The Dark Side of Puppet Forge (et. al.)

Let me preface this by saying I don’t think this is unique to Puppet Forge, and the problem isn’t even with Puppet Forge itself. Puppet Forge provides an excellent resource for the Puppet community, and I think it provides tremendous value.

But I think that a push towards “configuration management everywhere”, combined with reductions in resources leads folks to think that resources like PuppetForge are a panacea.

Sherman, set the Wayback machine….

A couple decades ago, as Visual Basic started to become popular, and various development platforms were created for simply making programming “attach this pre-made module to that pre-made module and plug in a couple values”, the industry (rightly) cried foul that people would confuse an ability to assemble the software-development version of Lego with actual programming. The difference in ability between “constructing a house from scratch” versus “sticking together some pre-fab materials” was an apt analogy.  Some people didn’t necessarily understand how their code worked, or even what it was doing, and still bandied around the title of “programmer”. To a large extent, we’ve dissuaded that sort of practice from continuing (near as I can tell).

In the system administration community, we need to be wary of falling into the same trap. There’s a world of difference between going to PuppetForge, grabbing a pre-made manifest for managing “OpenLDAP”, and that of installing OpenLDAP (even just from yum/apt), and then configuring it yourself. (Better still would be the level of knowledge imparted by compiling from source, but install/configure is a good middle-ground).

When sysadmin’ing a given package becomes “I grabbed the module from PF and installed it, and now it works”, a lot of the knowledge necessary for day to day maintenance is simply missing. What files were installed where? Why were they installed there? Configuration options in a Puppet module that seem benign might actually have much longer-lasting ripple effects than you can realize.

As I said, Puppet Forge is an excellent resource. But it is no substitute for understanding how to do the install in the first place. Puppet Forge should be used for ideas about “how to configure YOUR module,” as opposed to being “the module you use”.

While that seems like I’m saying “reinvent the wheel every time,” because of some weird theme of “not invented here” syndrome, I’m not. What it means is that after the application is installed, months down the road, there’s going to be some sort of problem with it. And if all you know about the configuration of the application is what was exposed to you (or worse, your predecessor) by the pre-made module that was downloaded, your ability to diagnose problems with that application is going to be substantially reduced. Having configured it yourself, from the ground up, and then built a Puppet module on your own (or by referencing existing modules) to recreate that config is most definitely the path to success.

As a profession, we need to be wary of falling into the trap of “Oh this is an easy and quick to solve this, and I’ve got so much other stuff to get done today before I go home.” This is the sort of problem which silently lurks below the surface, and wreaks untold damage when it goes foul.

We’re still early enough in the adoption of “config management everywhere” that it’s not too late to change the direction our collective mindset is heading; to ensure that we don’t end up in a realm of tech-skills disparity the way the programming industry did in the not-too-distant past.

The Ecology of the Goa’uld

(Non-sci-fi-nerds.. just turn away, this is the sort of thing you probably beat up kids in high school for talking about).

So I’ve been re-watching Stargate SG-1 (Wikipedia) (IMDb) on my morning and afternoon commute, and something has been bugging me.  I dug around on SG-1 fan sites and couldn’t find a satisfactory answer, hell even a discussion, of the topic.

Throughout the course of the series we encounter maybe a dozen Goa’uld – the System Lords. Which gives us the impression that Goa’ulds, in hosts, are uncommon. This would make sense as well, since the Goa’uld fool everyone into thinking they are gods, and there can’t be a lot of gods.

But we see literally hundreds of thousands of Jaffa throughout the show. The Jaffa carry, in their bellies, Goa’uld symbiotes that are maturing.

And so my question is:  Where the fuck are those symbiotes going when they mature?

Sure, some of them are dying – en masse – in various conflicts. But surely some of them are surviving, reaching maturity, and … then what?

At the rate symbiotes are growing inside Jaffa there should be planets full of matured, fully hosted, Goa’uld (just, presumably, ones who aren’t System Lords, and aren’t going around pretending to be gods, unless the faithful are supposed to believe in a pantheon of a billion all-powerful deities, which would strain credibility.

Why have we never even heard of this society in the course of the show? It seems to be a glaring plot-hole that I’m just surprised nobody has mentioned before. I feel like I must be missing something.

The Kindle

So, this week, I did something I’d been reluctantly avoiding for a while: I bought a Kindle.
I’m still somewhat “anti-Kindle”, even after its purchase. Is it a cool device? Absolutely. At a purely “geek/technical” level, it’s a great little device.
My beef with the Kindle has always been that my grandfather bestowed his genetic makeup on me when it comes to a love of the printed word. I remember thumbing throw walls of books that he had taken great care of his entire life… borrowing books that clearly had been in “The Library of John F. Balling” (as the embossed title page would tell you) for decades. There was a shared bond, that my hands were turning those pages just as my father’s might have, and my grandfather’s before that.
And a Kindle is completely incapable of that sort of history.
D told me, when we discussed it, that we could always buy (again) the dead-trees version of a book if it was “worthy of permanence”, but by the same token, there were books in my grandfather’s collection that I remember reading that weren’t, necessarily, “life-changing permanent-collection” books, but were just common paperbacks.
But, I try to keep an open mind (no, really, I do, I’m just not always successful!), and recently had a couple bucks to spare and decided to take a chance, and see if I liked it. Easing my mind was the realization that I could treat the Kindle like a USB drive on my Mac and rip the DRM’ed books off of the unit, and stash them somewhere else (in case Amazon decides to delete them from peoples’ units, or in case the technology sucks, etc., etc. By having copies of them at least, I can always break the DRM later (using the DMCA’s interoperability exception as the legal basis), so there’s more of a feeling of “ownership” than of being some crummy “licensee” (even if the Kindle terms and conditions are clear that it’s the latter… at the end of the day, the reality is much more important than the legalities on something like that).
So, … any suggestions of good books to download to my Kindle? 🙂

Twitter Boot Camp?!!

Yes, that’s right, kids, if “how to type meaningless crap in under 140 characters” is something you’re having trouble figuring out, O’Reilly is running a Twitter Boot Camp. For the low-low price of $399, you too can be “trained” on things that are essentially covered in the help pages of what has to be the simplest and yet most inane product ever devised on the web (and let’s be honest, that’s saying a LOT).
What’s more, there’s the option of UPGRADING to the boot camp plus a “talk twitter dinner” with Tim O’Reilly, for $1500. Now, meaning no disrespect to Tim, because he’s a fine human being and he keeps robo-signing my quarterly royalty checks, but …. SERIOUSLY!?! $1100 extra to “talk about Twitter” with Tim over dinner? For fucks sake, that dinner better be cooked personally by Mario Batali at that price, and include full-GFE with someone cute, because that’s just insane.
You can go to the O’Reilly Open Source conference (or, frankly, almost any conference O’Reilly runs) and sit down at the same table as Tim at lunch and eat a meal with him, and I’m sure he’d happily discuss Twitter, or Perl, or web 2.0, or whatever other topic you brought up, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He loves to chat about tech issues. There’s nobody so hard up to talk to Tim that they need to pay $1100 to do it, when Tim does it for free all the time. 🙂
It truly is a world gone mad, I tell you…..

iTunes Library Management (and Heirarchical Storage)

Dear Lazyweb….
I have a huge iTunes music library (about 65GB worth). Right now, that all sits on my laptop, gets backed up when I back up my library, etc., etc. At any given time, I’m really probably only “immediately interested” in, maybe, 10% of that.
I’ve got a NAS in my basement. In my perfect world, there would be some software I could run which would keep my NAS as my “main repository” but give me the option of dragging stuff from my NAS into my “currently deployed” iTunes library. This would free up space on my laptop, make my backups faster, and just be overall easier to deal with.
If I had a “spare” Mac running, with space available, I could use SuperSync to shuffle tunes (and their meta-data) between the two systems, but I don’t see any easy way to do that just with some spare NAS-space.
Anyone done this before and have some pointers?

Building The Millennium Falcon

A couple years ago, I built the Lego Star Destroyer, and took some pictures along the way. While that was interesting and all, it was nowhere near as creative as this guy who decided to make a movie out of the construction of his big-ass Millennium Falcon Lego creation. He took the opportunity to make a 10-minute stop-motion film completely with construction workers, stormtrooper attacks, cleaning crews, you name it. The level of detail in this little flick is amazing, and I sat mesmerized watching it….
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3494026&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
Building the LEGO Millennium Falcon from Gizmodo on Vimeo.