Monthly Archives: August 2016

Swafford Family Tour de States – Chapter II Part I

On May 17th we set out on the second leg of our Tour de States. This time our focus would be on the Northwest. We would start out going through Tennessee and up through St Louis MO, then across to Kansas, through to Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and back along the northern most states- Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, before heading back south and east. Everyone was super excited about this trip. Neither Amy nor I had ever been to that part of the country before.

We didn’t have the smoothest of starts to this trip. The evening before leaving, as I went to hitch up the truck, the tongue jack wouldn’t lift the trailer high enough to clear the ball hitch on the truck. I scrambled to the Tractor Supply store to get a tongue jack that, though it does the job, isn’t quite what you want for a travel trailer. With some help from my brother-in-law Rob and a little luck we got the new tongue jack put on and we managed to leave on time (almost). In hindsight, that seems to be a foreshadow of things to come. There were definitely more maintenance issues on this trip than the last!

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Just like last time, there would be a mix of travel days, sight seeing days, work/school days, and sometimes combinations of those. It didn’t take us long to get back into a rhythm once we were on the road. We wanted to stop and see some family in NC, TN and MO on the way out west, so that was the focus of our first few stops. Here are the stops we made on the way out west:

May 17-18 – Lexington NC – We stopped here to see Amy’s stepmother Gale. We spent a nice day at the house visiting. We went out for a meal at a nice restaurant. It was good to catch up.

May 19 – Newport TN – This was just an overnight stop in the mountains on the way towards Nashville. On our last trip we actually went down to Atlanta and then back up to Nashville just to avoid the mountains, but I figured that after 8000 miles or so of pulling that trailer I’d be OK. Besides, we’d have to go through the Rockies!

The campground was one of my favorites… definitely somewhere we could have spent more time. Pictured below is Jamie cooking up our supper! I think we were having cheeseburgers.

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May 20-23 – Nashville TN – My dad’s side of the family are in the middle TN area so seeing family was definitely the primary agenda in Nashville. We managed to see my grandmother, sisters Fallon and Hillary along with their kids, as well as my aunt Carla. We also squeezed in a trip to the Parthenon.

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parthenon

May 24-26 – Bowling Green KY – Bowling Green is the home of the famous Mammoth Cave. Carlsbad Caverns was one of my personal highlights of the last trip so I was really looking forward to this. There are around 400 miles of caves in this system! Of course only a small portion of that is open to the public.

We set out on a tour, and as we got just about to the bottom, in a fairly narrow “corridor,” the group suddenly stopped. We stayed in place for 20-30 minutes before a Park Ranger came through saying that “we have a situation, law enforcement might be coming behind you.” Wait, what!?! That’s all the information we had for several more minutes before we learned that someone had fallen, possibly dislocating a shoulder so they didn’t want to move them. Our tour guide said that was the first time in 17 years that tour had been stopped – we just hit the lucky day! So, we “backed out” of that cave, but they put us on another tour that technically wasn’t even open to the public just yet.

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May 27-30 – St Louis MO – my mom and sister Amanda both live in southeast MO so they were able to come spend time with us over the (Memorial Day) weekend. Being a summer holiday weekend, the campground was very busy. We ended up with a pretty good spot though, on the back end of the campground overlooking a cemetery! (At least the neighbors were quiet!)

We arrived at the campground on a Friday afternoon. That Saturday my sister Amanda, her daughters Cheyenne and Leah, and my sister Hillary (from TN!) with her family came up to see us. We went to a kid’s museum in St Louis, and of course the Gateway Arch. The Arch was a neat experience. The elevator that goes to the top has these little “pods” that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Each “pod” seats about 5 people. You get out at the top, walk across a breezeway of sorts (though it’s anything but breezy, it’s actually pretty hot and stuffy) that overlooks the city, then get back in the elevator to go back down. The architecture and engineering are pretty amazing.

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Shortly after that whole crew left us my mom came up and spent a night with us. We took a trip over to Grant’s Farm. The property was once own by Ulysses S. Grant and now owned by Anheuser-Busch.

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May 31-June 2 – Kansas City MO – The main thing we wanted to do in Kansas City was go to Union Station. Union Station is, well, a big ole train station full of shops and exhibits. When we walked through it was just about empty. It’s striking how tall the ceilings are. It’s truly a beautiful building. After walking through the building we walked through a pedestrian crossing over the tracks on our way to Jack Stacks Barbecue.

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June 3-6 – Omaha NE – We were really looking forward to getting to Omaha to see our good friends from our San Diego days, the Phipps family. It’s been a long time since we’d seen them but you wouldn’t have known it, we just picked right up like we’d just seen them last week! Jason and Candice were very welcoming and hospitable. We ate a great meal with their family and thoroughly enjoyed the evening! We just hope it’s not another 10 or 15 years before we see them again!

One negative note about Omaha – we caught a flat on the trailer. The road going into Omaha was so bad and bumpy that we didn’t even know it! It wasn’t until we made a left turn about a mile from the KOA we were staying at that I saw the tire in the mirror. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be the last flat either.

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June 7 – North Platte NE – Just passing through here on the way to Denver!

June 8-10 – Denver CO – I was really looking forward to our stay in Denver – the Mile High City! We didn’t actually stay in Denver, but just west of Denver in Central City. Central City is in the Rockies and sits at about 8500 feet. The view was gorgeous! The campground in Central City was one of my favorites, but it was a challenge to get up to it. There were several switchbacks and sharp turns up some pretty steep climbs.

Before we left home Amy had already looked ahead for any opportunity to see the San Diego Padres play and this was it! They were playing the Rockies while we were in Denver, so naturally we went to the game. We (mostly Amy) were one of just a few rooting for the Padres, but they won!

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June 11-12 Silt CO – After leaving Denver and continuing west we had to climb up to just about 11,000 feet in elevation. Trucks were having to go slow to avoid overheating (including us). At one point going down some elevation our brakes started smoking. It was a real balancing act keeping the truck slow enough to maintain control and not smoking the brakes.

One of our favorite activities of the entire trip was in Silt. We ziplined over the Colorado river! We also celebrated Father’s day in Silt by hiking along the river.

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June 13-14 – Vernal UT – AKA Dinoland! Vernal’s “claim to fame” is the dinosaur bones found in the area. We went to the National Park where they have a structure built onto a rock wall with bones still embedded into it. The theory is that there was a river in that area where the bones had collected. Pretty incredible place.

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June 15-20 – Salt Lake UT – On the way to SLC we came across the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s literally a huge flat area of … salt. Many land speed records have been set here. It was pretty cool to just walk around on the salt. It was so bright that you had to squint.

Of course we also had to visit the Great Salt Lake. We took a short hike around a section of the lake, ate lunch and then ventured down onto the beach. The water in the Salt Lake is very warm, and obviously salty. Nothing lives in the lake except brine shrimp. Amy bottled some of the water, and several brine shrimp were in the bottle. Most died but one hung on for quite some time. She named him Fred. Sadly, Fred died just a few days ago in a sea monkey aquarium in our home in NC. He lived a pretty long and adventurous life for a brine shrimp!

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June 21 – Winnemucca NV – the road between SLC and the west coast is long and barren! You can see in the picture below the sign that read “Next Gas 179 Miles” !! There was very little on that road and hardly any cell reception. It’s definitely not somewhere you’d want to breakdown! Thankfully we made it through without any trouble.

Every time I think of Winnemucca I also think of the Johnny Cash song “I’ve been everywhere.” We would play that song in the truck naming off the places we had been.

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June 22-24 – Klamath Falls OR – Home of Crater Lake. Crater Lake is easily, without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. The lake sits on an “imploded” volcano, and the water is nearly 2000 feet deep. It’s the deepest lake in the US and the 9th deepest lake in the world. The depth of the water makes it an incredible blue. There is no “feed” into the water – it’s filled just off rain and snow runoff. This area get a LOT of snow – over 10 feet a year. We drove about half way around the lake, stopping at different points to look at the lake from another point of view (the road on the other half was still closed from snow!). I hope to return to this area again one day, it was truly stunning.

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That’s all for this installment. I’ll write about the rest of this trip in another post soon!

Error Establishing Database Connection in WordPress

My website (and a couple others on the same server) had been plagued with this mysterious ‘Error Establishing Database Connection’ for several weeks. I actually thought I had exhausted the system resources of my small web server and probably needed to upgrade it (add more RAM). I hadn’t considered the possibility that something more devious was going on, but it turns out my WordPress installation was vulnerable and was being 0wned!

This particular attack utilized the XML-RPC capabilities of WordPress. RPC is short for ‘Remote Procedure Call’. It’s a mechanism to execute procedures on a remote computer as if you were running locally. It’s a pretty powerful mechanism, but can be fairly dangerous too.

There are a few fixes published on the Internet. One solution was to enable Jetpack‘s security features. I tried it and it didn’t work. What did work for me was a two fold strategy.

1. Use a firewall to specifically deny the IP addresses of the attackers. I would consider this the first line of defense — it works at the lowest possible level. The problem with the Jetpack solution is that it works at the application tier, which consumes more system resources, leaving you open to denial-of-service type attacks.

I’m running Apache on an Ubuntu server. To find the IP addresses of the attackers, I did something like this:


fgrep '"POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.0" 500 585 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible: MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.0)"' /var/log/apache2/access.log | cut -d' ' -f1 | sort | uniq

Once I had the IP addresses I installed Uncomplicated Firewall, and added a rule for each IP address.


sudo ufw insert 1 deny from 13.65.30.225
sudo ufw insert 1 deny from 13.66.57.205
sudo ufw insert 1 deny from 185.143.173.56

That alone helped dramatically, but doesn’t stop someone coming in from another address, so another step was needed.

2. I explicitly reject any web request for xmlrpc.php. You can do this using an .htaccess file, or directly in the web site configuration (in my case in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled). I added the following snippet to the bottom of the virtual host file(s). (I believe you could also do this globally if you didn’t want to do it per-site.)


<files xmlrpc.php>
order allow,deny
</files>

Note, this disabled XML-RPC and therefore any features/plugins that require it! However, it works fine for my purposes. YMMV!