Dreamhost, Finally

So I had a long run of some very problematic website issues…vicious infiltrations on client-owned things that I managed. They followed me from host to host, and took me months of work to finally eradicate (they are clean, and have been for weeks now). It was a pretty bad nightmare, though.

The Pain

It all stemmed from one of my clients loading in a shitty plugin, after he had set up a user account with the password of “password”(I am not kidding) – and this plugin with that even brief access created a gateway that quickly leaked out into other unrelated sites co-hosted on the server. The plugin concerned me from the get-go, but it was a crucial part of the guy’s build, and I was trying to be accommodating: big mistake on my part. Rules are not all meant to be broken.

The way the poison worked, was it would create a couple of files in a WP install – files that you would not ever see in normal WP dashboard management, but only thru FTP. Then, it would infect any site on the server it could exploit – in my case, it leaked out to maybe 5-6 of them in various ways…no consistency I could ever find.

The hidden files then start creating folders of “files” that are triggered to render from “normal” web operations. Self propagating keyword-based ugliness. So an otherwise standard header request, would instead get rerouted (in a millisecond) to a bad folder, with a spammy hateful page – inadvertently hosted by ME! I could find the folders and delete them, but they would regenerate at unbelievable speeds unless I found the root of it all.

It destroyed my account, and at Web Hosting Buzz, they shut down my account repeatedly, hurting all of the sites I had that were NOT compromised, only because it was a standard response they did. I then learned Web Hosting Buzz had changed my server, so I was working on an old one for over a week–and my live one, was even more compromised than the one I kept cleaning.

That was the final straw for me- Web Hosting Buzz was sliding for months, and now they were just infuriating me.

I dealt with their helpdesk a LOT, and they cleared me multiple times – -often to only shut me down again in a couple days for exactly the same thing they said I just completely fixed. I was losing my mind, and spending DAYS on this issue that became weeks; deleting files became half of every workday, and I was exhausted.

The Fix

The way I finally found it, was by rebuilding each site from scratch that I had in this account (about 45 of them)…it was long, arduous work, but it was the only true way I could make it stop. All new user accounts and passwords, universally. Deletion of all old files/accounts.

It was easy for me to clean out the infected sites and make them whole – it just needed new WP installs, free from the vulnerabilities and exploits in Web Hosting Buzz.

I ended up moving my hosting for this account to Dreamhost, based on prior experience and some suggestions/support from some friends with many more sites than I have. The cost was reasonable, the support looked fine, the interface was actually refreshingly clean, simple and easy to manage.

When I got to the truly bad site, I saw almost immediately, that the problem came directly from ONE plugin – which I removed, kicked into the yard and went postal on for a while (at least in my head I did). I told the client that he could NEVER use that thing again – and I built him a new framework with trustworthy plugins.

So far, it has been weeks, and not a single incident on the new stuff – my nightmare seems like it is finally over.

The Advice

So to avoid this kind of crap, the simplest thing, is to limit your plugins to only trusted ones (no duh, right?). It is something I got lax on, and I paid the price for sure…had to give away a lot of time to make it right with the poor folks who suffered thru no fault of their own.

Stick to frameworks that have MANY reviews, current updates, and transparency – there were red flags all over the bad plugin I fought with here, but being Mr. Nice Guy got in my way of killing it faster. It was also very insidious, and threw me in the wrong direction a lot…it did not create only one page, it varied its assault to keep trying to stay hidden…so no rules would prevent it enough. It was like a zombie.

Know what the files are for the latest WordPress install – compare it to the files in your installs…the bad guys are getting smarter at creeping in without you seeing them. Keep it updated and secure.

Use smart passwords, and even isolate sites if you need to (VPS, firewalls, hide the login page location) – there are some pretty simple ways to prevent them from getting in, since most of what they do is automated.

And above all, know that a cheap web hosting option rarely is worth it – I learned it the hard way, but am wiser for it now.

Website Turmoil

My website is in a current state of turmoil, as I was moving hosts, so I decided to change things up a bit too.

I have not fully determined what the look will be, but it will be tighter than what I have right now, anyway.

It is good to have this thing out of Bluehost hell, and away from all the spammy/crappy things that happened to my sites there in the last couple years.

No more bitterness though- I am done there, and in a better place for it.

But the site here, is hurting a bit, so I will get around to fixing it up…been way too busy. I have to work for others, not for me.

Priorities. 🙂



Web Hosting Buzz, as a fix for Bluehost

web-hosting-buzz-logoI like, and am moving to Web Hosting Buzz for hosting sites of mine, or to answer the needs of my clients.

I have been with Bluehost and others for many years, but am eager to change, and I will tell you why.

When I first got Bluehost, in like 2008, it was much more of an issue then to have the right hosting provider for your sites. As it is now, there are many languages to achieve any specific thing…but these languages, coding and platforms used to fight a lot more back then than they do today. It polarized hosts to be one team or the other. And things like cPanel and even Linux for a while were not universal, like it is today.

So at the time, Bluehost made things I needed simple and cheap…I could get stacked Windows or Linux hosting, with an uncluttered cPanel, and not worry on it to much- so I did.

I financed it, by becoming an affiliated sales rep- I sold it, as soon as I embarked. My first sales paved my way for years-of-hosting, and it continued to pay for itself, and a little more.

I truly liked it for a while, too – it was a clean, quick host, uncluttered.

Yet over time, the things I liked about Bluehost were replaced by examples of corporate bloat. The service and support I liked on entering, were eventually melted into a 3rd world, phone-it-in kind of thing, every time. Got to where I always knew more than the support person, which sucked.

As they grew bigger, their customer support became weaker overall but it was always kind of nebulous… you might find great help or nothing- no telling which-and all of it took more time to deliver in the years progressing, every time I had to tap support for anything.

I was also experiencing some technical issues, like slow speeds, hacked sites, and down time – none of it explained to me. Ever. No central feeling here, whatsoever- every call was a new walk in the park. There was even a day when all of my sites went down for about 5 hours with only a very feeble explanation as to why.

Things were getting pretty nutty out there, but I had questions about what was happening in hosting and only one guy was constant, always, with the goods- a guy in a forum I knew named Matt Russell.

Dedicated Servers

Every time there was a burble in hosting services, Matt (who runs Web Hosting Buzz, as well as Namecheap and god knows what else) would tell us all (in the forum) what happened- while Bluehost remained mute. Remember when I mentioned where all my sites in there went down for about a half day, and I was freaked? Matt privately said to me what was happening, and after a short time, it proved exactly true. Did not fix it, or assuage my freaking out then (they had to fix the servers), but it helped knowing why, and I even emailed Bluehost to fix it…and it made me realize I was getting the shaft in my hosting…I was a number to Bluehost. Everyone is.

I wanted service that was smart and dependable- like what Matt always offered. Like what I used to get from Bluehost, but saw less and less of as time went by.

I think Bluehost SUCKS.

I started moving things over to Web Hosting Buzz, and I will actively support them as my new and improved hosting option.

Immediately, the interface is SOOOOO much faster, and uncluttered by sales pitches. I also had a support thing already (I signed up like an idiot) and they answered me within an hour, and solved it for me, immediately. They also offer a service – free – to move over cPanel accounts.

Let that sink in.

Yep – they will move all your Bluehost sites out, free.

I have a bunch in Bluehost, so I am going to take them up on it. [LATER NOTE: did, it was amazing…so nice for a host to offer this-ml]

I will round out any obligations to Bluehost without seeking refunds, but I am not impressed by what growth did to a company I liked. I no longer like Bluehost, and will stop offering it as a reliable, cheap option.It may be these things for other folks, but to me, it has been a cheapie-PIA, that always seems to get worse. I quit, as an affiliate.

My needs, though kind of demanding at times, are small. I am willing to put my money on the fact a guy like Matt only does business one way…I think his company answers my needs much better than Bluehost has been doing in the last 3 years or so. Absolutely held true so far.

Web Hosting Buzz is a reliable, trustworthy and safe host, fast and easy to work with. Cheap, too. Their support rules so far.

I felt for a long time, griping was not the thing to do – either do it, or change it. But I had prepaid for 5 years at Bluehost, so was simply letting it be.

I don’t like Bluehost anymore though, not at all, and I want professional distance. In the past couple weeks, an issue occurred where automatic updates to WP installs (which is a preset in most updated sites) had a conflict with a folder permission default, so it whitescreened the sites. I had 6 of them go – but by the 3rd one, I started doing a quick update, which turned out to fix it every time. It took me hours – and I mean hours – on the phone with BH support finding the issue, and fixing it in one site – and it was me who suggested the fix. The tech was simply doing his job, but he didn’t have enough in the toolkit to help me. I helped him instead- and that is silly.

I also had a site that was having issues, so I logged into the cPanel to see what I could see – and the files literally started to disappear on me…until the entire site was gone. We (me and 2 support techs) fished a copy off a mirrored backup, but I never saw anything like that in all the years I have hosted sites. No explanation, apology or otherwise- but I spent good hours fixing that mess which turned out to be 100% on them.

Just shaky service, overdone sales pitches, and all kinds of crap I don’t want to sidestep every time I admin my accounts.

Conversely, Web Hosting Buzz seems to be a great fit—all of the service and scale-ready technology I want, at a price point I can readily afford. Love it, so far.


[NOTE: Later add: loving WHB, still, months later. -ml]

Bluehost White Screen of Death on WP: Simple Fix

I have hosted sites for over 13 years. I went to Bluehost in like 2009 I think, because I needed a simple service, offering me a cheap option for Linux.

This week, at least 5 sites I have hosted there got hit by the white screen of death.

I have fixed all but one- which had deeper issues…but all the rest, turned out to be due to a Bluehost thing.

The default permissions on a critical folder, are set to not write – so an update happening, would hit this folder and not update the files it holds. They will point out I could change the permissions here- but it is not something you do, unless very intentionally directed.

So the WordPress site, set to automatic upgrades, tried to upgrade, and did it, about 9/10ths of the way-  but one file in particular on Bluehost, does not update for sure: wp-includes/formatting.php

This makes the whole site white out, and makes it impossible to admin thru WordPress.

I found, if you take the formatting.php file from a clean version of WordPress 4.0 and overwrite the local on your whited-out site (there are no unique identifiers in this file, it is a core wp file), you are gold.

Sometimes, it may be a plugin issue- but in the sites I put back online this week, all of them were on Bluehost, got whitecreened by a WP upgrade to 4.0, and all of them needed this file update.

Happily, after the first one, which took a couple hours to find and fix, this makes it fast and easy. At least to rule it out.

But God- Bluehost can suck it: I am done with these losers. Sorry for steering anyone that way, ever. They made simple muddy, and ruined the things that made them good.

Maui Beach Fishing

Being spoiled, I just got back from 2 weeks in Maui on Kaanapali Beach.  Being me, I of course fished a lot of it: pretty much in fact every day there. Saw multiple sunrises and saw sunset every day I was there. Rod in hand, as is my M.O.

zach-sunset-fishingWhile I have never fished so far south, I had a general idea of what I’d find and got a lot of help from this one great thread about Maui fishing…yet artificial was not happening for me. Or rather, frozen squid was hitting for us every cast, so why argue with what works.

zach-fish-tinyYep- everyday was a pretty little postcard here – it is truly paradise as far as I could see. But beach fishing is different everywhere and our first plunk in, we lost so many rigs (like every other cast) on the reefs and rocks and the fish we did catch, were tiny and often weird to us. Cool to see in this regard…but not quite what we were expecting. They were all toothy and spiny, so hard for us novices to grab safely.

Not so easy to capture the beauty of some of the little fish either. But it was fun. When I finally did catch something bigger, it was a very nasty eel who had wrapped the steel leader around his own neck and made it really hard to grab him.


I tried to get him safely behind the head but he coiled around and tried to bite me a few times and was full-body-strong, like a shark. His jaws were pretty terrifying–coming at me with a clearly audible snapping noise that suggested a very powerful bite indeed. He was like a dinosaur that made it. Not that he made it past our encounter, but I’ll spare you the details.

And so thru trial and error and a few days of trying various things (which tended to result in losing a lot of stuff on reefs and rocks),  we found an egg slip sinker and pinch weight with a small hook holding frozen squid strips was perfect. Kind of like a pegged Carolina rig, but using egg weights pegged with a pinch weight, not bullet weights.

The huma huma nuka nuka apua’a bites back

humahumanukanukaapuaaIn no time, we met with the huma huma nuka nuka apua’a- a cool looking little bastard that is everywhere- and is Hawaii’s state fish. One of these guys I caught (and there were many of them) was about 3 pounds, so a fattie- I was rubbing his bottom lip to ease his mouth open and get the hook out, and  he bit me on the index finger. Hard.

red goatfish Maui beach fishingI yelled-I swore at him, shouting “You little f-bomb!” much louder than I had intended. Some old leather-skinned guy in cheap mirrored aviators and a faded bathing suit that I could sense, much like his baked alligator skin, reeked of cigarettes, said to me with disgust: “You know its the state fish and you can’t eat him, right? You gonna throw him back, right?” I mumbled something and tried to stop the bleeding- wanting more to club the old wallet built man with the stupid state fish who bit harder than a motherhummer. But of course he, like all the fish I caught on the beach except the eel, made it back into the water, unharmed. He drew blood and my finger hurt for days, so don’t take any of these dudes for granted. Because they eat off rocks and reefs they have super strong bites, and most have teeth, though more like molars than sharp ones.

All my other encounters with this fish, which were many, were very good. Made me learn how to say and spell it- and they get to be a few pounds and will hit quickly and fight, hard. I got to a point where I could feel them pick it up opposed to other fish- so catching one was something I did a lot. I saw this guy as Maui’s bluegill, and some squid would pull one out even if nothing else was anywhere close. If you beach fish in Maui/Kaanapali, you will catch the huma huma nuka nuka apua’a…it is a sure safe bet, and other than not keeping him (if you are looking for fish to eat) worth it for sure to catch a bunch. Made me popular with the tourists, who were happy to see me catching them a lot.

picasso triggerfish beach fishing MauiA close relative, is the Picasso triggerfish, whose stripes certainly had different shades working underwater. This little guy was pretty common, and super pretty underwater. The belly stripes on some, either reflect color or are colored differently- hard to say, but you can see it in a variety of the same fish.

Triggerfish, plain looking ones, are also really common little bait-stealers. I laughed, because the guy in the thread I linked up top, calls triggerfish “Hate” and I didn’t get it until after I fished there. But they eat your bait a lot, and compared to the excellent stuff you land are more of a junk fish down here.

And though I tried local jigs, it was frozen squid all the way, that really worked. The guys at All About Fish offered some great tips and inexpensive lures to try, but artificial was not happening for me.

The gear going down and what worked for me

Being a vacationing angler always presents interesting challenges in gear. You don’t quite know what to bring, what will work, and it can be very expensive for a thing like this…extra baggage on airplanes (like rods) cost now and we were already bringing a bunch of stuff for the long stay. So my wife and I figured out the smart thing to do, was pack a smaller tackle box and some reels and buy rods on the island. We did just that, going to Costco on the way in where I found 2 cheap Shimanos for about $18 each, which seemed perfect.

spotted fish in Maui beach fishingThis actually was a great way to handle it, though most of the lures I brought, I stopped throwing (and losing) pretty quickly. All my hooks and stuff were much larger than what I was using – there were hilariously small hooks down there, because a lot of these fish have tiny mouths. I hit All About Fish as a local bait shop on the first day there and the guy there helped me pick out a bunch of weights and rigs. But we had 3 reels and 2 new cheap rods to allow us to get lines in the water the first night.

maui goatfishI had a spool of 15 pound test, some braided line, and some 50 pound leader. I also had a lot of coated, pre-rigged steel leaders, hooks and weights from shark fishing in Hilton Head. However, the way they suggested to fish here used a 3 way swivel- which was a way I lost a lot of rigs. In trying different things, we came up with tying a steel leader straight on the 15 pound test, and using a large egg sinker over the leader. We added in a pinch weight to peg off the egg- so your bait (conceptually) would float the length you pegged…a few feet off the bottom was working for us. This rig did not catch up as often, and allowed us to get the bait in front of different fish.

We tried variations with the braided line, but it was very hard to use compared to the mono even as leader. When you pull on a snag with braid, the braid locks down where mono has a bit more give, and you are gonna hook up a ton here. Rocks and reefs are where the fish are, so you gotta figure out how to hit them and not shred or tangle everything doing it. Plus, the waves push things around so braid getting all twisty is a pain in the butt, comparatively.

Frozen squid was cheap enough, and the hooks we got there were smaller than what I have used for crappie or trout. The hooks and egg weights were cheap, and we broke more than one hook on rocks and reef- but they were better than what I brought down and worked more than not. I still went thru a lot of them- and tying them onto a 50 pound leader was not happening…the diameter of that leader was too much for the small hooks.Maui Beach fishing from shore

It is also important to note, we kept it to daylight shore fishing, and nights in Maui (as like most places) do bring in bigger stuff…I was unsure how our little Shimano rods would survive any true test. I have broken many rods, and besides- we konked-out early there every night after long days soaking it all up. But if you are after bigger fish, no doubt some of the same approaches in the right spots at night would pull out much bigger boys. I would suggest getting your lures there- the ones I had for stuff up here on the mainland, were not as applicable…but I am going to Florida soon, and the same box will be perfect down in the Gulf of Mexico.

What I did need, was a knife to cut squid, 15 pound test was good, egg weights and hooks by the score. Never used the bobbers I had, because the fish were down deeper than anything I wanted to put together with a float. Pre-rigged, coated leads were quick and easy, and avoided teethy cut-offs. Hit barracuda a couple times, and they simply bite off whatever was there- but I don’t think we had steel on, when we lost stuff to the barracuda. No fishing licenses needed here, which is super cool.

Maui Beach fishI found that a tide would affect the bite- and a faster incoming one, was better than others as it is in most places. I learned waves were pretty unpredictable, and could directly affect you- same for wind. Constant tension on the line helped a lot…had to feel the bite and set it, or risk some of them swallowing the hook pretty quickly or just missing them. The cheap, whippy rods were good for this…bigger stuff would have had less feel to it.

Lures, simply did not have the pull for me they typically do- squid brought everything out to play while lures never got me anything, so I did not stay with them too long.

I found places where rocks and reefs were, and fished them all up and down Kaanapali beach (can easily see them on clear days)…and caught fish, pretty much everywhere. If nothing else was there, a huma huma etc. would come and get it after a while. But the closer I could get to clearish sandy paths between rocks and reefs, the better the payoffs.

Our best day, we went to Kapalua on the suggestion of the guy in All About Fish. These were rocky cliff points about 20 feet over 20 feet of water more than offshore fishing, but they proved to be awesome to us and well worth the trip. The guy at the store circled where to park and where to go, and in Kapalua the fish were bigger and more varied- we caught them on pretty much every cast, too. Plus, there we saw some sea turtles swimming around, including a little baby one no bigger than a manhole cover…a huge plus to me.

The beach was great in the mornings and at sunset, but the Kapalua rocky cliffs were much more productive and exciting for daylight fishing.

Chartered fun

Maui charter fishingIn addition to beach fishing daily, we tend to hit a guided trip in many places we visit, and Maui definitely had some awesome charters to consider. They are expensive for sure, costing us about $200+ a man each time…but considering the opportunity to tie into really monster fish, it is what it is.

maui start me up charterWe went out on 2 of them, one being the Start Me Up out of Lahaina for a 6 hour effort. Leaving at 5:30 in the morning, we saw perfect, glass-like water as the sun rose over the volcano- which I did not realize was as rare as it was, until later. Made a very smooth ride, and we trolled about 30 miles out for pelagic fish- Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Tuna and Marlin.

On a trolling trip, you put out huge lures on huge reels with crazy heavy line: but it is a lot of waiting, if you have never been. We got some mahi mahi a few hours in- a double hook up first, where one was landed but the other swam into the prop…and later, I got to fight a third one in. There were 6 of us on the boat, everyone with a number and if you got called, you fought the fish.Maui Mahi Mahi

Mine was a very jumpy 30-40 pound mahi, which was exhausting but fun as hell to land. My left arm was sore for 2 days because I choked up on the pole too much- I have landed much bigger fish that were not as strong and determined. It was totally awesome.
I just loaded the video of the catch- we boat him at 5:23 or so, if you want to skip to it).

I have seen varied stories on captains with the catch afterwards- but for us, it was incredible…we got over 10 pounds of fresh Mahi, which fed us all (4 of us) multiple times. I do know the other 3 folks also got all they asked for…and the captain still had a completely untouched, beautiful Mahi to sell to a restaurant, slightly bigger than the one we fileted.

At the cleaning station, we saw two 7-8 foot Galapagos sharks cruising about 12 inches under the surface–it was actually a little unnerving for us landlubbers. I did not like standing over them, even though it was no big deal- their bite radius was bigger than my head, so I was not getting any closer. The captain was super careful to ensure nothing went into the water from the fish carcasses- this is why the sharks are a problem in this docking area. But cool to see- I should have grabbed a pic.

Know that if you go out on a charter like this, there is much more waiting than anything. The scenery is awesome, and it is relaxing as hell- made better, if the folks you share the time with are fun to talk to (which worked out very well for us, indeed). If you catch a couple, it makes it seem all OK- catching nothing, will make you leave the boat angry, so try to avoid that by knowing it is coming.zach lamers eats sushi

My son and our pal Trey did not get a chance to catch anything, so we took another charter the next week where it was reef fishing. On the reefs, we caught a Soldier Fish, trevally, blue lined snapper, and more – you troll out to the reef (looking for big boys) hit the reefs for definite fish, then troll back in…no big boys here, but fun stuff on the reefs.

They hooked into a 30-40 pound grey snapper that got eaten by a shark right up close to the boat – then later caught the shark, which was about a 5-6 footer that they got up close to see, then broke it off to save any risk. All our fish were fileted by the time we docked (I caught 5, Trey caught 2-3 Zach caught 1), so no pix- but we ate like champions, and out-fished the other folks on this boat. Trey says to always get the back of a party boat, which worked here.

Summing Up

If you are going to vacation in Maui and are a fishing type, you are going to be in heaven. Beach fishing is awesome, and charter presents world class experiences (but it is a gamble: these fish are not always so easy to find).

I found, bringing reels and buying cheapie rods worked well. Need a bait knife, 15-or-so pound test and you can get hooks and weights there…when you get frozen squid. Leaders were a plus…their locally popular 3 way rig was not so good for me, but a Carolina-style pegged weight was great. The number of different types of fish caught, was stunning: one of the best I have ever seen.