Tag Archive: code.

Self-Hosted Server Status Page with Uptime Robot, S3, and Upscuits

For quite a while I've had a public "Status" page online for WhisperGifts via Pingdom. It basically just shows uptime over the past few days, but given my site is relatively low-volume and not ovely critical to my customers, the $10/month for Pingdom was actually one of my largest expenses after hosting.

So, I started looking for an alternative.

Today I re-deployed the WhisperGifts Status Page using a combination of Uptime Robot, Upscuits and Amazon S3.

In short, I have Uptime Robot checking the uptime of my site (including it's subsites, such as the admin and user pages). The statistics are gathered and presented by Upscuits, which is entirely client-side JavaScript hosted on S3.

My basic todo list for next time:

  1. Sign up for Uptime Robot. I'd been using them for ages on their Free plan as a backup to Pingdom; this gives 5-minute checks. Their paid plan gives 1-minute resolution.
  2. Add your sites, make sure they're being monitored correct.
  3. On the Uptime Robot dashboard, click My Settings. Open the section labelled Monitor-Specific API Keys and search for your Monitor. Copy the API key to a text file for later; repeat this step for subsequent monitors you want to include on your status page.
  4. Download the latest Upscuits release to your PC.
  5. In the public folder of the upscuits package, rename config.example.js to config.js. Paste your API key(s) inside it.
  6. Create an AWS bucket called eg status.mysite.com and enable website mode. Setup your DNS etc to point to this bucket.
  7. Upload the contents of public/ to your AWS bucket
  8. Visit your new status page and view your last 12 months of Uptime Robot statistics
  9. Close your Pingdom account saving $10 a month Profit!

For a small site like mine this has a couple of obvious benefits. It's free (or $4.50/month if you want higher resolution - still half the price of the most basic Pingdom plan); it uses a tiny amount of S3 storage which is as good as free, and doesn't involve running any server-side code. The included index.html is also easily customisable if you like, since it's just plain HTML (using the Bootstrap framework, by default). This is a big win over hosted solutions, IMO.

Djangosites Open Sourced

Back in 2008 I started djangosites.org as a listing of websites powered by Django. Prior to that, we relied on a wiki page to see who was using Django, so an image-based website felt like a big improvement.

Since day one I've promised to release the source code that I use for the site. It's relatively simple, so I never stressed much about making it a high priority - but I continue to be asked and politely berated for not getting it published.

Today that's changed. I think it's too late for me to say I've come good on my promise, but the Djangosites source code is now available on GitHub.

The README has more details, but in short this is a dump of the code currently running the site. I'll continue to use this repository as changes are made to the live site, however I'm not actively working on djangosites at this point in time (other than reviewing & approving submissions)

There's a few pieces of this that might be useful for people new to Django, but otherwise this is really a collection of generic views. The useful bits might be:

Suggestions and pull requests are welcome, but I'm not actively soliciting changes. I should probably clean things up a bit given that this codebase hasn't changed materially since Django 0.96, other than slight refactors to allow upgrades to work - so I'm certainly not yet taking advantage of new functionality that's been made available in recent Django versions. Perhaps now you can see how bad the code is, I'll have more of an incentive to fix it :)

The source code is available right now from GitHub under a mixed licence: the Python code is MIT-licenced, and the rest (HTML etc) is not open source but included in the repository for completeness and as an example.

Tracking CPC Results in Django

Like many startups, I use CPC ads to attract attention to WhisperGifts. I bid a set fee per click for particular search words on Google, and for ads shown to my target demographic on Facebook. I wanted to track an individual signup to their source CPC campaign, so put together a really quick bit of Django middleware to help me out.

All I do is stash the value of utm_campaign (set by Google or Facebook) into a cookie called wgcookie.

class CampaignMiddleware(object):
    def process_response(self, request, response):
        from registry.models import Campaign
        if 'utm_campaign' in request.GET.keys():
            if 'wgcampaign' not in request.COOKIES.keys():
                # add campaign cookie
                c = request.GET.get('utm_campaign', None)
                response.set_signed_cookie('wgcampaign', c, max_age=31536000, httponly=True)
        return response

At signup time, I read out the cookie into the users table:

    campaign_code = request.get_signed_cookie('wgcampaign', None)
    campaign_code = None

user.campaign_code = campaign_code

Simple! I've now got the capability to track actual revenue by campaign source - a very handy tool to identify which campaigns might warrant higher or lower spending.

I'm aware this isn't rocket science, but I figured it's worthwhile sharing - it makes more sense to me to track these things directly in my own database, than to try and match data from the AdWords panel with various analytics services.

Happy CPC bidding!

New Podcast: Django Roundup

Lincoln Loop are one of the earlier Django-based development shops, and their various employees contribute in many ways to the open-source community. One new addition they've just made is the launch of Django Round-Up, a podcast covering the news in the Django community.

This is a podcast hosted by @kennethlove and @bkonkle from @lincolnloop that highlights recent articles and projects in the Django community. We love talking about web development, so our podcast focuses on casual conversations as we cover the latest blog posts and project releases.

I was surprised to hear my name coming through my headphones, only a minute into their first episode - with a quick review of my recently-published django-readonly-site package.

As a result of their comments I've made some minor updates to address questions and suggestions from the podcast team.

I want to publicly thank them for including my item in their inaugural episode, and suggest that anybody in the Django community goes out and checks out this valuable new resource!


Occasionally I need to take WhisperGifts offline, but still show some parts of the site to users. This has included some system changes that require the site to be non-functional for a little while (such as doing a deployment with a bunch of backwards-incompatible changes, or large database migrations) and for server moves, whilst waiting for DNS changes to propogate.

To do this, I wrote a little library that I could toggle within my Django settings. I've just pulled it out of the WhisperGifts codebase, and django-readonly-site is now available on GitHub. I think it's pretty simple to use.

Install it with pip install django-readonly-site, add readonly to your Django projects' settings.INSTALLED_APPS, and set settings.SITE_READ_ONLY = True. More options are available to keep parts of your site online, see the README for more details.

By keeping parts of your site online (such as the homepage, about us page, and in my case a customers' registry listing) you can provide a transitional experience to users, while the database-intensive and high-integrity parts of the site (such as signup, account management, and checkout) are taken offline with a polite "Sorry, we're temporarily unavailable" message.

Just after I had to quickly move to Rackspace after an outage with my previous web host, Rackspace announced that they now had a public cloud offering in Australia. For performance reasons, I'll be moving from DFW to SYD soon - and I will use django-readonly-site to try and minimise the perceived downtime for my users.

Your thoughts, suggestions, and pull requests are welcome on the GitHub Project Page.

Pure CSS Image Accordian

A little while ago I rebuilt my homepage. The homepage became an 'About Me' page; more of a landing page than a blog archive. The blog URLs haven't changed, and it's still there - however the move to a landing page is an acknowledgement that I just don't write blog posts as frequently as I used to.

One of the fun things that I added at the top of my landing page is a series of eight images that show who I am and what I enjoy doing. They're all from my own photo collection, and although they're hardly perfect photos they do capture the essence of the past few years of my life.

The images are shown in a simple accordion - only the middle vertical 30% of an image is shown, then when you mouseover an image slice the other images are compressed to show the hovered image in it's entirety.

The images are all 400x400 pixel squares; they're floated left by -150px (with overflow: hidden) to show the 8 even slices. On hover, all of the slices are resized to 20%, except the image the mouse is over: That is changed to 100%.

To make it a little prettier, I use -webkit-transition (CSS3-only), however it isn't as smooth as I'd like.

I've tested in most modern browsers, but as my site isn't high-traffic I haven't tested every possible combination. YMMV.


<div id='hero'>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero1.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero2.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero3.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero4.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero5.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero6.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero7.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>
    <span><img src='/media/heroimages/hero8.jpg' title='Image Caption'></span>


#hero span {
    /* Show each image as a 120x400 sliver. */
    width: 120px;
    height: 400px;
    float: left;
    overflow: hidden;

#hero span, #hero span img {
    /* Animate the image width changes. Not perfect, but good enough. */
    -webkit-transition: all .5s;
    -moz-transition: all .5s;
    -o-transition: all .5s;
    -ms-transition: all .5s;
    -webkit-transition-delay: .1s;
    -moz-transition-delay: .1s;
    -o-transition-delay: .1s;
    -ms-transition-delay: .1s;

#hero span img {
    /* Ensure the vertical slivers show the centre 30% of the image */
    text-align: center;
    position: relative;
    left: -150px;

#hero:hover span {
    /* When we hover over the #hero block, change all images to 80px (20%)... */
    width: 80px;

#hero span:hover {
    /* ... except for the actual image being hovered, which now becomes 400px (100%) */
    width: 400px;

#hero span:hover img {
    /* Reset the 'left', as it was previous 150px, on hover. */
    left: 0;

This code is hereby in the public domain; no warranties or support are provided. Good luck.

Getting Paid in Django with Pin Payments

Payments in Australia are controlled by the so-called "big four" banks, and it's been difficult for a long time for startups to get merchant facilities to process credit cards online. Accounts cost hundreds of dollars per month, with high transaction costs and minimum transaction volumes thrown in.

We watched with teary eyes as companies such as Stripe launched and made it easy for developers to process credit cards, and kept struggling with the PayPal "API" with hope that one day we'd see Stripe in Australia.

I was excited, then, to see that Pin Payments have just publicly launched in Australia. They're currently offering a $9/month account fee, which isn't free but it's certainly ideal for small companies. After June 2013 this will jump to $50/month, so it seems to make sense to sign up now if you've got any medium-term plans.

Like Stripe, Pin offer a JavaScript Library for processing payments on your page without ever handling credit card details. This makes it much quicker and easier to implement.

Because I process payments in multiple places on WhisperGifts, I needed a reusable way to render the payment form and process the payment in a worker queue. The resulting code has been packaged up as django-pinpayments, which is still simple and in an Alpha state but it's a great starting point.

The code is released under the BSD licence, and I'd love to get your suggestions, comments, and GitHub Pull Requests.

A few things on the to-do list include providing Celery tasks out of the box, and providing tests & documentation. If you can help with any of these I'd be very happy :)

In the meantime, I'm about to go live with credit cards on WhisperGifts for the first time. I'll keep PayPal around as an alternative, but if demand is low I won't hesitate to turn it off. I can't wait.

Small open-source release: django-menu

Many moons ago on this blog I wrote about a simple menuing system for Django. For the sake of convenience, I've just packaged up that code (plus a few minor improvements) into a package named django-menu which is also available via PyPi with pip install django-menu. Basic documentation is included in the package and in the git repository.

Please log any issues or suggested improvements via the GitHub issue tracker!


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