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January 28, 2008

Update the FreeBSD Ports Tree

Filed under: Software Development — Tags: , — Greg Larkin @ 2:18 pm

Hi everyone,

Now that we’ve got the FreeBSD 6.2 VM booted up under VMware Player or VMware Server, we need to make sure that we’ve got the latest version of the ports tree installed. Since you may be reading this well after I build the original VM image, the FreeBSD ports tree has probably changed a lot, and it’s possible that new versions of the PHP frameworks are available.

First of all, what is the ports tree? Quite simply, it’s a large collection of directories (18,000+ at last count!), one for every 3rd party software package that has been ported to FreeBSD. What does this gain you? The idea is that any piece of ported software can be installed on your FreeBSD system as easily as typing the following command in the appropriate directory:

cd /usr/ports/<category>/<appname> && make install clean

cd /usr/ports/databases/mysql50-server && make install clean

That’s it! The same command will install anything from a simple Perl module to the Java development kit.

The command to update your FreeBSD VM with the latest ports tree is equally simple. Log in as root and type the following:

portsnap fetch update

You’ll see some output like this:

Sample FreeBSD portsnap run

Now we’re ready to install some PHP frameworks, but that’s a post for another day!

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Greg, LLC

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January 25, 2008

Booting Your First VMware Virtual Machine

Filed under: Software Development — Tags: , , , — Greg Larkin @ 11:13 am

Hello everyone,

Now that we’ve got some example virtual machines to play around with, let’s move on to the next step and get one running.

I’m using VMware Player on Windows XP, and the VM files have been extracted to My Documents\My Virtual Machines. The folder contents look like this:

VMware Installation Directory

Digging into the VM installation directory proper, you see all of the files that make up your virtual machine:

Virtual Machine Directory

The .vmx file is a text file that contains all of the virtual machine configuration options. You can change the VM memory allocation, add/remove devices, etc. just by editing that file. The .vmdk files are the virtual machine’s disks and store its state across reboots.

If your VM ever runs out of disk space and you still have room on your host operating system, you can create additional vmdk files and attach them to the VM. That sure is easier than cracking open a server case and physically installing new drives!

Next, double-click on the FreeBSD 6.2 Basic Installation.vmx file, and VMware Player starts up and boots the VM:

FreeBSD Boot Menu

After the usual messages, the virtual machine has booted, and you see the familiar UNIX login prompt:

FreeBSD Boot Completion

Next time, we’ll dive into installing the various PHP frameworks under FreeBSD. The FreeBSD ports system is designed for ease of use, and you’ll see how simple it is to get a software package and all of its dependencies installed with one command.

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Greg, LLC

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January 18, 2008

FreeBSD 6.2 VMware Image for the PHP Framework Face-Off

Filed under: Software Development — Tags: , , , , , , — Greg Larkin @ 9:30 pm

Hi all,

After my last post, I realized it might be nice to provide a clean VMware image of FreeBSD 6.2 for folks who want to follow along as I try out the various PHP frameworks.

The first thing you’ll need to start up the virtual machine is one of the following free VMware tools:

Both of these tools allow you to run virtual machines on your server and/or desktop. The VMware Player is most useful if you just want to run pre-built virtual machines and use them for experimentation and evaluation. VMware Server gives the ability to create your own custom virtual machines and install your choice of operating system.

Once you have one of those tools installed on your machine, download a FreeBSD 6.2 VMware image from the BitTorrent tracker. You can find detailed instructions on setting up the VMware image in a subsequent blog posting.

The OS install is configured as follows:

  • Root user has no password
  • Networking is configured with DHCP and uses NAT for outbound connections
  • Extracted size is 11Gb
  • FreeBSD ports tree is installed in /usr/ports and is current as of 01/30/08
  • Latest security patches as of 01/17/08 have been applied

Extract the downloaded file somewhere on your drive and fire up VMware Player or VMware Server and follow the prompts to start the VM.

In case you’re new to FreeBSD, there’s a wealth of information in the Handbook. After you’ve logged in and had a look around, you can use the following command to shut the VM down cleanly:

/sbin/shutdown -p now

Look for a new post soon describing how to install each of the PHP frameworks.

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Keep in touch,
Greg, LLC

Call me - Greg Larkin: error

January 15, 2008

PHP Framework Face-Off

Filed under: Software Development — Tags: , , , — Greg Larkin @ 3:22 pm

Hello everyone,

I recently created a FreeBSD port for each of the following PHP frameworks:

I originally started with the Zend Framework port a while back, thinking I would use it to rebuild the web site. Since I want all software on the FreeBSD servers to be installed and upgraded using the ports system, I had to build the ZF port first. The only problem with building a port is that it doesn’t always require you to learn the ins and outs of actually using the software that you are porting.

The web site rebuilding project is still in the planning phases, and now that I’ve created ports for some additional PHP frameworks, I thought it might be useful to put together a simple web site using each one. I’ve read a lot of comments about each one, the strong points and weaknesses, but I think a hands-on experiment with each one will help a lot to narrow down the final choice.

A slightly more advanced “Hello, world.” program than the one in my original dog-eared copy of K&R ought to make the final choice easy to make. I’ll post progress here, and send any comments you have along the way.

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Greg, LLC

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January 11, 2008

How Mountain Bike Riding At Night Taught Me About Business Planning – Part 3

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , — Greg Larkin @ 7:14 pm

Hello again everyone,

I hope you all had a nice holiday break, and I’m back with the final installment of my “bicycling for business planning” posting arc.

To refresh your memory, in the last post I broke down how I spend my time while I’m riding my mountain bike at night:

  • 85% of the time – focused on a spot 3 to 6 feet in front of my wheel
  • 10% of the time – last-minute steering corrections
  • 5% of the time – looking further up the trail, but can’t see more than 30 feet ahead

I plan to apply similar ratios to business planning to help answer the perennial question “What should be worked on next?”

These ratios map to the following tasks:

  • Spend 85% of time on Important tasks (business planning, market research, adding technical features, CRM tasks, etc.)
  • Spend 10% of time on Urgent tasks (reactive support issues, special customer requests and the like)
  • Spend 5% of time thinking about everything that could be done, but don’t get too wrapped around the axle trying to predict the future!

I don’t want to minimize the importance of the last bullet point with its small percentage of mindshare, because any business still needs folks holding brainstorming sessions and thinking about new possibilities. However, once the primary direction of the business is set, it’s extremely important to review those ideas in that context. Otherwise, expect to be going sideways more than forward!

Comments and feedback are welcome, and if you have any methods that have worked well for your business, let me know.

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Greg, LLC

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December 18, 2007

How Mountain Bike Riding At Night Taught Me About Business Planning – Part 2

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , — Greg Larkin @ 8:00 am

Fast forward to 2007. I’ve upgraded to a much more reliable, commercially available lighting system. Using a light that I’m not worried about breaking during the ride frees up my mind quite a bit (even while riding in the dark), and I found myself drawing comparisons between riding at night and building my business on a recent sojourn.

One of the trails in the local town forest has an extremely steep hill with some loose rock and lots of slippery oak leaves in the fall. I generally have to use my granny gear (24×32 for you gear ratio freaks) to get up this monster.

I’ve now ridden up this hill a few times during the day and a couple of times at night. Strangely, I’ve been more successful at getting to the top without dabbing during the night rides, and I rode it clean once at night. I let out some whoops after that one!

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon and have decided that it has something to do with the restricted amount of visual input that’s available at night. My light is mounted on my helmet, and it tracks where my head goes. 85% of the time, I’m focused on a spot 3 to 6 feet in front of my wheel. Ten percent of the time is devoted to last-minute steering corrections necessitated by a submerged rock or root unearthing itself in front of my tire. The final 5% of the time, I’m looking further up the trail out of habit, then suddenly realizing that I can’t see much more than 30 feet ahead anyway.

While riding during the day, there are many other distractions: a log across the trail 200 feet ahead, a rut to avoid, the odd Sasquatch crashing through the underbrush (yep, they’re on the rebound in New Hampshire). Invariably, while I’m riding up the steep trail during the day, I see something else other than the immediate maneuvering problem to solve and that changes my pedal stroke, braking or steering just enough to cause a stall, a spin-out, or one of those Benny-Hill-falling-over-on-a-tricycle accidents.

I believe that this “riding at night” phenomenon applies very well to my business operations and perhaps to those of other businesses. One of my constant challenges while building and operating is resolving the nearly daily decision of “What should I work on next?” In a 24x7x365 SaaS operation like this, there’s always a tricky balancing act between important and urgent tasks.

To be continued…

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Greg, LLC

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December 14, 2007

Subversion 1.5 Is on Its Way

Filed under: Source Code Control — Tags: , , , — Greg Larkin @ 3:40 pm

Dear readers,

I participated in a CM Crossroads webinar on Wednesday that discussed new features appearing in Subversion 1.5. There are some excellent bits on the way, and the release is currently predicted for Q1 2008.

First and foremost, the new release will support Merge Tracking. This means that you will no longer have to manually keep track of which merges you’ve applied and which ones you’ve intentionally skipped. Recording this information becomes harder and harder the longer a branch lives.

The new Merge Tracking feature will also support querying of the merge history. I hope this functionality is similar to the cleartool findmerge command from IBM/Rational ClearCase. I began using CC in the early ’9os, and the findmerge command seemed like magic at the time. It was a huge time-saver when preparing complicated releases based on the work of multiple developers.

Subversion 1.5 also optionally launches a graphical resolver when a conflict is detected within a merge operation over a large number of files. This allows you to manage conflicts as they happen instead of waiting until the very end of the operation to go back and manually edit the markers within each problematic file.

WebDAV write-thru proxies is an interesting new feature for SaaS providers (i.e.!). It allows us to set up a number of repository proxies at various locations around the globe. Users point to the repository closest to them and perform read-only operations on it. When a write operation is performed, the proxy forwards the request to the master repository. Changes are mirrored back to the proxy for future read-only operations. I personally look forward to experimenting with this feature to increase performance for our world-wide user base.

One final important change also concerns service providers or those of you who operate your own repositories. If you use the FSFS repository format, it stores all revision files in one monolithic directory. The more revisions you have in your repository, the slower certain repository operations work. UNIX filesystems perform much better as trees of directories and files instead of one enormous directory with thousands of files in it. Subversion 1.5 supports a hierarchical directory tree repository format, removing the performance bottleneck as the number of revisions grows.

I hope that gives you a taste of what’s arriving in Subversion in 2008. For the latest details, keep an eye on the Subversion project status page.

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Greg, LLC

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How Mountain Bike Riding At Night Taught Me About Business Planning – Part 1

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , — Greg Larkin @ 8:00 am

Hello everyone and welcome to the first posting! I plan to use this forum to dive into various topics of interest to folks who are involved in entrepreneurship, software development and methodology and/or release engineering. I hope you like it, and please feel free to post comments and suggestions.

And so we begin…

Some of you may have noticed that it is getting dark very early these days, especially here in the frozen wilds of New Hampshire. I believe that it’s pitch black around 4:40pm. For a dedicated endurance athlete like me, this does not leave a lot of time to go outside for a nice workout during the day, so as a resourceful sort, I’ve been using the after-dark hours as an acceptable time for recreation.

To give you some context, in the mid-90s several of my friends and I stumbled across the idea of combining mountain biking with darkness. One problem with that idea turned out to be that none of the lighting systems we had at the time (flashlights, laser pointers, matches, jar of fireflies, etc.) were very good at illuminating a narrow dirt track in the woods that was rife with roots, rocks and various eye-poking branches. As dedicated geeks and unable to find affordable illumination options in the market, we each created our own homebrew lighting system, typically consisting of the following:

  • PVC plumbing tubes of various sizes and shapes
  • 12V halogen bulbs, typically 20W each
  • Silicone caulk to hold bulbs in place
  • Lots of wire and solder
  • 12V lead acid motorcycle battery (4+ Ah preferable)
  • Bicycle seat bag with reinforcements to hold a 5lb+ battery in place while bouncing over aforementioned roots and rocks

It was generally difficult to get through a ride without laughing our heads off due to the novelty of riding in the woods at night. It was also difficult to get through a ride without one or more systems breaking down, forcing the unlucky cyclist to ride at the front of a group of folks with enough light to make up for the loss.

To be continued…

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Greg, LLC

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