Self-Hosting

Home Dashboard

I’ve always had a fascination with self-hosting. The idea of fully owning and controlling the web services I relied on was incredibly appealing. I’ve been running my own media server at home for years — first using iTunes and then moving to Plex — but last year I purchased a Linode, installed Cloudron and started leaning into it even more heavily.

I setup a Homer dashboard to keep everything organized and give me a single place to go when I want to access or manage any of my self-hosted software and services.

I thought I’d go over everything listed in my Homer dashboard and explain a bit about how each item is used. Not everything listed is something I’m self-hosting, but it’s all self-hosting-related.

Homer Dashboard

Plex — Our Plex library contains terabytes of ripped DVDs, Blu-rays, and iTunes purchased content that I’ve removed the DRM from. It’s our most used self-hosted service by far. But it’s not just TV shows and movies, I also use Plex to store my music library and children’s videos that I periodically archive using MediaHuman YouTube Downloader.

Channels DVR — A recent addition to my self-hosting setup. I use it with our over-the-air antenna and a number of M3U IPTV playlists.

Seed Box — This is the web interface for Transmission on my older Mac Mini. That machine runs a VPN so I can privately download all of my perfectly legal Linux ISOs.

Transmission — This is the web interface for Transmission on my main Mac Mini server, which I don’t typically run a VPN on (it makes Plex inaccessible outside the network). This is for the times when I want to download perfectly legal Linux ISOs without the privacy.

AllTube — This web app lets me easily download YouTube and other web videos. When I’m on a Mac I usually use a browser extension or the aforementioned MediaHuman YouTube Downloader. This is more for downloading from my iPhone and iPad.

App Manager — This is my Cloudron instance, which manages most of the self-hosted services I run on Linode.

Mastodon — My primary social network built on ActivityPub. Rather than join a public instance, I decided to run my own. If you have an account, you can follow me, Initial Charge, and/or #OpenWeb. And if you don’t have an account, you can find an instance to join on instances.social.

Pixelfed — Much like Mastodon, Pixelfed is a photo-focused ActivityPub service. If you have an account, you can follow me, and if not you can find an instance to join on Fediverse.party.

SearX — A meta search engine that I have configured to primarily pull results from DuckDuckGo and Brave Search. There are occasions where I need to search with Google, but SearX handles the overwhelming majority of my needs.

FreshRSS — An excellent backend to my feed reading system. I sync this with NetNewsWire and Unread on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The web interface isn’t great, though. Cloudron recently added Miniflux to its app store, so I might toy around with that in the future.

Wallabag — My read later service of choice. I’m not too fond of the iOS app, so I simply use that for its share extension and then have the website saved to my Home Screen as a progressive web app for reading articles.

RSS Bridge — A nifty service that generates RSS feeds for dozens of websites and services that don’t offer them.

Initial Charge — The site you’re reading this from — where I publish thoughts about Apple products, software, the web, and other geek-related topics.

\#OpenWeb — My recently relaunched directory of independent web publishers. Mostly focusing on technology and Apple-related weblogs.

Initial Charge Shop — This is a super secret project that I’ve been toying around with recently. Built on WordPress and WooCommerce. Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon.

Mike Rockwell — My LinkTree-style homepage built on LittleLink.

The Wishlist — A private site among myself and a small number of family members where we can keep an ongoing wishlist for birthdays and Christmas.

Don Rockwell — A family WordPress site to showcase photographs of and by my father.

Rebecca & Michael — An archive of my wife and my wedding website. Serving as a digital photo album.

Linode — Where most of my web services and websites are hosted. I use a Shared CPU Plan with 4GB of RAM, which handles everything I’ve thrown at it with a little bit of headroom.

SiteGround — Fantastic WordPress hosting. I’m currently using their GrowBig service. I might end up moving my WordPress sites to Linode to simplify things a bit, but I haven’t fully explored that option yet.

NameCheap — My domain registrar. It’s not clear to me if there’s really any benefit to using one registrar over another unless you’re utilizing their other services. So it comes down to price, mostly. And NameCheap seems pretty competitive on that front.

Fastmail — The best email hosting service. I’ve considered truly self-hosting email, but that seems like a task fraught with annoyances.

WordPress.com — Some of my WordPress sites are hosted here. It’s an excellent service, but for full disclosure, I do work at Automattic.

Cloudron — A shortcut to the subscription management site for Cloudron. The software is free to use for up to three apps, but requires a monthly or yearly fee if you want to install and run more than that.

Listenbox — A nifty service that lets you subscribe to YouTube channels as podcasts. This is primarily how I interact with YouTube now.

Social Crossposter — A service for cross-posting between Mastodon and Twitter. This is something that can be self-hosted, but I haven’t explored that option yet.

Search Console — This can probably just be removed from my dashboard. I don’t actively use it for anything at all. I could probably get some more traffic to Initial Charge if I did, but there’s almost nothing about search engine optimization that appeals to me.

IFTTT — Web automation at its best. I used to use it for a lot more than I do now — the original iteration of \#OpenWeb was built on it. But now I just use it to automatically save Initial Charge entries and Mastodon posts to Day One.

Jetpack — A link to Jetpack Cloud where I can manage subscriptions, backups, view my sites’ Activity Log and more.

VaultPress — Although new sites get backups directly through the Jetpack plugin, I still have some WordPress sites that are using VaultPress for their backups.

Bridgy — A bridge service that will let you save replies, favorites, and retweets/boosts to your site as webmentions.

Motorola Surfboard — A link to the web dashboard of my cable modem.

Geek Tees — My retired weblog, which linked to geeky t-shirts and other apparel. It may, at some point, resurface in one form or another.

CyberSurge — The first weblog I ever published with my own domain name. From 2006 until 2009, this was my home on the web.

Nu HTML Validator — W3C’s HTML Validator. When I make updates to any of my sites, I always try to run it through this to make sure all my code is valid.

CSS Validation — W3C’s CSS validator. Used in similar instances as the HTML validator.

Feed Validator — Another W3C validator, this one for RSS feeds.

Security Headers — A service for checking the security-related headers on your site. I’m happy to say that Initial Charge uses five out of the six that this checks for.

Structured Data — A Google developer tool that checks and validates the markup for structured data in your web pages.

PageSpeed Insights — A service for checking the speed of your web pages. It’s not my favorite, but it sure seems like everyone uses it.

Pingdom Tools — Another webpage speed tester. I prefer this one to PageSpeed Insights, but it doesn’t offer quite as detailed recommendations. I usually just use it for quick speed tests.

Just a quick note on hardware, for the folks that are interested in that sort of thing. I already referenced my web hosting — Linode, SiteGround, and WordPress.com — for the services I host locally I have a couple of Mac Minis.

The primary home server is a 2018 Mac Mini with a 3.6GHz quad-core Core i3 processor and 32GB of RAM. For storage, it has a ThunderBay 6 enclosure connected over ThunderBolt that houses two 8TB drives for media storage, two 14TB drives for backups, and a 1TB NVMe SSD that serves as the boot drive.

The other machine is a 2011 Mac Mini with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5. 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. This computer has more specialty usage — it primarily runs NordVPN, Transmission, and TunesKit M4V Converter to remove DRM from iTunes purchased content. Its running macOS El Capitan, which has the latest version of iTunes that the DRM removal tool works with.

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Relaunching #OpenWeb

When I first launched #OpenWeb a few years ago, it was a bit of an experiment. The idea was to aggregate headlines from independent publishers within the Apple enthusiast community. The method I used for publishing the headlines was pretty fragile, though, and eventually it just became too difficult to maintain.

It’s been in the back of my mind to refactor the project into something that was easier to manage and might be a bit more useful to, not just the Apple enthusiast community, but the open web in general. A couple of weeks ago, I started laying the groundwork and today I’m ready to share it.

Rather than aggregating headlines, #OpenWeb will simply showcase independent publishers within the more general tech and web enthusiast space. It’ll probably have still have a bend toward publishers that write about Apple products, but that will likely change as time goes on.

With the shift to being more of a showcase for writers, syndication might be a bit more useful, too. Instead of the RSS feed including headlines from all of the sites, it will only be updated when sites are added. My plan is to add one new source each weekday, but I imagine the pace will slow as I run out of the backlog of sites to add.

If you’d like to follow along with the newly added sites, you can do so with the its RSS feed, on Mastodon, or on Twitter. I might add an email newsletter option at some point, but there aren’t any immediate plans to. That’s not a method that I tend to use on other sites, so it’s not something I’m super motivated to add. However, if that’s something you’d like to see, please let me know and, depending on interest, it might get a higher priority.

Also, if you publish a weblog or know of one that you’d like to recommend, you can suggest a site to be included.

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