }'\`
                iptables -D INPUT 1
                rm -rf /tmp/$domain
                eval ${serverStartCommand[i]}
                echo " Done"

                # Confirm completion
                if [[ $new == 1 ]]
                        echo "Certificate for $domain [Created]"
                        echo "Creation process complete"
                        echo "Renewal process complete"
                        echo "Certificate for $domain [Renewed]"
                # Certificate needs no renewal, indicate as such
                echo "Certificate for $domain [OK]"

You’ll need to modify the variables/arrays at the start to get it working, some are obvious, but I’ll explain them anyway.

  • email : This is used to create, recover and access your account. Once created, the private key for accessing your account will be stored in the let’s encrypt home directory (usully /etc/letsencrypt)
  • certPath : The path to the /live directory in your let’s encrypt home directory, usually /etc/letsencrypt/live
  • remotePort : Leave this at 80; it’s just here to help setup iptables rules – it cannot be changed in let’s encrypt config
  • domains : An array of domains for which you want certificates
  • hosts : An array of IP addresses corresponding to the aforementioned certificates – keep the ordering the same!
  • sshHosts : An array of IP addresses used for administering each of the aforementioned domains; for example you may have several web servers/domains all being served from the same physical host – this would then be an array of identical IPs, corresponding in array size with the number of domains
  • sslPathOnServer : What is the file system path to each domain’s certificates on the host server
  • keyFileNameOnServer : Within that directory, what is the key file name
  • certFileNameOnServer : Within that directory, what is the certificate file name
  • chainFileNameOnServer : Within that directory, what is the chain file name
  • serverStopCommand : For each domain, what command stops the server process the domain is used for
  • serverStartCommand : Likewise, what is the command to start the server process again

That’s it! Best of luck if you choose to go this way and do let me know if the script is useful to you.

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Raspberry Pi MAC Address Changing on Reboot

I recently did a apt-get dist-upgrade on my Raspberry Pi running Raspbian 8 and when I rebooted the device appeared to drop clean off my network. I was away from home at the time so I decided to fix it when I was next on the premises – it wasn’t a hugely important device to have running 24/7.

When I looked at the device in person I realised that it was in fact connected to the network, but with a different IP address to that it had held before. Having MAC address based IP allocation, this seemed rather strange. Looking at the MAC address in ifconfig revealed the problem – it had changed! Thinking this to just be a fluke, I rebooted. Now, not only was the MAC still different to that which it should have been, it had changed a third time!

Investigating what had happened during the upgrade revealed that both the bootloader and the kernel had both been upgraded, but for whatever reason, the new kernel wasn’t being loaded. Modifying the /boot/config.txt as follows along with a reboot fixed this discrepancy and lo and behold the MAC returned to it’s former value and the device picked up the IP address it was supposed to have over DHCP


initramfs initrd.img-4.4.0-1-rpi followkernel
# to enable DeviceTree, comment out the next line


initramfs initrd.img-4.9.0-2-rpi followkernel
# to enable DeviceTree, comment out the next line

It’s worth pointing out that you may have a similar problem with a similar cause but slightly different kernel versions to me. If this is the case, or to check if it is, verify the old/new versions in /boot as follows

ls -lha /boot | grep initrd.*rpi

Which will reveal your old/new versions

-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 5.7M Jul 3 18:26 initrd.img-4.4.0-1-rpi
-rwxr-xr-x 1 root root 13M Jul 3 18:46 initrd.img-4.9.0-2-rpi

You should then modify /boot/config.txt from the old version to the new version as per my above example.

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Danfoss Compressor Starting Device Recall – Fridge/Freezer Repair

After a recent fire in one of the flats in our apartment building, the resulting London Fire Brigade investigation concluded that the cause was a faulty part present in all the original fridge freezers installed when the building was first constructed. This part had in fact been subject to an electrical safety product recall back in 2007. As we’d recently purchased our apartment and the fridge was indeed an original, this spurred us into action.

Desiring to avoid the environmental impact of disposing of an entire device when reportedly such a small part was at fault, I set about researching options for a repair rather than resorting to replace the entire fridge/freezer.

The fridge/freezer in question has two Neff product labels inside, one in the fridge and one in the freezer, photos of which were as follows.

Looking these product codes up online told me two things; firstly that these fridges and freezers do indeed contain the faulty part as per the product recall and secondly that we actually have a separate fridge and a separate freezer, something I was up until now unaware of due to the wooden surround which hid how the fridge and freezer were installed. Extracts from the docs showing the Danfoss compressor and the separate nature of the fridge and freezer as follows.

The Neff product look up provided a further useful piece of information about the compressor – its specific product code. This was useful because it allowed me to determine that a starting device, readily available on amazon, was suitable for the task. Note that the new part states the suitability for the “TL” series of compressors which you can see is the same series as present in the Neff product documentation. I bought two of these as the fridge and freezer are completely separate units with separate compressors.

Now all that was required was to extract the fridge and freezer in turn from their integrated state within the kitchen units, disconnect them from the power supply and replace the faulty part. This is best tackled in two stages, firstly, to remove the fridge or freezer from the cabinet

  1. With the fridge/freezer door open, locate retaining screws below the wooden panel on the door and remove
  2. Do likewise for those on top of the door, being careful this time to support the wooden panel in case it should fall – it’s heavy
  3. Lift the wooden panel off the door if has not already come away. Set it aside.
  4. Still with the door open, locate two screws, one on each hinge, that anchor the unit to the side wall of the cabinet. Remove them.
  5. At the top of the unit, still with the door open, find the pair of screws which hold the unit to the top of the cabinet, remove them.
  6. At the base of the fridge/freezer is a clip on plastic panel. Carefully pull this away to reveal a gap underneath the fridge/freezer. Use the diagrams to help you here as the freezer has a slightly more complex plastic panel which first requires the removal of a drain plug and drain tube before you can remove the plastic panel. The fridge/freezer is now “free”
  7. Closing the door, use the gap you have created underneath the fridge/freezer in the step above to slide the unit out, take great care with both the cable which will still be plugged into the wall at the back and also the sharp metal/pipes at the back near the vents/compressor – these can hurt and also can be easily damaged – a second pair of hands is highly recommended in removing the unit
  8. Set the unit down on the kitchen floor, the back portion facing in a direction with plenty of space such that you’ll be able to work on it at floor level. Switch off and unplug the unit at the wall.

Once you have the unit on the floor you need to get access to the compressor starting device which is under a plastic cover. See the labeled, exploded diagram below to help you in this

  1. Find the cover retaining screw and remove. This will allow the cover to slide up and out, top first. It’s in a tight space but with care and patience you’ll be able to fully remove it.
  2. You’ll see the black starting device now, wired up and attached to the side of the compressor. Your new one will be white so you won’t get them mixed up
  3. Note that in these “faulty” fridges/freezers a significant amount of white decayed plastic will be sitting inside the cover and below the starting device. Remove this with a vacuum cleaner and then any residue that remains in the cover you can wash/scrub off, afterwards drying the cover thoroughly – only use water on the cover – do not put water anywhere near the compressor, use vacuum only here! It is of course this decayed white plastic that is the cause of the fire risk – quite startling to see it there really.
  4. It’s best to leave the wires attached to the starting device as you remove it; this will allow you to see more clearly how it’s wired up as you’ll need to replicate the same wiring with the new device
  5. Slip a small flat-bladed screw driver between the compressor and the starting device, as close to the centre of starting device as you can and slide it in until it’s fully behind the starting device. Once in position, gently prise the device away from the compressor. You’ll be able to finish the job by hand, revealing 3 pins on the side of the compressor which have plugged into the starting device.
  6. Observe the simple wiring; white cable from the wall plug goes live/neutral to the screw terminals of the starting device, black cable from the fridge/freezer goes live/neutral to the corresponding spade terminals to either side of the screw terminals and then a black control wire goes to a spade terminal on the centre bottom of the starting device. There are also earth wires, but you should avoid touching these and leave them in place – you don’t need to do anything with these in order to replace the starter.
  7. Carefully disconnect the old starter from the wires. If you’re unsure of the aforementioned wiring convention, you may wish to take a photo for later reference.
  8. Wire up the new starting device to the cables as per the aforementioned wiring plan, referring to your photo if you felt you needed to take one. Note that I found the spade terminals were slightly different sizes (new ones larger) and so I had to prize apart the terminals on the wires a little using pliers to get them to fit snugly over the new starter’s pins.
  9. Once you’re happy that everything is wired up correctly and tightly, it’s time to fit the new starter back onto the compressor’s 3 pins. Line it up carefully, use a torch if you can’t see clearly and gently press the starter onto the pins. Take great care to only exert force in the absolute centre of the starter such that you avoid the possibility of bending those pins.
  10. With the starter firmly in place it’s time to replace the black cover – make sure it’s dry if you wiped it with a cloth earlier! Slide it into place, bottom first, then top, then push down – you’ll see the screw hole line up – replace the retaining screw

At this point I decided to test my handy work by plugging the fridge/freezer back into the wall socket and turning it on. You should hear the compressor start. All being well you can now proceed to replace the unit into the kitchen cabinet as per the following directions

  1. With the fridge/freezer plugged in at the wall and switched on – you won’t be able to reach behind it to switch it on after re-inserting it into the kitchen cabinet – start the process of replacing the unit into the cabinet
  2. Get someone to help you lift the fridge freezer back up to the level of the hole in the cabinet. Line up the base of the back of the unit so that the back “feet” will enter first – be careful not to damage those delicate pipes on the back.
  3. With the back feet in position supporting the back of the unit, support the unit at the front with your hand. Reach behind and feed the cable down the back of the kitchen cabinets so it is out of the way and will not snag/trap under the unit
  4. Now slide the fridge/freezer back into place, taking care not to push it in too far – you can use the screw holes in the top and hinges as a guide – get them lined back up with those in the cabinet walls
  5. With the door open, replace the hinge screws and those at the top of the unit
  6. Re-insert the plastic cover at the bottom
  7. Hang the wooden face plate back on the open door, supporting it carefully as you tighten the top screws
  8. Finally replace the bottom screws and close the door – it should close snugly to a good seal

Now you’ve done one unit, you’ll need to do the exact same process on the other. I did the freezer first as that was already almost at floor level so was easy to remove on my own. I got someone to help me with the fridge as that was higher up and the galley shape of our kitchen made it tough work to get the unit gently down to floor level – remember to take care of that cable and delicate pipe work at the back!

And there you have it. Fridge and freezer as good as new and with safe parts to boot. All for the price of a round at the pub and a couple of hours work – what could be better.

One final word – I offer these instructions without warranty! If you’re unsure of these steps in any way, consult a qualified electrician! The wiring is simple (like inside a plug) and should be within the ken of most competent DIY’ers but as with any unfamiliar task, do take care and double check what you’re doing at each stage.

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