Archive for March, 2012

On small revelations

by Oliver on Sunday, March 25th, 2012.

I had a very brief moment of inspiration this weekend when a realisation occurred to me. It’s nothing amazing, and it has probably already been mentioned many (dozens of, thousands of?) times before but I’ll say it anyway. My fundamental approach to work has changed due to the “cloud”, or rather, easily provisionable and destroyable virtual machines. This may be pretty obvious but it’s worth stating anyway.

A bunch of years ago now I had to bring up some new systems for doing border routing at my previous employer. I had had no experience with Quagga at the time and I spent a decent week setting up a small test environment with something like five or six cheap (but physical) machines to represent our coming redundant border routers, a couple of direct upstreams and whatever remained as route injectors representing the Internet. Once it was running I was extremely careful not to pollute the environment so as to ensure that the deployment was correct. I’m not even sure I wiped everything and started from scratch so as to QA the configurations.

This week I’ve been working on some Puppet tuning work involving mod_mem_cache in Apache. It has been all too easy to bring up a couple of reasonably representative CentOS 5.6 machines in either our own private cloud at work, or in one of a couple of public clouds I have access to. If things go pear-shaped I can just blow it away and start again, which is definitely not the kind of behaviour I have when making modifications on my home router/fileserver/webserver or even my US VPS system. One tends to be far more careful and perhaps even willingly create a lot more technical debt working with those machines.

In my current workflow, I’m all too happy to settle on a configuration that looks somewhat reasonable, record it in my configuration management system, reprovision everything again and test it. I actually discovered some fairly serious caveats in what I was working on and even now may have stumbled on an Apache bug (or undocumented feature) due to willingly blowing it all away and testing again. I could have done the same locally using Vagrant but I needed the performance of two larger instances in this case.

The behaviour is valuable. You know that what you are doing is of limited lifetime, so you work to make sure you can reliably arrive at the same configuration as many times as you want. This also has a side-effect of ensuring you only create a minimal configuration so as to save time and effort. The most powerful thing is that I have a level of confidence in the results that I can’t say I’ve ever had in the past.

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Sunday, March 25th, 2012 Tech No Comments

Separation and reunification

by Oliver on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012.

If you know me from my professional life you may think of me as a techy, obsessive-compulsive, slightly (or aggressively) arrogant person driven to making some cool large systems work. But I’m also a family man, and for the last two months I’ve been separated from two-thirds of that family. During the last vacation back to Australia, I came back at the start of January while my wife and son stayed on for a duration we didn’t have concrete plans on at the time.

It ended up being two months almost to the day, and while I kept myself busy with work in general as well as trips to the US for work and Brussels for FOSDEM, I was completely unprepared for the emotional upheaval that hit me when they returned. Needless to say, biological mothers are hit with a barrage of various chemical rebalancing acts which, combined with the addition of a newborn, add up to be a formidable force in the first few weeks and months of the baby’s life. As a man, I don’t get the same effects (although sympathetic effects can’t be ruled out) but despite society’s expectations on males and my own generally robotic appearance day to day, I found I was hit with a wall of emotion in those first few days as well.

It was an undefinable experience. I couldn’t analyse it or understand it, but I knew it had me in its grasp. The responsibility of taking care of a fragile life form, being the only force in the universe that can keep this thing alive; but that again puts it into too tangible forms. As much as you can have these things going through your head and know that you are completely capable of it, the emotion still hits you.

And now that they are back again I found myself in the same place. Not sure I could do it, especially with a child that had aged and matured in just the two months he’d been away. New behaviours, slightly more grown-up features. Just back from the airport, I was going to duck out briefly to grab some take-away food since we had almost nothing in the house and the little guy burst into tears just as I was walking out the door. That’s putting it mildly – he just lost it completely. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart. I think both of us missed each other more than we realised.

Now he has some kind of flu which has spread to the rest of us. I’ve been off work since last week and taking care of a snot-dribbling, but still amazingly energetic two-year-old is draining to say the least. Me and the little guy have been sleeping on the sofa-bed to give Mama a chance to rest after the draining flights from Australia, which means not much sleep for either of the boys unfortunately. It’s not a great start to the year (now that we’re all together, this is our year beginning effectively) but we still have hopes it will be better than the last one. Kai will be going to Kita, Ange will have some freedom and do whatever she wants after two years of full-time caregiving and I’ll be my usual effervescent self with any luck.

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Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 Thoughts No Comments