• Travel tips for sysadmins

    OpenDNS recently added a datacenter location in Frankfurt, Germany. On their blog, George Patterson, Director of Operations for OpenDNS, not only posted some pictures of their server rack but also a bunch of tips for sysadmins that have to travel to a remote facility:

    • Have a solid deployment checklist of everything you want at the site. If you don't bring all necessary tools and equipment with you, getting them will cost you extra time.
    • Set up all your power at the datacenter and make sure it's working before you leave. Don't waste time waiting for the datacenter staff to have your power supply connected. And have them install a remote manageable power distribution unit, so you don't have to pay remote-hands charges.
    • If you can avoid it, don’t book a flight until your gear has cleared customs. Depending on the country, customs handling can take from a few days to several weeks. Don't just hope that your gear will arrive earlier than you.
    • Always plan for extra days. You shouldn't have to go into fast-forward mode because something took a bit longer than planned; that will only account for more problems. Plan for some extra days and if you'll finish early, there probably will be more to go and see than only a datacenter.
    • Take photos along the way, and at the end. If your site documentation includes images, it's very easy to point a remote tech to the right place.

    Read George's whole blog post on the OpenDNS blog!

  • Official emergency advice for the Zombie Apocalypse

    Everyone knows that it's only a matter of time until we'll have to fight hordes of lifeless creatures hunting for our brains. And "everybody" includes the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as Tom Limoncelli reveals in his blog entry "The CDC has a Zombie Attack Plan".

    Under "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse", the CDC provides all the basic information you need to know after the outbreak:

    • A Brief History of Zombies
    • How to assemble an emergency kit
    • What to take care of in your emergency plan

    But the CDC doesn't limit itself to just preparation. They'll take an active part in the resistance after the undead have started roaming the streets. Blog author Ali S. Khan closes:

    Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work).

    All in all, that's sound advice and an encouraging perspective from "Your Online Source for Credible Health Information".

    P.S.: If you're looking for a new family home, consider purchasing a Zombie-proof house.

  • Emacs and The Second Coming of TextMate

    A text editor is one of the most important tools of a sysadmin, software developer, documentation and blog writer. So, after switching from Linux to Mac a few years ago, I immediately starting looking for a good editor software. On Linux, I had been using Emacs for many years, but its Mac versions available at that time didn't convince me. They rather reminded me of the reasons for which I replaced my desktop OS after all. It didn't take me long to find TextMate and it became one of the first in the long line of applications I purchased in my Mac life. And I've been using it daily ever since.

    TextMate is a very capable editor and its add-on "bundle" concept makes it easily extendable. There are bundles for every common programming language, for using version control systems and even a bundle for blogging that lets you not only write and preview your writing but also publish your finished post.

    But there is also one concern that's been bugging TextMate users for a long time now: the author is working on version 2 of the software. At least that's what he uses to claim on his blog every few months. Recently, Watts Martin must have lost his patience and in "Text Editor Intervention", he makes a compelling case that there are proven alternatives to eternally waiting for the Second Coming of TextMate:

    But in the meantime, you gotta get work done. Either pony up money for BBEdit, pony up time for MacVim (or Emacs), or stick with TextMate.

    Shorty after reading his thought-provoking post, I came upon Joshua Timberman's blog post "Switching to GNU Emacs". I did a short search and it almost looks like there is an Emacs renaissance going on.

    As you may already have guessed, I decided to give it a try and join the movement. Why?

    1. Back in the days, I've been using Emacs for almost everything that had to do with plain text. I know I'll be able to accomplish all the tasks for which I've been using TextMate.
    2. GNU Emacs has been ported to Cocoa in the meantime, so its UI runs natively on Mac OS X.
    3. After installing Emacs, I realized that all of the important Emacs keyboard shortcuts are still stored in my muscle memory.
    4. Getting Emacs fit for a variety of tasks is easy with pre-configured packages like the Emacs Starter Kit.
    5. The effort of customizing and extending probably is more effective if put into Emacs. As Watts puts it:

    Why do I recommend three stodgy old warhorses? Well, any editor that has a still-growing community after two decades is probably doing something right.

    And finally, as GNU Emacs is the embodiment of Free Software, I certainly won't have to pay another license fee for the next major version.

    Repentantly, I return into the arms of the Church of Emacs.

  • The Barking Seal: Fun with date

    Over at The Barking Seal, I found a nice demonstration what's possible with the date command: Fun with Date.

    Especially, the handling of Epoch timestamps and relative dates is very useful.

  • Weeknote #49

    Over the seas in all degrees

    Markus left yesterday in direction of the Pacific south east. He’ll take a few days off. Until July, actually. Taking the opportunity to get away from the usual life is a great idea in my eyes and I wish him all the relaxation and inspiration he’s hoping for. I wonder, though, how long it will take until the urge to code on some ideas kicks in. I guess I’ll find out on Twitter or his vacation blog.

    Private yes, but professional?

    We’re a distributed company and not all of our work is done by the owners or employees. We also hire freelancers and last week, I gave delegating some work to a VPA a try. I contacted Strandschicht and they assigned me an assistant from Romania. He speaks good German, as Strandschicht requires for all their VPAs. I have to concede, though, that his first job left me only 80% satisfied. First, he promised to do the work on Friday but when I contacted him on Saturday, he apologized that he had to do another client’s job first. He then actually got to work on my assignment on Monday. Overall, he did well. Where he left a bit to desire was where he came back to me with questions that were already answered in my instruction email. And, most annoyingly, in three of the emails I had him write to our clients, he forgot to change the salutation. Big doo-doo. I consider people’s names very important and just can’t accept that three clients got greeted with “Dear Mr./Mrs. -“. I’ll still have to decide how to proceed from here. (Please, tell me in the comments how you would!)

    Office space

    I’m writing this weeknote in the “S-Office”, as I lovingly call the Starbucks in the Freiburg city centre where I spend a lot of time working (Mayor, of course!). Although I have a great workplace at home, I need a bit of variety from time to time. And when Amalias’s home all day (like yesterday, to recover from a cold), there’s not much working without disturbance any more. Unfortunately, Starbucks isn’t that quiet a place sometimes, either. Every now and then, there are days when all tables are taken and patrons are bustling in and out. Even my trusty Etymotics earphones can’t provide a complete shield against the flurry then. That’s why last week, I signed a contract with a company that rents office space on an hourly basis. All I have to do is to reserve a room in advance on the online calendar. Yesterday, I used the office for the first time and really, it’s great to have a quiet space to retreat to while at home, three kids are trashing the place while their mothers are having tea.

    International business

    When we started DrupalCONCEPT last year, we targeted our domestic market first. Now, business gets more and more international. And it’s not only our Drupal hosting clients that are distributed over the world, our IT infrastructure is increasingly, too. A growing number of clients demands minimal website response time regardless where in the world their visitors are coming from. The standard solution for this is a Content Delivery Network (CDN), a network of globally distributed servers that deliver content to the website visitors most nearby. Most CDNs work on static content only, but we need to deliver page content locally, too. That’s why we decided to build our own infrastructure: a network of caching servers all over the world. This week, for example, we’ll deploy a caching satellite in Brazil. It’s a great example for our main business objective: Delivering top-of-the-line IT solutions.