What's That Noise?! [Ian Kallen's Weblog]

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20040929 Wednesday September 29, 2004

Coming Up For Air Who has time to blog? The procession of emergencies that has afflicted Technorati lately has left me little time for peace (or even, as in the case of the only previous post I've had time to make in nearly two weeks, civility).

As reported on by Dave, the chaos really crescendoed last weekend with an electrical outage at the colo facility. The service is on the mend but we still have a ways to go. The database repairs are proceeding. The hardware upgrades are mostly completed and it looks like we're going to setup camp someplace that will be a huge step up from the ghetto colo we've been in.

Here comes the sun. It's alright.

( Sep 29 2004, 10:37:10 AM PDT ) Permalink

20040920 Monday September 20, 2004

The Optimal Time to Optimize in Operations

One of the recent hassles I've had recently was with a hardware migration that needed to proceed quickly. The clock was ticking down on the disk capacity utilization on some key database hosts. Now suppose one of the sysadmins wanted to perform "preventitive fsck's" and "table consistency checks" -- when you're dealing with over 100 GB (closer to 200 GB, actually) of data, these are not quick propositions. In fact, they might take days. Ergo, just not feasible. Given the time, would it be optimal to sanity check every subsystem's functionality? Perhaps. But when struggling to beat the clock, you just gotta say, "Not now, Poncho!" Sometimes the only effective action is fast action.

First of all, the only times I've ever needed to do a reiserfsck has been after a cold power loss (and reiser is usually fine even after one of those). So the fact that this sysadmin wanted to do a reiserfsck "preemptively" made even less sense. As far as doing a table consistency check, with innodb this is never needed on an anticipatory basis. In my experience, innodb either is able to keep itself consistent with its own journaling or it's just hosed... not a lot of grey in between. Again, the only exception has been in cases of a cold power loss. Sure, sometimes other hardware problems, low level disk defects, will manifest themselves as problems with the filesystem or a database's data file. But usually there are other indicators as well (kernel complaints in syslog, etc). But even with the dependency stack accounted for and checked, it's no guarantee against failure.

Sometimes the optimal course is just the fastest one between where you are and where you need to be. Choosing the deliberate and cautious route, dwelling on unnecessary optimizations, may in fact be the slow and steady road to.... failure! In this case, if we'd followed the course of doing every unnecessary system check possible, we'd have run out disk space and crashed these particular databases.

Stop optimizing. Just shut up and get it done already.

( Sep 20 2004, 11:51:27 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040918 Saturday September 18, 2004

Apache 2.0's poor adoption rate amongst LAMP developers

Although Apache 2.0 has been out for a while now, the risk for mod_perl and PHP based developers is still high.

I just ran into an interview I did with Linux Guru about two years ago. I was relatively upbeat at the time 'cause I expected that the innovations in Apache 2.0 would be sufficiently compelling that it'd drive mod_perl and PHP developers to "get on the bus." Sadly, that hasn't happened.

If you're serving static content or need to wire up an external application server (i.e. Tomcat via mod_jk), then Apache 2.0 is definitely the way to go. But the vast body of mod_perl modules on CPAN that work well with 1.x but don't with 2.0 does not bode well. Thread safe Perl and PHP development is really the key to Apache 2.0's success within that development community, it seems like it'd behoove RedHat, IBM and other vendors who've bet a lot on the open source integration market to spur this development.

( Sep 18 2004, 05:50:24 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040915 Wednesday September 15, 2004

Mason and Maypole

I'm fan of expressing business logic cleanly separated from display logic. It becomes especially important for managing CRUD cycles within an application. In j2ee-land, MVC with struts is the de-facto standard for doing those things and it works pretty well. However, in land o' LAMP, no such standard exists.

I'm currently looking at using Maypole with HTML::Mason. But it looks like (oy!) TMTOWTDI decisions are to be made there:

Which way to go?

( Sep 15 2004, 03:56:41 PM PDT ) Permalink
Comments [1]

20040914 Tuesday September 14, 2004

is mod_perl a dying art? Does PHP have a future?

I keep hearing from mercenary recruiters from Amazon about technology jobs requiring mod_perl and HTML::Mason knowledge (I tell 'em "No Thanks But Say Hi To Jon For Me" -- I doubt they ever do) . Hearing that one of the topics of conversation at this year's OSCON was the demise of mod_perl came as quite a surprise.

According to the Journal of jjohn, mod_perl's problem is that it's a CGI enabler (psychobabblisticly: it allows web developers to indulge in Bad Things). jjohn sez...

Now, it's not that mod_perl suck (it doesn't) or that it's not useful in some situations (it is), is just that MOST PEOPLE ARE SIMPLY DOING CGI CRAP. That's right, stupid CGI + HTML is a kind of universal Microsoft Fundation Class that works for programmers of all languages.
He goes on to give PHP a little lovin'
PHP is a terrible language. Perl has long suffered with the albatross of its highly syncretic origin and it's "organic design". However, PHP is a lot worse. It's a kitchen-sink language where crazy things like mysql routines and GD libraries are part of the core language. While objects were around in PHP 4, few PHP systems use OO style. To put a fine point on it, most of the PHP apps I've looked at are poorly written and a bear to debug.

And yet, PHP is frequently a better choice than Perl for web apps.

Besides the close association to the CGI aspersion, the big problem that Perl and mod_perl suffer from is that it's too damn easy to build templating web component frameworks. HTML::Mason, HTML::Embperl, Template Toolkit, HTML::Template, Apache::ASP and so on and so forth ("but wait! there's more..."). How many goddamned many of these do we need? The overlapping similar-but-different functionality borders on Not Invented Here neuroses. And so at a certain point, TMTOWTDI is a liability. As a programming language, PHP suffers from a similar TMTOWTDI blight. For instance, for file path values, there's pathinfo but there's also dirname and basename, which are completely redundant.

So if you're going to use a language and component system that sucks (and they all do), perhaps the thing to do is to use the one that sucks the least. Despite the OO additions to PHP language for PHP 5 (notably absent: real exceptions), it's a tough case to make that PHP sucks less than mod_perl. Maybe the PEAR libraries and the Smarty component system make it a little more usable. Maybe. Perhaps mod_perl's maturity and Perl's general usefulness inside and outside of the web environment is an enduring asset. But I'm not convinced one way or the other. Screw it! Use mono and ASP.Net!

OK, probably not.

In the meantime, I'm looking into combining Maypole and Mason to get a framework together to support the applications that MVC is appropriate for.

( Sep 14 2004, 04:32:31 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040913 Monday September 13, 2004

ResourceBundles and Locale::MakeText

I've been looking for a way to enable internationalization and localization ("i18n" and "l10n" as they say) uniformly for both Java and Perl code bases. I really like the simplicity of Java's ResourceBundles but it looks like a build tool will be necessary in order to maintain one master lexicon for it and for the Locale::MakeText Perl counterpart.

Currently reviewing Locale::Maketext::TPJ13 and java.util.ResourceBundle for some insight into how to keep it all together. Maybe there is a wheel that's been invented already here, if I have to invent it, it will be an ant task!

( Sep 13 2004, 01:36:37 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040912 Sunday September 12, 2004

What does the post-petroleum economy look like? There's whole way of life enjoyed by the military-petroleum industrial complex from which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc have emerged. The clock is ticking down on that way of life and on the Western economy as a whole.

In today's San Francisco Chronicle there's a review of a pair of books I've had my eye on but haven't had time to read (thank goodness for book reviewers who have the time!).

cover   Blood and Oil by Michael T. Klare
The world's rapidly growing economy is dependent on oil, the supply is running out and the U.S. and other great powers are engaged in an escalating game of brinkmanship to secure its continued free flow. Such is the premise of Klare's powerful and brilliant new book (following Resource Wars). [Publisher's Weekly]
cover   Oil by Matthew Yeomans
This examination of a slippery subject suffers from schizophrenia: is it straight journalism or an activist's screed? The strength of this book lies in its first half, when freelance journalist Yeomans shows the importance of oil in world history during the last 125 years. [Publisher's Weekly]

The Chronicle review, THE HIGH PRICE OF OIL: We pay at the pump, we pay with taxes, and some pay with their lives, raises important questions about the future of, well, modern civilization. Are we heading towards a Madmaxian world of armored mobile homes and gasoline pirates? Do we want our foreign policy to be directed by our desire to preserve our freeway traffic jams? It doesn't seem too far fetched that, were Bush re-elected, we'd be pushed further along into an era of aggressive oil supply protection. A future where the military mission of young Americans will be security duty will be on the oil rigs, for the refineries and tankers and the other instruments of the petroleum industry isn't a future I want to our tax dollars underwriting. The future belongs to hydrogen fuel cells, solar energy and other alternative energy sources.

I'll probably pick up the Klare book on my next book shopping episode.

Other reading of interest:

In the meantime, I'm envisioning an energy-plentiful post-petroleum world, carpooling, taking BART to get to work and telecommuting when I can get away with it. To hedge my bets, I'll be at the Winnebago dealership today to look for rig that I can harden and equip with rocket propelled grenade launchers.

( Sep 12 2004, 11:59:21 AM PDT ) Permalink

20040910 Friday September 10, 2004

Blogging With Ecto I thought I'd give this a whirl! The web.xml in my roller config wasn't setup for xmlrpc requests but I think it's all good now! ( Sep 10 2004, 01:18:56 AM PDT ) Permalink

20040908 Wednesday September 08, 2004

Work Environments: Didn't you get the memo?

Software engineers engage in a collaborative game of intellectual creation that can only be won if they can easily converse with and overhear each other. That doesn't mean disrupt each other or sit on top of each other. That simply means that the barriers to communication need to be as low as possible.

The topic has come up a lot recently as a thread spun from Joel-on-software's Bionic Office fetish for private offices. Hey, I dislike interruptions as much as anybody else but in my experience, fixed, permanent private offices for individual team members are communication barriers. Shared workspaces where team members can't turn to face each other for impromptu meetings are also a problem. A JoS discussant Brad Hill gets it

...offices are not always the way to go - sometimes the nature of the product means that a much more collaborative and shared workspace is best.
The standard-issue cube farm is the worst of both worlds, offering neither the privacy and freedom from distractions of a real office or the collaborative flow and facilities of a "war room".
Sure, cube farms invoke nightmares of pointy-haired-boss reminders about TPS reports. However, the alternative isn't necessarily private offices. Private offices implies doors. Doors close. Closed doors hinder communication. Joel's cite of Philip Greenspun is almost laughable
Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office.
OK... nothing there about private offices for everybody. Let's see what a real expert says. Kent Beck (Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change) describes the an effective programming environment as one where
We will create an open workspace for our team, with small private spaces around the periphery and a common programming area in the middle.

Maybe Joel had a bad experience with The Bobs and their cube farm but his big kick for putting everybody in sequestered little spaces is a recipe for incommunicado.

( Sep 08 2004, 07:33:09 AM PDT ) Permalink
Comments [1]

20040907 Tuesday September 07, 2004

Micropayments for Microcontent

Think online payments and you think PayPal. But what about micropayments? Is that like "push"/content is king/commerce is king? What ever happened to DigiCash? Beenz? Flooz? Magic-money-button-dot-com-dot-yawn? ....yea, who cares? Well, in an era when anybody and everybody can publish words, music, pictures, movies, three-D models and just about everything else for which the production barrier to entry has fallen, perhaps everyone should care.

C/Net's TechRepublic cracked it open a little today in Digital content spurs micropayments resurgence. Interesting to ponder. Instead of recurrent payment subscription fees, perhaps a little non-commitmental micropayment is a better fit in some cases. It seems like there are "big media lite" blogs (Gizmodo,Gawker, etc) and blog authors' who "hit the big time" by affiliating with a traditional media outlet. But I'm imagining that any highly ranked attention hound could some someday soon be able to draw a nickle-n-dime pay-to-play audience in the same way that iTunes has popularized selling small units of music in small denominations. The article quotes BitPass' CEO Michael O'Donnell

That first wave of payment technologies, the currency companies especially, were too early in the development of e-commerce to succeed, and the content companies weren't ready to handle it either.
If you know who Michael is, you know him as the voice of experience when it comes to pay-to-play content.

Are we heading towards a creative utopia where we can all live an iLife, post to our blog, pursue our creative endeavors, stoke our iEgo up and maybe even be paid for it? Probably not. But it might not be so far fetched either.

( Sep 07 2004, 09:33:32 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040905 Sunday September 05, 2004

Conservative versus Liberal Blogs and the Poll of Ballot Bearing Sheep

Having observed the blog author populations and the aggregate posting behaviors through the Democratic and then the Republican National Conventions, my qualitative assessment is that conservative blogs as a whole are just boring.

OK, so that's too sweeping of a generalization but my net impression is that conservative audiences are adequately served by big media (heck, Fox News will spoon feed tory slanted rhetoric on a 24/7 basis). The conservative communities don't have the breadth of opinions and underserved voices that the left-leaning ones do, ergo the blogging amounts to trite jingoisms and vaccuous flag waving. Big media has certainly been far too timid about pursuing the dishonesty behind the Republican administration's policies ...it's just not as saucy as Democratic oval office blow jobs. So from what I reckon, last week's conservative blogs that came over the wire on politics.technorati.com were mere cheerleaders enraptured with the bundling of Iraq with Al Queda, swallowing the lies hook, line and sinker (there ya go: "liberals suck, conservatives swallow").

Judging by the poll numbers released this week, it sounds like the American public as a whole is oblivious to the outrage that should be directed at the present White House. The Bush administration's weapons of mass distraction threaten our freedoms far more than Saddam's ficticious weapons of mass destruction ever had. And now I wouldn't be surprised to see Osama in shackles showing up as a contemporary October Surprise.

These poll numbers from Newsweek/Reuters are really saddening. This government is running up unprecedented debts, deficit spending to underwrite a war that needn't have been waged. Bush says he's a compassionate conservative, that there was an Iraq-Al Queda link, that there were weapons of mass destruction, that the policies of containment vis a vis Saddam Hussein were failing. Wake up America: Don't believe the hype!

Man, I love my country. I sure would like to have it back from these right-wing nut bags.

( Sep 05 2004, 05:23:17 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040904 Saturday September 04, 2004

Open Source Content Management with Bricolage

There are lots of ways to skin the content management cat and where there are many, there is oft much confusion. Bricolage aims to provide templatized publishing and automation that facilitates high productivity with workflow heavy editorial environments and complex story structures. Yea, that's a tall order.

In a series of articles for O'Reilly's perl.com, David Wheeler is covering the Bricolage solution. Certainly, there are a number of publishing cases for which Bricolage is not a good fit; simple story and hub page structures for which blogging software is more appropriate won't use a lot of the CMS features of Bricolage. However, high editorial throughput, workflow and complex story structures demand more than blogging software can deliver. High page view websites that can't be well served being bound to an application-server CMS demand more. For modern day distribution and integration requirements, Bricolage also provides hooks for syndication and a web services interface. So yes, there are lots of CMS choices out there. But for industrial strength web publishing requirements, Bricolage warrants a look.

( Sep 04 2004, 09:04:51 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040903 Friday September 03, 2004

F*ck PHP, ASP, JSP and XYZP while you're at it

While I can't say that mod_perl sucks more than PHP (nor can I say the same thing about Java and Struts, though it's strengths are narrower). They all suck in one way or another.

At least the PHP fans have a good sense of humor about how much the other guys suck.

Or maybe they're just angry cause Doug kinda orphaned mod_perl 2.0

( Sep 03 2004, 06:59:41 PM PDT ) Permalink
Comments [2]

Microsoft no se habla SSLv3?

Here's my little tale about Mac OS X/MSIE versus Apache/mod_ssl.

Some gripes about a self-signed certificate and compatibility with MSIE on Mac OS X for SSL access jumped to the foreground again recently. At first the assertion was that the name mismatch between the certificate's hostname and the actual hostname was flummoxing MSIE. So I generated a new certificate with a matching name. Still would bomb out with a "protocol error." Then I tried adding the site to MSIE's "trusted zone." bzzzzt! "protocol error" again!

Then it hit me: this code has languished at Microsoft for years. It's low-level protocol stuff could just be waaaay behind the times. So I changed the Apache configuration to include this directive

SSLProtocol all -SSLv3

ding ding ding ding!

So now I can accept the self signed certificate and move along. Does this mean that sites with CA-signed certificates can't use SSLv3 or does MSIE only require dumbing down the protocol when the certificate is self signed? Maybe this is a long standing FAQ but I'm kinda new to Mac OS X and haven't had to chase this down before.

( Sep 03 2004, 12:05:32 PM PDT ) Permalink

20040902 Thursday September 02, 2004

19 years later: Uli Jon Roth

The last time I saw guitar virtuoso Uli Jon Roth play a live show, it was at a club that no longer exists (Wolfgangs) in San Francisco. That was nineteen years ago! Blending baroque classical music and Jimi Hendrix all-over-it guitar mastery maybe be difficult to appreciate until you hear it. But Uli is the real deal.

WARNING: If you're not into insane guitar playing or if pictures of old hippies freak you out, this post probably won't interest you at all... buh bye.

The Scorpion's guitarist for several years in the 70's never joined them in the commercial success that they enjoyed after they parted ways. Throughout the 80's and 90's, Scorpions were standard icons of the arena metal phenom. But that guitarist, Uli Jon Roth, was cut from different cloth and blazed a different path. He has a unique guitar playing style that is unmatched by anyone (yea yea, I know Yngwie.. used to know him personally too but so what? he can kiss my ass). I've been a huge fan of Uli's since my teenage metal freak days. That show at Wolfgangs in 1985 was a tough time 'cause I was finding a lot of metal acts boring and increasingly lacking innovation; everything was so derivative. I was anticipating Uli's show. Blind Illusion was opening the gig and I knew Uli would be doing something different. Boy... was he ever! He had this big choir on stage with him with all these dreadful operatic layers. The music was brilliant but the performance was nearly negated by the vocal barrage, ugh! I left that show with a mixed bag of feelings. Where was "Hell Cat"? "Firewind"? "Dark Lady"?? Uli has been replaced by an alien replica, "Invasion of the Hippie Snatchers!" OK, no... the guitar work was great despite the over the topic vocal arrangements.

Fast forward to 2004. I had to cut out of work prematurely to go to the show at Tommy-T's in Concord. I knew I was gonna run into some old friends. Lo and behold, Dave who was the singer in Blind Illusion (later and still, Heathen along with Lee Altus also present), Ron Quintana, Mike Meals, Eric Hayek, Tom Christie, all the usual suspects... word. Heard Mike Varney was around, too ("Rock Justice" woo hoo!)... sorry to have missed him. But there was little time for yakking. I know I should probably get out and see some more live music. I should probably take my vitamins every day too. Friends: don't take it personally, but this was business. Nineteen years of wanting to see the performance that I didn't get at Wolfgangs. I'd heard a report from Doug (an ex-Heathen) that he saw Uli play in the spring in Dusseldorf and I knew that this would be a must-see show.

The amazing guitar death show redux: the first act on was yet someone else from distant history: Doug Doppelt (aka "Doppler Inc") came out and played... a really short set! It was like, oh, twelve minutes or so. But he totally smoked for all twelve of them, heh! It was really great to see someone that good at it get that into and have such a good time with it. Tommy-T's blew it by keeping his stage time so short. Oh, well, WTF?!

So after about 45 minutes, Uli came on. He played with a keyboard/sequencer dude and his guitar tech/roadie played rhythm guitar part of the time. And that was it! Once again, Uli is marching to his own drummer... this time a virtual one. The early part of the show had a distinctly classical recital feel to it. Playing Vivaldi's "Spring" and "Winter" movements of the "Four Seasons" along with his own "Metamorphosis" variations on the theme, Uli played in front of screen with projections of himslef playing accompanied by a small chamber orchestra (weirdo-head). But the music. The music was brilliant! The guy has a very individual style for playing articulated arpeggios and stacatto melodies that really is inimitable. Did I ever really think Yngwie was god?

The classical recital continued with "Venga La Primavera." You almost expected a Meastro's bow after that one. But then it was time to transition through other eras. When he introduced the Greek mythological origins of the Charon character that inspired "Sails of Charon" (off of the "Taken By Force" album), he gave the air of an academic lecture. His seeming befuddlement at the audience's inattentiveness was amusing. Uli: "Leading you across the rivers of the underworld, Charon blah blah blah..." Audience, fists in the air: "ULI! ULI! ULI!" Well, seeing him play "Sails of Charon" was a long time coming for me. It's an amazing piece of guitar work. Next up was "Hiroshima" from the Electric Sun era's "Firewind" album. Completely awe inspiring. Following up with Hendrix' rendition of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" capped it off.

Then I had to say "adios" to my old pals. 'twas too damned bad. I woulda really liked to have stayed to see Michael Schenker's set but I was running on 2 hours of sleep and wanted to get back to work to make sure a project I'd been working on launched on time. It did: politics.technorati.com's chock full o' features launched on time to coincide with the CNN partnership for the Replublican National Convention coverage.

( Sep 02 2004, 11:28:05 PM PDT ) Permalink