Using Fieldbook as a Static Site Data Source

On and off for quite some time I have been looking for a simple web-based database with a UI that would allow me to dump info into it without having to worry about a schema, one that allowed me to easily pull the contents out to display in a web page.

I’d come across the various DBaaS options, but they all seemed to be geared towards millions of rows and gigabytes of data. None of them had a UI that looked appealing either (at least that I could see). Then I stumbled across Fieldbook.

It’s laid out like a spreadsheet, with support for several sheets inside any book. Aside from being able to arbitrarily create columns of data (and set types, requirements, etc), you can also link fields to other sheets, creating a simple relational database. It’s got an intuitive UI that isn’t too restrictive as well.

Spreadsheet as CMS

The reason I’ve been looking for a service like it is that I tend to knock up little sites that require infrequent updates (if at all) and setting up a full CMS seems like overkill (not to mention a lot of work). The endless notifications about updates on the WordPress sites I run — along with wider security news — and my liking for optimal site speed has led me to embrace static sites. Continue reading…

Hosting a Site on PubStorm

Update: I received an email today to say that PubStorm is shutting down as of the end of November 2016.

This is part of my series of try some alternative hosting options. Next on the list was a service I stumbled across completely by accident. It’s called PubStorm from a company by the name of Nitrous.

Their tagline is ‘Deploy static websites to a superfast global CDN in seconds.” Nice. They have two tiers: Free and Premium. The latter gives you a bunch of things like extra versions, visitor stats and guaranteed uptime.

The Free tier allows you to host up to 10 sites. It does allow custom domains and even SSL certificates. The negative (which I didn’t notice until later) is that it adds a PubStorm watermark to your site.

Getting Started

The biggest bugbear to getting started with PubStorm is that you need to install their command line tool. Bizarrely, although it’s not written in JS, they ask that you do this via npm, which means you need to have Node.JS installed.

Bad enough forcing me to install a command-line tool, which hardly makes it easy to use for non-techies, but why require Node when that’s not what the tool is written in?

At least you don’t have to worry about an onerous sign-up process, just email address and password (with a confirmation email). No attempt to collect credit card details.

Then it’s into the command line. If you opt to sign up via the website (as I did) note that you’ll need to run storm login first, which seems to be missing from the instructions.

I had all my files so I just needed to run storm init and enter the details as requested.

The requirements for the project name are odd as you can only use lowercase letters, numbers and hyphens. Presumably this is to make it URL safe and there’s no prior warning of this requirement. Here’s a stunning idea: take whatever name I give you and make it URL safe! You have to pick one that’s unique across all of their users too. Continue reading…

Hosting a Site on Microsoft Azure

This is part of my series of try some alternative hosting options. I decided not to stop with S3 and instead to carry on with a few more options I found. One of these was Microsoft Azure.

I was thinking, like Google and Amazon, I would use their storage platform, using a Blob on Azure Storage. The problem was getting my domain pointed at it and the lack of support for default documents (so you have to specify index.html on the end of URLs).

They do offer some free tiers for their Web Apps though, which is their names for hosting websites, whether they be static HTML, PHP, Python, NodeJS or .Net. You can build and host up to 10 apps for free. So I decided to give that a whirl.

Getting Started

To start you need to sign up for a Web App. That will ask you to create an account using Microsoft Online, Google or Facebook logins. You’ll also need to pick a type, based on the language you want to use. I opted for an ‘Empty site.’

When it’s created you’ll get a random subdomain of azurewebsites.net. For some reason I had a countdown suggesting the app was only available for an hour. There was also a link to click to extend it to 24 hours. There was also the option to sign up for a free 30-day trial, which allows the 10 apps. So it’s all very misleading.

So next I had to figure out how to sign up for the free trial, which seemed to send my round in circles. Then I went through a sign up process on a page that took forever to load and re-load. I had to verify myself by text (or phone), I thought they weren’t going to request my card details, but they did. Eventually it created my account (which can take up to four minutes apparently). What a rigmarole.

Once you’re over that hurdle you’ll find your test site is now pointless and you’ll have to create an app all over again. Now you get to pick your type of plan and have to find the free one as it’s tucked away. You also have to create a resource group, something to with sharing permissions. Then you get to wait until the app is deployed. Finally you have a site!

There’s a bunch of options to load your files, from git to Visual Studio. One option is good old FTP (yay). I found the FTP/Deployment User was set to ‘No FTP/deployment user set’ and no obvious way to change it. It took me a web search to find I had to go to ‘Deployment credentials’ and enter some details. Finally I could upload my files to the wwwroot folder.

Continue reading…

Hosting a Site on Amazon S3

This is part of my series of try some alternative hosting options. I left Amazon until last at they’re the big gorilla in this market. Amazon Web Services (AWS) have been around since 2006 and hold significant market share. As such they’ve been used for a great many things, including hosting static sites.

Simple Storage Service (or S3 to use its more common name) is designed to store files (and there are options about how often they’ll be accessed), but can also be used to host static sites.

Getting Started

Obviously you need any account, and Amazon generously offers a free tier that includes access to all of its products for 12 months. You get the option to select if it’s a company or personal account. Despite the free tier you still have to enter a credit card. You also have to enter a phone number that it will call with a PIN number to verify.

Then you get the option to pick the support plan you want, from Basic (free) to Developer ($49/month) all the way up to Enterprise ($15,000/month!). That’s it, all done.

Amazon have a handy article to run you through hosting a static site. So I started by creating two buckets for my domain (one for the naked domain, one for www). I selected my closest Region (data center) to host it.

Next came uploading my files, which is where most services fall down. The default upload dialog doesn’t support folders, but there is the option to enable the Enhanced Uploader (Beta), which uses Java. It takes (up to) a couple of minutes to enable it, but I thought I would give it a try. It never actually got installed, probably because I don’t have Java enabled in my browser (it never actually gave an error, just sat spinning).

(note: I missed the glaringly obvious message that says I could drop folders on the upload box.)

There are a number of other options to upload files, depending on your OS. Amazon provides an API and there are a number of command line tools that make use of it, as well as GUI applications. I opted to install s3cmd. Continue reading…

The Chaos of 4K

As a recent recipient of a 4K monitor I have taken sudden in-depth interest in the subject of 4K, or Ultra HD (UHD) to give it its other name. What I found was a confusing mix of terminology and technology.

The Standards

First off, there are two standards that are referred to as 4K.

  • UHD is 3840 x 2160 pixels
  • 4K is 4096 x 2160 pixels

The most common use of 4K as a term is for UHD, which is exactly twice the resolution of HD (1080p) as marketed in TVs, hence the Ultra HD name.

The Digital Cinema Initiatives established the 4K standard for movie projectors, exactly double their previous 2K standard.

By rights, UHD is not 4K (it’s not 4,000 pixels wide), but is commonly referred to as such by manufacturers and retailers. Continue reading…