Category Archives: Web hacking

Do It Yourselfer’s Guide to Web Hosting

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guide to web hosting for small non-profits having relatively simple content management system based sites. Since then several acquaintances have asked about personal web hosting for DIY efforts by folks who are not software engineers. This article explains the planning you need to do in the beginning and why I use WordPress for this DIY site.

This guide is intended to be of some service to my artist, dog breeder, and hobbyist friends making promotional sites or personal communications sites like this one. There are many hosts out there but most of what is written evaluates hosts for use by small agencies and solo web services consultancies. There is little for the DIY community.

Continue reading Do It Yourselfer’s Guide to Web Hosting goes live

This has been a busy week bringing live. Earlier, I wrote an article about developing an Open Outreach Drupal 7 based site for my church. This summer, I joined ODU Institute for Learning in Retirement and joined the communications and technology committee. At the first meeting I found myself volunteered to become webmaster and committee chairman as both incumbents were eager to move on to other roles.

The old site at was originally developed in the early days of ODUILR using Microsoft Front Page. The site had a dated look and was difficult to update. It was appropriate in the club’s early days but now that we are 700 members and 100 or so programs, social events, and trips per year, the organization has outgrown the old site.

Continue reading goes live

Hosting Options for Small Non-profit Web Sites


ODU Virginia Beach Higher Education Center


This spring, I enrolled my church in Google Apps for Non-profits. Being new to the process, we started with a Small Business Trial enrollment, then the non-profits enrollment, and finally, tying the two together.

Today, I started my second Google Apps for Non-Profits application, this one for Old Dominion University Institute for Learning in Retirement. ODU ILR is an almost all-volunteer run non-profit. We have two office staff that handle member enrollment, program registration, book keeping, and receive the member’s program fees for us. We have a web site, accounting system, member enrollment and course registration system, and do mass mailings. Most of these systems were established in the 1990’s and have become dated, especially our MS FrontPage and E-mail.

Continue reading Hosting Options for Small Non-profit Web Sites

Google Apps for US Houses of Worship, Part 2

Google Apps for Non-Profits

Google offers its Google Apps services to qualified non-profit organizations. In the United States to qualify an organization must be either a

  • US IRS 501c3 corporation whose Employer ID number is registered as such in the IRS EIN database
  • An affiliate of a 501c3 corporation that has established an Group Exemption Number and has included the affiliate in the group.

To verify your status, Google checks the IRS database. If your organization qualifies, its records will include a group exemption letter like the one shown below.

Google Accepted IRS Group+Exemption+letter+formatThe annotations to the right show the information that Google requires.

Google Follows the Rules!

Back in the spring I wrote about applying for Google Apps for Non-profits on behalf of my church, Unitarian Church of Norfolk. Apparently, our application awoke Google and they have developed stricter guidelines for application processing. At the time UCN applied, UUA had established its EIN as a 501C3 qualified corporation but had not established an affiliated-organizations group number.

At the time, Google let UCN slide in to home. Since then, Google has expanded Google Apps for Non-Profits to the UK, Japan, and more. As the program has grown, they have become stricter about the rules. UC Boise attempted to apply in late summer of 2014 and was unable to find a way through the maze. Like most Unitarian Universalist churches, they were relying on their existence as a house of worship to provide tax-exempt status. They, like UCN, had not enrolled as an IRS 501C3 corporation. And the UUA has not established an exempt affiliates group.

UC Boise’s experience is that Google strictly requires one of two things.

  1. The church’s qualified EIN
  2. The church’s membership in a qualified group

Further, Google is requiring that this be verified electronically by query to the IRS database. They are no longer crawling submitted paperwork.

Becoming a 501C3 Corporation

The process is not complex but it will take a day or two of a member’s time to complete the IRS paperwork. The rub is that the IRS charges an $850 fee to process the application. This is a significant one time expense that would have a 1 to 3 year payback time depending on the number of Google Apps seats needed. Most houses of worship will want from 5 to 15 seats to cover employees and church jobs that need E-mail. Google Groups may be used to reduce the number of addresses needed. Google Groups is useful for church activities that don’t need to have an official voice. Most committees are better served by groups but minister, office, web admin, and the officers really should have E-mail accounts.

Two IRS forms are of interest. Form 1828 describes the regulations governing US houses of worship. Form 1023 is used to file to become a 501c3 organization.

Form 1023 includes the application, instructions, and fee information. The applicant’s yearly budget determines the fee with a break point at $10,000/year. Most churches will be above the break point and will incur the $850 fee (2014). The IRS estimates that it will take 8 to 16 hours to gather the relevant supporting information.

The wise church will apply for 501c3 status while its budget is below $10,000/year. Although not strictly required for tax purposes, membership has its advantages like free Google Apps for Non Profits.

 An Alternate Google Apps Approach

UC Boise has elected to use Google Apps for Small Business which provides similar features (but probably not the new Classroom product). Google charges small businesses $5/E-mail per month or $50 for the year prepaid. UC Boise has elected to establish 5 accounts, probably a workable minimum. Most congregations will want accounts for the following billets

  •  Minister
  • DRE
  • Office
  • President
  • Treasurer

It is good to have accounts for the Webmaster and Google Apps admin but these can be directed to the office. This design will cost UC Boise $250 per year. With a more robust 15 accounts, Google’s bill would be $75 per month or about the same as the phone service. This more robust provisioning would cover the rest of the officers, provide Google Apps and Webmaster dedicated accounts, and provide an account for the Volunteer Spot volunteer coordinator.

By way of comparison, $75/month is about the cost of high speed Internet service or telephone service for 3 lines from Cox Communications in Tidewater.

Why Google Apps?

The more astute moochers out there will quip that free services will do all of the stuff that Google Apps does. That is indeed true. Zoho does E-mail, Dropbox and Evernote support collaboration, YouTube is free, etc. Why Google? Generally, when a service is free, facts about the users are the product. Be sure you read the terms of service and understand the acceptable uses and what the provider will do with information derived from your activity.

UCN elected to go the Google Apps for Non-profits route because

  • 50 or so of our fellow congregations had blazed the trail
  • There is a single point of administration and control
  • All services can be UCN branded
  • Key services G-mail, hangouts, drive, YouTube, etc are increasingly integrated


New URL:

The New URL

Today, I finally took the plunge and gave this beast it’s own URL, Those of you having book-marked will find that you are forwarded to Please update your book-marks as Automattic makes no promises about how long the mapping will be maintained.

I registered the domain indirectly via Automattic, the fine folks who make WordPress and operate Automattic still hosts the blog for me. For a simple, no-frills site like this one, it made sense to do it all with Word Press rather than registering separately with EasyDNS at retail. That route would have been a bit more complex and expensive. Word Press with a custom URL is $26/year. There will still be an advert at the bottom and I’m still restricted with respect to theme choice and plug-in choice but the stock 2014 theme and plug-ins meet my needs.

Continue reading New URL:

Web Scale Software Challenges for Lay Folk

An Example

This post grew out of a chat with Jae Sinnett, a great jazz drummer, composer, band leader, and music educator here in Tidewater Virginia. Jae likes to write essays about jazz music and the joys and trials of being a working jazz musician. He publishes these on Facebook and he writes well and at length. But Jae’s essays often come out as a single block of text with the paragraph breaks missing.

Thinking Jae had not discovered the secret sauce for getting Facebook to create a paragraph break, I commented on a recent essay to describe the shift-return technique. It turned out that Jae knew this technique but that it worked or failed at random. What could be going on?

Continue reading Web Scale Software Challenges for Lay Folk

Second Life, Web Hacking Edition

To keep busy, I’ve been doing web sites for two non-profits, my church and the local Road Scholar Lifetime Learning Institute Network affiliate sponsored by Old Dominion University.  Both web sites were in need of updates for the brave new world of iPhone and iPad. Neither site was responsive and both had become disorganized as the sponsor’s activities grew in scale and complexity.

Continue reading Second Life, Web Hacking Edition

OOMA for Business

My church had been dissatisfied by the service from its phone carrier. Multiple annoyances led the office staff to seek an alternative but the most telling was that the phone system was difficult to manage. Most troubling was that the staff could not change call forwarding from outside the office.

The Incumbent

The incumbent was providing 2 line business service using VoIP off the cable. The cable split between a carrier provided ATA and a Motorola SurfBoard cable modem feeding a Linksys WiFI router. The carrier provides a custom front end web site for managing phone service that was proving difficult to navigate and use. And we were paying about $80/month for service. The box supported two AT&T office desk sets that are somewhat clunky to use.

The Challenger

Given the office’s frustrations I began looking about for alternatives and found Ooma for Business. Ooma for Business is Ooma’s small business VOiP offering and is similar to its home offering in many ways but different in ways important to businesses. And different in some ways important to UCN.

Objective Capabilities

  • Calling for 3 staff members, Minister, Office Administrator, and religious education director.
  • Ability to call out while an inbound call was active
  • Call forwarding for 3 internal phones
  • Voice mail for 3 internal phones
  • A single inbound number.
  • Auto-attendant to free the office administrator to roam the building as needed.
  • Off-site management during weather closures
  • Off-site voice mail access during weather closures

Testing your ISP Service

Ooma for Business requires about 256 Kbps or so of bandwidth to service an active call plus the auto-attendant. You can verify an adequate Internet service using the speed test on the Ooma support pages. This test verifies through-put, latency, and latency jitter. Successful completion of this test is recommended prior to ordering.

Ooma Premisses Equipment

The Ooma premisses equipment is a trade paperback sized black box with 2 Ethernet ports and a POTS port that connects to the Ethernet. You may connect it between the gateway router and switch using the two Ethernet ports or to an inside port on the switch. If you have a robust service, the internal location is preferred. With DSL service, connection between the DSL modem and switch is preferred.

The little black box runs a tailored instance of Asterix private branch exchange software that supports internal calling, an auto-attendant, and voice mail.

In addition, the base system comes with two DECT 6.0 Linx devices. These provide a wireless connection for a regular 1 line business or home phone with caller ID support. The base configuration supports 3 internal lines, one on the PBX device and 2 using included Linx devices. Two additional Linx devices may be added with current firmware for a total of 5 extensions. Future releases of software are expected to increase this to a total of 10 local RJ-11 drops.

The system can support an additional 10 virtual extensions. A virtual extension pairs a PBX number with a POTS phone number somewhere in the US or Canada. The PBX forwards the call to the paired number. To the caller it appears as a local call. This is very similar to Google Voice forwarding a call to your mobile number to your home phone.

The Ooma PBX also has a teleconference bridge. This service requires an additional extension to be used for joining conferences.


Ooma’s marketing is a bit confusing on how Ooma for Business works. The best way to learn is to read the support pages. You purchase 2 resource types from OOMA, phone numbers and internal destinations (extensions or virtual extensions).

A phone number is a 10 digit dialed telephone service address associated with the system.  UCN needed one of these.

An extension is an internal port that is able to make and receive calls. These come in 3 varieties.

  • The RJ-11 POTS port on the Ooma PBX
  • The RJ-11 POTS port on each Ooma Linx wireless device
  • Virtual extensions.

It seems obvious that you would pay for numbers but shouldn’t extensions be free? Why is Ooma charging for them? The Ooma PBX creates one “line” for each extension. They are 100 percent provisioned for external service access. All may be active on external calls simultaneously. Most large scale branch exchanges assume that most calls will be internal and that some fraction will be external. This is an invalid assumption in a small office context.

Virtual extensions are internal extensions that are paired with a POTS phone number, typically a home office or mobile number.

UCN needed 3 extensions and 0 virtual extensions.


Ooma prices the business service based on numbers and extensions.

  • Numbers are $20 per month
  • Extensions are $10 per month
  • Taxes, 911, and universal service fund are $5/month per number.

UCN’s bill is about $55 per month


The auto attendant uses a synthesized voice to deliver a greeting and directory information. It has different greetings and behavior for business hours and non-business hours.

  • During business hours, you can dial an extension
  • Outside business hours, it sends you to extension voice mail or to the common office closed voice mail queue.

This behavior is customizable and each day of the week can be a business day or a closed day. Each day of the week can have different business hours but only one period per day of business hours.


The system is bring your own device. Any RJ-11 POTS phone (desk set or cordless) may be used provided that it has an electronic ringer. The RJ-11 ports do not have the heft to power mechanical ringers or some older caller ID desk sets.

The system does not support direct pairing of DECT 6 wireless phones with the Ooma base station. Ooma uses a high definition voice codec to communicate between the base station and Linx end points. Ooma’s HD hand sets will not pair with the Ooma Business base station in current form.

Voice Mail

The system provides voice mail delivery in several ways.

  • Directly to the handset. Dialing the handset’s number takes you to its voice mail queue.
  • By E-mail. Ooma also delivers the recorded message by E-mail as an audio file attachment to an E-mail address paired with the extension. Transcription is not currently supported.
  • Voice mail can be managed from off site using a web browser.

Service Continuity

During power outages and Internet fades, Ooma HQ picks up service and will take messages in much the same way that your mobile carrier sends calls to voice mail when a mobile handset is indisposed. Ooma will read or play your recorded announcement and direct callers to voice mail.

Voice mails will be queued for delivery on site and delivered by E-mail as described above.


UCN has experienced one service interruption associated with our router loosing its DHCP leases from our ISP. Basically, everything inside the router lost DNS access. Restarting the router and Ooma PBX corrected the problem.