To update or not to update

Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 4:11 pm

There’s a sweet contentment knowing that a system is fully up to date and patched, but how uncomfortable it soon becomes when you find out there’s a new update or patch – leading to the nagging question of if / when to go through the grief of updating.

On the one hand, you know you should apply updates as soon as you can to get any potential benefit of new features, bugfixes or even improved security and performance – but anyone who has been around long enough will know that even the simplest patch can upset an otherwise stable system and be a royal pain to resolve.

That leads to the temptation to procrastinate and put off updating systems until it can’t be avoided any longer, but the longer updates are left the more they build up, and the worse the process of updating becomes – again you may hear the sigh of bitter experience?

I’m not just talking about applications like WordPress and Drupal, or the dreaded Windows Update – there are so many constant reminders from all sorts of systems to ‘update now?’ And I’m talking about minor updates rather than the biggies like Vista -> Windows 7 or Drupal 6 -> Drupal 7 – those you have a choice, but minor updates you really don’t, it’s more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if.

Here is a summary the guidelines that I try and stick to:

Have a regular ‘maintenance period’ – Accept that maintenance is a fact of life, and schedule an appropriate amount of time at least monthly to review logs, apply updates and other housekeeping tasks to maintain a healthy system. Of course this implies that the more systems you look after, the more time will be spent in maintenance, but that cannot be avoided – without tlc systems tend to ask for your attention when it’s not so convenient!

Don’t do updates on a Friday afternoon – As tempting as it may be to slip this task in at the end of the week if your ‘proper work’ allows, it’s tempting fate and if you have problems with an update you might not have enough time to resolve it, or you might shortcut testing and not spot an issue until Monday. Make sure you have set enough time aside to do it properly, and you’re in the right frame of mind.

Design your system to be maintained – when carrying out initial installation and configuration, think ahead to how you are going to apply and test updates and patches, and migrate changes between environments. Good decisions at the start make life so much easier six months down the line. Documentation and good naming conventions are key. And of course as part of your deployment there was a test plan that can be used to validate updates?

Prepare and maintain a documented maintenance procedure – It makes the task much less daunting to know that you have a ‘script’ worked out rather than having to keep re-inventing the wheel. Wikis are ideal for the purpose as they’re easy to create and maintain. Anything you have to spend time figuring out so that next time you don’t have to struggle to remember it, or work it out again. If you find information that’s wrong or missing, fix it, and keep documentation updated as your system evolves.

Read the release notes – try to get an understanding of what the update or patch you’re about to apply will change so you can analyse potential risks and identify any mitigating measures you might take, and to also identify what testing you can do to satisfy yourself all’s OK afterwards.

Once you start – don’t stop until you finish – it’s probably worse half applying updates than not applying them, and even harder to do maintenance next time. So no distractions, and remember the ‘not on Friday afternoon’ rule.

Pat yourself on the back afterwards – it’s a necessary job, so make sure you get your due reward. If you’re doing this for someone else (a client) make sure they appreciate the effort it takes, and don’t be apologetic about taking the time to do it properly. Few people notice a well running system, but you soon get shouted as when it goes titsup, so sleep well in the knowledge that all is right with the world again and you have done a proper job!


Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 7:22 pm

So here’s the thing – I heard some Lou Reed on TV last night and I realised I hadn’t heard Transformer for far too long, so this afternoon I decided to finally get around to digging out and plugging all the various bits of my good-old-fashioned analogue hi-fi together again after far too long.

Having got over that fact I seem to have mislaid Lou Reed, the first album that caught my eye from my cherished vinyl collection as I scanned for something to put on was Fairground Attraction “The first of a million kisses”.

So I breathe a deep contented breath, close my eyes, lean back in the chair and wonder why the hell it is that I haven’t done this for … probably a good 10 years!!! My mind wanders further, and I realise that I’ve had this album for almost two decades, and although a few tracks on side one are like old friends I don’t know if I played the whole album more than a couple of times, but it’s great. So what other gems are in the modest collection of 200 odd LPs that I once put so much thought into? Given that most of the music is probably more than 20 years old – what have I missed in the mean time? Yikes – there can’t be enough hours in the day to find out what I’ve missed or am missing!!!!

But then I realise I have the same thought when I browse through my boxes of old novels looking for the next book to read again, and discover an old favourite, or something I once bought and never got around to reading, and also when I look for a film to watch out of the DVD collection (at least I finally threw all the videos away after they went mouldy or I’d have them to worry about too).

Half way through side2 (oh how I love vinyl – so tactile!) and I’ve decided that I don’t care. In all the various collections I have squirrelled about in cupboards or sheds, on shelves and in boxes (and don’t get me started on tools, or bits of electronics) I’ve got more than enough to keep me fully occupied and amused for the rest of my life even if I worked at it full time – what does it matter if I’m missing other stuff – what I’ve got already is more than I will ever need and it’s all just fantastic even if it is often more than 20 years old!

As I mellow with time, it seems I’m becoming content with what I have – the grass is pretty green over here so why worry about the other side of the bridge?

I love vinyl!

This guy loves statistics!

Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 5:49 pm

I’ve seen some of these charting tools in things like Google Analytics but thought it was just a gimmick, but not only is this stuff entertaining, but makes the data informative and what’s more adds weight to the conclusions.

Thanks to Robbie for this.

When to rebuild?

Filed under: life,tinkering — jaydublu @ 5:05 pm

This post can relate to so many things – stylesheets, php code, glass fibre moulds – at some point when you’ve gone through a few iterations of an agile like process, you start thinking “If I’d known I was going to end up doing this, I would have started differently”

When you’re so close to completing, yet you know deep down it’s getting messy overcomplex and perhaps not as ‘nice’ as it could be, the decision of whether to leave it as-is because it works or to take the opportunity to rebuild everything before you go any further becomes almost unbearable.

But then I suppose is that not what the perpetual beta is all about, and eventually you get the opportunity to go for v2.0 (or 1.0 even)? In the mean time if it’s not doing any harm, leave it alone – you know it will only open up another can of worms if you start from scratch again!

Why mums go to Iceland

Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 7:05 pm

Shocking figures on teenage drinking, vodka and red bull promotional display by the till at Iceland

XKCD: 11th Grade

Filed under: life,web development — jaydublu @ 6:21 pm

Sorry to post another xkcd strip, but they just keep hitting home:

And the ten minutes striking up a conversation with that strange kid in homeroom sometimes matters more than every other part of high school combined.

I just had to look it up on wikipedia ‘cos it was bugging me – the British equivalent of 11th Grade in ‘my’ terms is Lower Sixth, or in ‘new money’ Year 12.

I’m trying to remember what I was doing that enhanced my life in the Lower Sixth – certainly not Perl which I didn’t discover until much later – I was probably doing good old BASIC and Pascal on an Apple II at that time, and perhaps some 6502 machine code on my Acorn Atom. Now that dates me!

Large Hadron Collider – triggering end of the world?

Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 2:45 pm

The end is not for a whileRespect due to the Register for a very entertaining article discussing that “Boffins preparing to fire up the most powerful particle-smasher ever built have released another reassuring report which says that their machine will definitely not destroy the universe – nor even the planet Earth.”

I didn’t understand a word of it, and not only do I not know if  I’m scared or not, I don’t know if I’m meant to be scared that I don’t know if I’m scared or not – is it one of these things that those of us that don’t know are supposed to trust those that are supposed to know?

Anyway, I’m sure that while some people may be scared (or pretending to be), others aren’t (or are pretending not to be), and I’ll imagine it’s all a Red Dwarf episode and carry on laughing at the Reg’s analogy of a subatomic billiard table.

Finally, it all reminds me of another favourite from xkcd – The end is not for a while

If you’re gonna put a webcam up a lighthouse …

Filed under: life,rants,webcam — jaydublu @ 8:46 am

… make sure you’ve got a friend.

If only someone had told me! The IP camera up the lighthouse plugs into a WiFi Access Point configured as a range extender, which through an external antenna connects to another Access Point with external antenna a mile away on my roof and into my home network giving internet connectivity to upload a picture every ten minutes.

But any tiny change I make to my home network (like changing subnet ranges 🙂 ) seems to break the link, and to fix it means lugging a laptop up the 112 steps of the lighthouse. And if you’ve missed something vital at the other end (like turning something on) it’s a long walk down, back home, back to the lighthouse, and all the way up to the top to try again.

I spent a whole afternoon trying to get things running again after (stupidly) trying to upgrade encryption from WEP to WPA. It doesn’t make sense that you can’t configure the wireless side of these these over a wireless connection!

So, yes, it would be so much easier if there was someone else (or another me?) at the other end with walky talky. 10-4?

This sound familiar?

Filed under: life — jaydublu @ 8:34 am

That’s why I never made the leap to a Linux Desktop!

Digital vs Analogue

Filed under: life,photography — jaydublu @ 10:32 am

Nature is analogue, our senses are analogue, once upon a time the way we interacted with the world was analogue, and life was great.

But then, with increasing power of microprocessing, a steady creep of digital representations of an analogue world has beenRega Planar 2 invading our lives, ready to take over control.

My first encounter with an almost moral objection I have to this process came in the 80’s with the introduction to the mass market of CD players – at the time I was deeply in love with my Rega Planar 2 turntable, Akroyd Coniston speakers and Nytech Obelisk amplifier – not extreme HiFi, but certainly enough for me, and I just couldn’t face the thought of losing the pure simplicity of an analogue system by introducing an alien technology in the heart of it.

To this day I’ve still never bought a CD player as a component – although my Rega isn’t hooked up to anything at the moment I still hold the view that the ‘proper’ way to listen to music doesn’t involve any sort of digitisation or digital signal processing along the way. Hissing and scratches are all part of the analogue world, but some of the weird noises you get when digital signals corrupt are just not ‘right’, let alone the ‘concert hall’ type effects that can be applied at a whim. But yet I have an iPod, because isn’t it so much more convenient carrying your entire music library in your pocket?

Olympus OM2 image by Martin TaylorNext came photography – I’ve still got a pair of Olympus OM2 bodies with a selection of lenses, and I have a crude but functional mono darkroom in boxes on a shelf that I keep meaning to set up again somewhere. I had a blast trying out the various methods described by Ansel Adams etc. where you can almost ‘touch’ light. Yet all the photographs I’ve taken in recent years have been digital, because it’s so much more convenient than lugging round a bulky large format camera.

I’m a hypocrite – I want to remain in an analogue age, yet when it comes to the crunch I listen to my iPod more than my Rega, pick up my Fujifilm F700 instead of an Olympus OM2, and put up with all the other insiduous digital invaders like Sky+ because it’s so much more convenient.

But there is more to it than just convenience – the ‘miracle’ of technology opens up new possibilities to the average punter undreamt of in the analogue age. I never got into movie-making, but I know you can do an awful lot now with a digital camcorder and a PC for not a lot of money, compared to what you used to have to spend in the Betamax days. And if I were a composer or a musician I might appreciate the capabilities of the recording studio I could set up without needing a big win on the Premium Bonds (before the days of the Lottery!) like you used to need to afford all the gear.

But here is my real dilemma – digital technology offers almost limitless possibilities and potential for creativity, but I’ve found personally that my limited creativity is at its best when constrained – too many shiny spangly distractions get in the way of achieving simplicity and purity.

Back to photography, the limited number of variables available don’t stop the ability to produce stunning images. On a manual film camera, ignoring for the sake of this argument issues of composition, lighting, choice of film etc. you really only get to play with shutter speed and aperture, the combination of which creates an exposure on the film. Take that exposure into a simple mono darkroom, and you have a few more variables available to you, but it’s still somehow on a ‘human’ scale – how you process the film, what paper you choose, how long you expose the print, any dodging and burning effects – it’s all done mostly by hand and feels very natural.

I’ve recently upgraded my copy of Macromedia Studio MX to Adobe CS3 Web as it’s now marketed (must blog some time about my love/hate relationship with this suite of software) and I spent some time yesterday playing with Photoshop CS3 which is included in the package. Feeding it a RAW file from a digital camera is very similar to cooking your own film in a darkroom, but my initial feeling was being totally overwhelmed not just by the things you needed to do to make a technically correct image – that’s just me having to ‘pay my dues’ by learning a new set of techniques – but also by the unbelievable scope of creative tools that are made available, not only familiar ones like dodging, burning, filters, masking etc, but also control of things like tonal curves beyond the wildest imaginations of a simple darkroom setup.

HDR ComparisonOut of interest, here’s a comparison of a straight shot from my F700 on the left; on the right is a Photoshop manipulated union of an overexposed and an underexposed image which is starting to approach the dynamic range of the human eye (and incidentally a good photographic film!). Technically interesting, but it’s certainly not ‘art’. Is digital manipulation any more ‘wrong’ than what I used to do in a darkroom, or did I get any less satisfaction from it? Let’s just say it’s ‘different’.

OK, my interface to this analogue world is now mostly digitised, but I still can’t remember a sense of ‘inner piece’ listening to music on my iPod like I used to with my Rega, and although I get a buzz taking pictures with my F700 I’ve never felt as satisfied with the end result as I have when taking the time to construct an image on an OM2.

Thinking about it as I have been whilst writing, although I seem to be blaming the technology, I think it’s how I’ve been relating to it – digital devices and techniques seem to be too cheap and easy, I don’t put in as much time, effort and thought that I used to in a purely analogue world – there you used to think harder every time you pressed the shutter release, or picked an album from the shelf, because you knew you were going to have to put up with the result for a long time – you invested in the outcome much more.

I still seem to yearn for the analogue life, but yet for convenience my life is mostly digital 🙁

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