Category Archives: Tips

New Anti-Spam Offering from Black Chicken Host

Hello, friends and teammates –

We have some exciting news, which might just make your whole day:

Black Chicken Host now offers SpamFreeze, a robust anti-spam solution, for only $5 per month per domain!

Our new SpamFreeze product filters, tags, or blocks spam entirely; you’ll never have to see it in your inbox again. Additionally, it offers another layer of security for your home and office computers, as it will automatically strip out viruses from any incoming email (or, if the virus cannot be removed, it will block the email entirely.)

If you are being repeatedly hit by email from the same IP address, the SpamFreeze firewall will begin blocking those emails after 50 are received within a 30-minute timeframe.

We can configure your SpamFreeze to either pass through all virus-free email and tag it with a “SPAM” tag for easy filtering into a separate folder, or to outright block anything the firewall detects as spam. I recommend starting out with tagging in place, so you are able to ensure no legitimate email is being flagged by the system; our false-positive rates are very, very low, but we wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on important mail.

Once you’re confident everything works to your liking, it’s a very easy matter to change from tagging to outright blocking.

Powering SpamFreeze is a robust cluster of Barracuda devices; they will not become saturated or cause delays in your email. Barracuda is amongst the most trusted names in security worldwide.

For only $5/month, you may never have to deal with spam again!

Get in touch with us today if you’d like more information, or if you’d like to sign up.

How to Unblock Your IP on a BCH Server

We have some pretty snazzy news to share with you; we’ve added the ability for you to unblock your own IP address from the firewall! 

Most of us have at one time or another entered an incorrect password one too many times, or have run afoul of ModSecurity triggers on our websites, which results in the server denying all traffic to and from our IP address.

Symptoms of a blocked IP:

* You cannot see anything on your site, and may receive a “request timed out” error
* You cannot check email if your domain is hosted on your server with us
* You are able to see blackchickenhost.com just fine
* The website http://www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com/ says it’s just you

I won’t go into all the technical details, but essentially, the server thinks you’re trying to do something mischievous (such as brute force attacking a password,) and has protected itself by blocking the IP. Our stringent security measures help to keep your data safe, but they do occasionally block a legitimate IP address.

Previously, if your IP had become blocked, you would have had to open a support request to get it unblocked. While we do our best to attend to all requests quickly, sometimes there is a delay and you of course want to get your work done. Thus, we’ve added the ability for you to unblock your own IP address without needing to contact us at all. This will only work for servers upon which you have an account, and only authorized Black Chicken Host customers can unblock IP’s.

There are a few steps in involved for security’s sake, which must be performed from the IP that is blocked in the firewall:

http://blackchickenhost.com/whmcs/index.php?m=csfmanager

Then, click “view details” next to the affected hosting account. On the following page, which may take a moment to load, click “Unblock IP” from the menu on the left. If the IP address you are writing from is blocked, it will automatically be detected by the software and the block will be lifted.

Or, you may enter a different IP address to unblock manually.

We are of course always happy to perform this task for you; this self-service option is for people who prefer to unblock themselves quickly.

There are advanced features available, too, such as proactively whitelisting an IP address for a certain period of time, and resellers are able to unblock their clients’ IP addresses, as well.

Please do let us know if you have any questions or concerns; we’ll be glad to help!

 

How to Make cPanel Work for You

Most of our customers never log into their cPanel account; they are completely happy to work within their WordPress Dashboards and never worry about what else might be available. This is, of course, completely fine; however, there are many things inside cPanel that might be beneficial for you to know about.

So! We’re writing this quick cPanel primer to help you learn about some handy features you can access therein.

What is cPanel?

cPanel is the user-level domain management control panel we use on our shared servers (and on many of our VPS and Dedicated servers, too.) It allows users to oversee and manage nearly every aspect of the domain, including backups, email and FTP accounts, bandwidth consumption, statistics graphs, subdomains, software installations and more – all within an easy-to-learn-and-use graphical interface.

How do I Access cPanel?

When you first signed up for your BCH account, you received a “Welcome” email that contained your cPanel URL, username, and password. If you don’t have the email anymore, we can easily re-send it to you.

The format of your cPanel URL will always be “https://” followed by your hostname (something like roost.blackchickenhost.com) and then “:2083” which is the port (to tell the server you want to access cPanel and not some other service.) An example would be:

https://roost.blackchickenhost.com:2083

If you can’t remember your server’s name, you can also use your domain name:

https://yourdomain.com:2083

The one caveat with using your domain is you’ll receive a security warning about the SSL certificate not matching the domain name. This is because the SSL is for our server’s hostname, not your domain – it is completely safe to proceed through the SSL warning here.

First steps inside cPanel

Once you’re in, what your cPanel looks like will depend upon which theme you have selected. Older accounts will have the x3 theme by default, while newer accounts will have Paper Lantern. You may change your theme by using the “Switch Theme” selector on the main page.

Despite cosmetic differences, the functionality remains the same. Most customers are interested in the following cPanel areas:

Backups

cPanel backups are outstanding – they are a full, exact snapshot of your entire account in one handy file. It will contain everything from databases to email to themes to widgets. If something goes wrong with your website which cannot be fixed or undone, reverting to the last cPanel backup will put everything back in place as it was at the time the backup was taken.

We strongly advise downloading a cPanel backup to your home computer from time to time, just in case of the unlikely event something catastrophic occurs within our datacenter.

Our courtesy cPanel backups are very robust, but they are a courtesy service only – they are not guaranteed.

You can access cPanel backups within cPanel under the Files area. If you click up Backup Wizard, you’ll see options to Backup or Restore.

Backup restorations are typically best left to us to perform, so I’m going to skip over that for now, and focus upon how to generate and download a cPanel backup.

Within the Wizard, please click on Backup, and then on Full Backup. On the next page, select Home Directory in the Backup Destination, and then enter your email address in the field below to receive a notification when the backup process has completed. Click “Generate Backup.” Depending upon how large your account is, the backup may take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

When you receive the completion email, log back into cPanel, and this time, go into the Backups icon. In the Account Backups drop-down menu, select the date from the backup you took in the step above, and then click Download.

Voila! You now have an off-site copy of your entire cPanel account. It’s easy and worth the peace of mind.

Email

The next area we’d like to discuss is email. If you’d like to set up email accounts under your domain and are not using a third-party mail provider such as Google Apps, you can set up email accounts within cPanel.

Log into your cPanel account, and look in the Mail section. There are a lot of options here, and today we’ll just focus on a few: Email Accounts, Webmail, and Forwarders.

Email Accounts

This is where you will set up new email accounts, as well as editing or removing existing email accounts.

Creating a new email account is very easy. Let’s say I want to set up the address me@mydomain.com. Under Email Accounts, I would enter “me” without quotes in the first text box, and then make sure I have “mydomain.com” selected in the drop-down menu to the right.

Next, I select a strong password and enter it twice. Lastly, I choose how much disk space I would like to have the email account to be able to use. 250MB is the default, and you may enter any whole number in that field, or you may select “Unlimited.”

Click Create Account, and there we are – a new email account!

Changing Passwords

To change the password for an existing email account, we also go into the Email Account area. To the right of the email account, there will be a “Change Password” option. Click that, and enter the new password, then save it.

Once you change your password, do be sure to change the password inside all of your email clients (including on mobile devices!) lest your IP become blocked for too many failed login attempts on email.

Webmail

If you’re having troubles with your email client, or if you’re not on your own computer, webmail is a good alternative. You may access webmail by entering your hostname, followed by :2096 as in the following example:

https://hive.blackchickenhost.com:2096

Your username will be the full email address.

You may also access webmail from within cPanel under the Mail area, on the Webmail icon.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented with three options: Squirrel Mail, RoundCube, and Horde. I recommend trying all three to see which you like best, as the formats are quite different.

Forwarders

You may also set up automatic forwarders within cPanel. There are two options for these:

1.) Forward an existing email account
2.) Forward an email account that does not exist

There are two important differences here. When forwarding email for an account that does exist in cPanel, incoming mail will be delivered to that email address and then also forwarded to the destination you set up. When forwarding email for an account that does not exist, it will only forward to the destination, and will not be delivered anywhere locally within cPanel.

To set up a new forwarder, simply log into cPanel, go into the Mail area, and click on the Forwarders icon. Click “Add Forwarder,” and then enter the first part of the email address. From the example above, “me” would go here. Then, select the correct domain from the drop-down address.

In the Destination area, keep the first radio button checked and then enter the destination email address in full – like me@gmail.com. Then, click Add Forwarder. Boom! Now all email will be forwarded to me@gmail.com.

Summary

That’s a lot of information to throw out at once, so we’ll wrap this installment up for now. In coming cPanel posts, we’ll tell you about:

Bandwidth graphs
Server-side stats
Subdomains
Addon Domains
Hotlink Protection
CloudFlare
Softaculous

In the meantime, please feel free to open a support ticket anytime you have questions or concerns about cPanel functionality, or any other aspect of your hosting experience.

 

 

CloudFlare: What It is, What It is Not.

Black Chicken Host has partnered with CloudFlare CDN to bring you better load times and increased security at no cost to you.

CloudFlare Certified Partner

What CloudFlare is:

CloudFlare is a simple and free Content Delivery Network which places your website’s content closer to your readers all around the world. By caching your images and other static content geographically closer to your global readers, your website will load more quickly and consume fewer resources on the local server. The static portions are cached on the CloudFlare servers for a short period of time, typically less than 2 hours, after which time they check to see if your site has been updated. If there is new content, CloudFlare dumps their existing cache and starts fresh.

By automatically moving the static parts of your site closer to your visitors, the overall performance of your site improves significantly.

The overall effect is that CloudFlare will typically cut the load time for pages on your site by 50% which means higher engagement and happier visitors.

CloudFlare caches your content worldwide:

CloudFlare CDN Sites

Additionally, CloudFlare can save you money on bandwidth. On average, CloudFlare customers see a 60% decrease in bandwidth usage, and a 65% in total requests to their servers.

How does CloudFlare protect you from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks?

Black Chicken Host already has impressive security metrics in place; utilizing CloudFlare’s service improves upon our already outstanding security. CloudFlare’s mitigations offer a broad range of protections against attacks such as DDoS, hacking, or spam submitted to a blog or comment form. What is powerful about the CloudFlare approach is that the system gets smarter the more sites that are part of the CloudFlare community. They analyze the traffic patterns of hundreds of millions of visitors in real time and adapt the security systems to ensure good traffic gets through and bad traffic is stopped.

In fact, CloudFlare was initially developed as a tool to increase website security – and its founders accidentally discovered it radically improved the load times of its customers. Now personally, I find that hilarious. And fantastic.

The CloudFlare servers filter out the bad guys before they even reach our servers or your website, blocking malicious traffic before it can do any harm. But how? Honestly? I have no earthly idea. It just… works. I suspect this graphic is slightly dumbed down:

CloudFlare - how it works?

That’s it in a nutshell – some magical thing happens inside that CloudFlare cloud, and it’s a black box for the rest of us. As long as it keeps working, I’m happy.

So, let’s sum this up:

  • Improved load times
  • Enhanced security
  • Less bot spam
  • Offline browsing potential
  • FOR FREE

Not bad, right?

CloudFlare: What it is not

The CloudFlare service is not an excuse to never update your software or not to use strong passwords. It’s an extension of our already superb security, but it is no replacement for common sense.

It is not a 100% guarantee of no down time, ever. However, should your server experience difficulties (high load, or even being offline for a short time,) CloudFlare can often keep your content flowing to your readers by utilizing their caching service.

It is not Google Analytics. CloudFlare offers statistics for your site, but they will vary from GA (they tend to report higher numbers, due to how they gather and parse the information.) They’re handy to track trends, but are not the best way to measure your audience (definitely use Google Analytics for that.)

Ok, I want CloudFlare! How do I get it?

For Black Chicken Host customers, enabling CloudFlare is as easy as pushing a button (provided you are using our nameservers.)  We are pleased to offer you the CloudFlare service for FREE. There is no commitment. Turning CloudFlare on and off takes two clicks of the mouse in your cPanel account, so feel free to try it out. If you’ve misplaced your cPanel login information from your Black Chicken Host welcome email, please just let us know via a support ticket.

How to Enable CloudFlare in cPanel

The one potential downside to using CloudFlare through Black Chicken Host (as opposed to signing up yourself and having to muck about with your DNS) is you must use www in your domain. Thus, if your WordPress site is set up using http://yourdomain.com right now, we’ll need to change that to http://www.yourdomain.com — this is an easy thing for us to help you with, and is only a matter of aesthetics.

Also, you must use Black Chicken Hosts’s nameservers. Nearly all of our customers already do, but it’s an important item to note.

CloudFlare also offers a paid-for “Pro” version, which of course offers more features and functions. You can read about that on their website. We offer the free version so you can take things for a test drive and see if you like it. If you do, the paid-for version might be something you’d like – it makes no nevermind to us, we receive no commission.

Here’s a short animated video which goes into far less detail than I have here… but it it gives a good overview:

Introduction to CloudFlare

Questions? Comments? Just let us know. If you’d like more information, or if you’d like assistance getting started with CloudFlare, you know we’re here and happy to help!

Best,

Erin D.

Edible Weeds

oxalis - an edible wild plantIf you have ever taken a wilderness survival or wild edibles course, no doubt your eyes have already been opened as to the plethora of freely available, wild edibles right at your feet – often, right in your own yard!

In addition to being incredibly frugal, eating wild plants is healthy, sustainable, and finding them can be a lot of fun, harking back to our hunter-gatherer roots. As with all things in the wild, we have to be certain we have the requisite knowledge to safely partake in this activity, however.

How do I know if a wild plant is safe to eat?

Remember, some plants are poisonous – even deadly in small amounts. We have to be careful of what we eat when its identity is uncertain. Some safe plants have close relatives which look nearly identical to the untrained eye, but are toxic to humans. For this reason, we need to be pretty darned sure we’re eating what we think we’re eating!

Too, some “safe” plants are only safe when cooked, or only have certain parts which are safe, while other parts of the same plant may be toxic. It’s always a good idea to do research before embarking upon a wild edible plant gathering trip.

Here’s how to verify the identity of your plant:

ingham county logo1.) Unless you are absolutely certain you have successfully identified a given plant, you should bring in some additional help. Nearly every county in the U.S. has an Extension Office. What’s an Extension Office? It’s a source of (often free) advice, troubleshooting, and plant identification, among many other things. In our county, it is an extension of Michigan State University, which is widely known for its agricultural expertise.

These offices are generally grant-based, and are staffed with people who really want to help others. I call ours often! They will be happy to help you identify a given plant, and there are some things you can do to help them help you: 1.)Bring in the entire plant, including any flowers, berries, roots, and foliage. If that’s not possible, many offices will attempt to identify a plant from a clear photograph or small sample. 2.) Make notes about its habitat, including sun/shade, soil conditions, and the other plants you see around it.

2.) If visiting an Extension Office is not possible, there are a wide variety of field guides available to help you identify your mystery plant. We recommend the following:

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides) [Paperback] – A timeless classic from the master field guide, Roger Tory Peterson.

 

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants [Paperback] – This comprehensive book covers not only identification and collection, but also preparation of the plants

 

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1) [Paperback] – An excellent resource from a renowned wild edibles expert, also covering everything from identification to preparation.

 

3.) Use our friend, The Googles. Searching for “Wild edible plants” yields a veritable plethora of information, including photos, videos, recipes, and more. As always, when taking advice from The Internet at Large, use good judgment – only take advice from credible resources. I prefer using college and university websites, or established scientists and researchers in the field, with a few ad hoc experts thrown in for good measure.

Finally, when in doubt, don’t eat it!

If you cannot establish the identity of your mystery plant, be safe rather than sorry. If you can preserve the plant for future identification, awesome. If not, take a photo or sketch if possible. Those berries may look delicious, but are they worth a horrible bout of diarrhea, or worse?

If you’re in the wilderness and your survival literally depends upon finding wild edibles, you can always perform the very meticulous and very time-intensive Universal Edibility Test.

mayapple - an edible wild plant

Which plants have you eaten personally, and where are they found?

It’s been many years since I’ve taken any wilderness survival courses, so these days, I stick to the most basic stuff. However, back in the day, these found their way onto my plate:

Paul Wheaton (renowned creator of Permies.com) has several videos online covering the preparation and eating of stinging nettles.

dandelion - an edible wild plantMost of these are easily identifiable, and are abundant in Michigan; in fact, they are plentiful right in our own yard. Last year, I pitched more weeds than I ate, but this year I’m determined to do better. We have heaping tons of lamb’s quarters in our garden – why not make it into a salad green? We have a preponderance of dandelions in the yard, and last year I made salads and a sweet syrup from them – this year, I plan to do the same. Sadly, we don’t have much clover, but after it feeds the bees, it will feed us, too.

The photo below is the atrocious state of weeds in our garden last summer – things were out of hand. Thinking about how I either threw them onto the compost pile or just let them go is disheartening right now, but last year was truly horrible for gardening, and I largely gave up midway through for a variety of reasons. A lot of what you’re seeing below are sorrels and lamb’s quarters – totally edible!

a garden overgrown with edible weeds

Legalities of harvesting wild plants

Some wild plants are protected under the law – this means you cannot legally harvest them for food or for any other purpose. This link lists endangered plants in Michigan, and here’s a handy tool to search your area within the United States. Additionally, harvesting on public lands is often prohibited by local or state ordinance, so check all appropriate rules before you have a conversation with a Department of Natural Resources officer who catches you in the act.  “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” is excellent advice when visiting public lands – don’t be a jerk!

If harvesting on private property, be sure you have the permission of the landowner; otherwise, you’re trespassing, and could be in violation of other laws, as well. If you’re harvesting common weeds, check with your friends and neighbors to see if they would allow you to harvest their weeds, thus saving them some work! Be sure to ask whether they have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer before you consume them.

Wild Medicinals

We’ll have a post in the future about using wild plants as medicinals/remedies, with expertise from a guest poster. There’s a whole medicine cabinet, likely right outside your window.

Mushrooms

chanterelle mushroomsHunting mushrooms is a science unto itself, and requires even more expertise than simply finding edible weeds. Some mushrooms are absolutely deadly, and have lookalike edible kin. I can’t offer any advice on mushrooming myself, but there are many resources out there; I recommend taking an in-person class which includes field trips. An important part of mushrooming is paying attention to habitat, and noticing subtle visual cues between species. Having an expert walk you through personally is invaluable. Right now, the only mushrooms I know I can identify are morels and chanterelles.

 Wrapping it all up

Wild edible plants are a free source of culinary delight and great nutrition, provided we research our species carefully, prepare them properly (if required,) and harvest them legally and sustainably.

I’d love to hear your tales of using wild edibles, from common back yard weeds to elegant and hard-to-find mushrooms – do tell!

The 3 most important elements of your site’s SEO:

Content, content, and content.

This is what came up when I searched SEO Expert in Google. If this man comes to your door, do NOT buy SEO services from him. Or anything else. In fact, don't let him in the door at all.Hey everyone, Chris the web guy here. There’s a lot to consider when you’re putting together your site’s marketing strategy, and you’re going to hear (and probably have heard) a bajillion tips already. Good. Listen to them, digest them, and when it comes to the best practice stuff like proper markup, make sure you follow them. However, none of that is going to do you a bit of good if your content is poorly written or stale. In fact, it may just hurt you: Google has recently announced an “Over Optimization Penalty” for folks who focus more on SEO than giving users what they’re searching for.

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Monday’s with Millie: The #1 Food That Should be in Your Kitchen

The last few weeks we’ve been talking in detail about how to Transition to Real Food in 8 Easy Steps.  Today I’m going to share with you the #1 Item that Should be in Your Kitchen.  Before I go into that, want to take a minute to focus on the WHY of switching to a real foods diet.

The Standard American Diet, the way most people eat is all most of us know. It is most likely the way we grew up eating. It is comfortable, it is convenient, and it is somewhat easy. Unfortunately, it is making or keeping us sick.

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Analytics Boot Camp Day 5, Part 2: Advertising & AdWords

Ahoy, Attendees!

This installment of our Google Analytics (GA) Boot Camp is going to touch briefly upon the Advertising section of Standard Reporting. We find it beneath the Audience section, which we just wrapped up in our last Camp.

Since most of our Black Chicken Host customers are bloggers and not eCommerce sites, we’re not going to spend an inordinate amount of time on this today. Rather, we’ll familiarize you with the terms, provide you with links to helpful documentation, and then move along to Part Three of today’s Camp which will cover our old friend, Traffic Sources.

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Analytics Boot Camp Day 5: Visitors Flow

Hello, Campees!

Today we’re going to show you our second-favorite Analytics area, Visitors Flow. This informative screen only falls behind Real-Time track in terms of nifty-ness in our view. Erin is partial to the image to the left, because it reminds her of nerves coming out of a human spinal column (she is a little bit of an anatomy geek.)

To help us set up our Boot Camp today, let’s see what Google says: “Visitors Flow is a graphical representation of the paths visitors took through your site, from the source, through the various pages, and where along their paths they exited your site.” Neat!

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