German Python Conference 2012

I just came back from PyCon DE 2012 in Leipzig. I went their not knowing what to expect and came back a real fan.

Not that I am really doing that much with Python, but the community feeling at the conference beat all my previous experiences.

Python is sometimes called a glue language, it seems to be also true for the attendants. Of course they all have an interest in the language as a tool, but they come from all areas of IT and bring their own experience to share.

Between physicists from the CERN, web developers and tool developers there was something new for everybody.

Especially noteworthy where the Lightning Talks that happened at the end of every conference day. Not only entertaining but also very informative. The speakers used their 5 minutes mostly to present some tool or idea to the audience and ask for help or git pull requests. That is certainly a strong sign of a vibrant community.

The 2013 PyCon DE will be in Cologne and the 2014 in Berlin. Even if you don't dream in Python, the conference is worth to attend to meet like minded fellows and get input for new ideas.


Dashboards Made Easy

If you work at an agile shop you probably have seen something like this:

You also find a lot about how people create those nice dash boards as a web page, but you almost never find out how to actually build the system that runs the dash board.

Basically this is a task for digital signage, but "standard" solutions like Xibo seem heavily oversized for running an internal dash board. All we need is a Linux box running a browser and the screen staying on.

As my team also wanted to have a dashboard, I  recently hat to build one and decided to put my effort into an Ubuntu package named kiosk-browser that can be found on the ImmobilienScout24 github page. The package turns a regular Ubuntu installation into a web-based dashboard.

Now the effort to setup a new dashboard system has been reduced to these steps:
  1. Install a computer with Ubuntu.
  2. Build or download and install the kiosk-browser package. 
  3. Log on as a user and run this command:
    sudo tee /etc/default/kiosk-browser \
  4. Reboot 
If your system is a laptop or of you have a rotated screen you might want to add some xrandr commands to /etc/default/kiosk-browser to setup your displays properly. For the laptop that runs the rotated display in the picture this is:

xrandr --output VGA1 --auto --rotate left --output LVDS1 --off
sleep 5

I got the general idea from Ubuntu 12.04 Kiosk in 10 Easy Steps which has all the building blocks.

Update 2012-10-16: Now also with multi-monitor support!


Puppet and Chef do only half the job

Going to conferences and meetups is not just for seeing the talks, it is much more for meeting the "right" people. At the recent devopsdays Mountain View I met Ernest Mueller and discovered his theagileadmin.com blog, where I immediately liked his DevOps: It’s Not Chef And Puppet blog post.

After some talking with Ernest and others at the devopsdays I realized that I believe that the Ops job contains more than most people do with Puppet and Chef: Managing the Operating System patches and upgrades.

Read my guest posting Puppet and Chef do only half the job for the full story.

In the 2012 SysAdvent Blog Miah Johnson suggests in Packages Doing Too Much? to solve this issue by going the opposite way: Deploy the entire operating systems via recipes. She also points to NixOS and Guix as an example of such operationg systems. While I still believe that using the OS packages for custom software and configuration deployment is the cheapest solution, doing that on a recipe-based OS would be also fine because then one would again use the OS tools for everything else which is the main point I am trying to make.

My Open Source Data Center Conference 2013 talk is also about this topic, access the slides or watch the video.


Velocity 2012 T-Shirt Boom

The Velocity Web Performance and Operations Conference is always about bringing hard data to make a point.

This year I was overwhelmed by the amount of T-Shirts given out by the exhibitors. Over a coffee I was joking with somebody, that there must be like 20000 shirts at the conference. He was loughing it off, but I actually go curious and asked all exhibitors how many shirts they brought:

But, I was wrong. According to the survey there where a total of 10746 shirts for about 2500 attendees, which makes over 5 shirts per attendee!

So what caused this "overprovisioning"? As not everybody likes to take shirts, there must be people who walked away with 10 or 20 shirts...

Now that we have some hard data we should try to learn something from this data. Unfortunately I could not find any other information about all these companies that might be correlated here. Some companies who brought few shirts told me that they give them only to special customers and not hand them out freely.

Dropbox for sure won the "most shirts" price and people have been observed taking Dropbox shirts by the dozen.

Verisign won the "unusually packaged" prize with this vaccum packed shirt (but they brought only a few):

But the main question unfortunately remains unanswerd: What do these companies get out of this? Why did all these companies spend so much money on T-Shirts? Is it a desperate grab for attention? Or is it a way of saying thank you?

BTW, at the devopsdays Mountain View just after the Velocity there where much less shirts, mostly from splunk and of course the traditional devopsdays shirts.

And, if you have time for just one video from the Velocity, make sure to watch Jesse Robbins talk about "Changing Culture & Being a force for Awesome":


Cardboard Smart Phone Camera Stand

Do you use your smart phone to record videos?
Do you use it to record talks at conferences?
Did you ever try to hold up a smart phone for 45 minutes?

Well, I did and it was no fun at all!

My fix for this problem was to build an improvised camera stand for my phone:

All you need for that is some cardboard and something to cut it:
It takes about 5 minutes to make and greatly improves the video quality: No more jitter, shaking or covering up the mic. With the right light conditions you can even manage to make professional looking videos. Also, if you switch the phone to flight mode you can be sure that no incoming call will interrupt the recording.

Download printable version.


Limmud 2012 in Berlin

Limmud 2012 was in Berlin at the Jüdische Oberschule and that made it quite different from the previous Limmud festivals at Werbellinsee. The feeling was much less that of a closed community and more that of a regular conference. Luckily the next Limmud festival will (most likely) be back at Werbellinsee.

The festival was well attended without feeling crowded. I talked a bit to the org team. They seemed as stressed as in previous years. Seeing how well the festival runs they really deserve a lot of respect and gratitude for doing this job.

Highlights where the talks by Rabbi Cardozo which where approximately the same as the ones he gave at previous Limmud events (see the his YouTube playlists for a choice of videos), but still worthwhile to sit through.

There were also lots of kids programs, like Ruth and Naomi, Ask the Rabi and of course lots of movies.

The unusal venue in the middle of the city allowed for various tours which where also well frequented.

Hope to see you next year!


Volunteering at the LinuxTag 2012

Today I spent almost all the day helping the LinuxTag crew. They needed someone to help with transportation and I own a trailer and had a day of vacation. IT turns out that the LinuxTag - like all trade shows - comes with a lot of stuff and the people who help also need something:
Shopping for the LinuxTag
And this is actually not all of it, just to help the volunteers and project members and booth staff.

Besides lugging lots of boxes and crates I actually learned a lot about the LinuxTag today: It is all completely done by volunteers, most of whom actually take vacation days to organize the event!

If you like the LinuxTag please come and join the effort and sign up to help at the LinuxTag: http://www.linuxtag.org/2012/de/mitmachen.html


PaaS and DevOps

In his blog DevOps is DOA Tom Mornini writes that DevOps is already outdated in the face of PaaS offerings. His opinion is not entirely surprising as he is CTO and co-founder at EngineYard, a large PaaS vendor.

Interstingly most people seem to disagree with his opinion (for example here, here and all of the comments at Tom's blog). I also believe that he missed the main advantage of DevOps which is IMHO that DevOps actually supports knowledge-driven teams while PaaS requires one to trust in the service quality of the PaaS vendor with little to no way of influencing that.

So, if you don't want to increase the amount of knowlegde in your organization then PaaS is a good way to go and then you maybe really don't need a DevOps approach. Just wait a while and find some of your developers turned into ops because in the end even in a PaaS world somebody needs to maintain the automation that is used to feed the PaaS hosting.

But, if you want to increase the total amount of knowledge in your organization and if you want to enable your teams to take more responsability for what they are doing and for what comes out in the end then please do look into DevOps as a way to share responsability between all tech teams involved in your enterprise. And if your tech teams decide together to use PaaS then this also might be a good thing because they decided it together.


Package Management Overview

In his recent blog post about Package Management Systems, Diomidis Spinellis gives sound advice about using packages for software management:

"The breadth of modules you can reuse is nothing short of amazing, making it a crime to start writing code before you investigate what packages you can reuse. Whatever your need, there’s likely to be a package that you can effortlessly link with your application. Promisingly, the structure that package managers bring both to the tools we use in our development process and the libraries we reuse in our products ties nicely with the recent move emphasizing development operations (DevOps) as an integration between software development and IT operations. Orderly and organized package management is a key element of a well-run software production process. Maintaining a list of an organization’s recommended packages allows teams to share best practices and avoids package incompatibilities. So, if your business allows it, join a package management ecosystem, enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor, and contribute back to the community."

This very neatly fits in with using RPM for everything which we are doing now at ImmobilienScout24.

See also his notes on companies adopting OSS.


Silicon Berlin Update

It has been a while since my first Silicon Berlin blog post. I tried to put the essence of my understand of Silicon Berlin into a few lines:

Silicon Berlin is a label or brand that hopes to unite Berlin web companies to make Berlin a better place for web companies. It can serve as a label under which a community of web companies and IT people can act together. Silicon Berlin - beeing a true community effort - is not owned by anybody and can be used by anyone interested to further their goals with regard to making Berlin more attractive for web companies and for people who like to work in web companies.

Please comment and let me know your opinion.

My most recent activity is my first public Silicon Berlin talk at the 5th Berlin DevOps meetup.

Here are a few new related articles, events and links:
Please join our Silicon Berlin Google+ and Silicon Berlin Facebook pages.

This is now the new Silicon Berlin logo:
Thanks a lot to Boris Borchert for his creativity! If you have never been to Germany, this is how town signs look in Germany.

5th Berlin DevOps Meetup

See Berlin DevOps homepage for group info.

"Continuous Delivery – the tech parts" by Jens Bräuer

Very interesting talk about the technical details of automating a complete server environment with AWS, RPM, YUM, MCollective, Puppet and Jenkins.

Some things I noted:

Amazon S3 <-> YUM Integration (use S3 as YUM repo backend)
Using a distributed HTTP-based document store as a YUM repo backend to solve the availability problem sounds like a really good idea.

Software packages bring their own monitoring and load balancer configuration

He also recommended http://mmonit.com/monit/ for monitoring and http://haproxy.1wt.eu/ for load balancing. Their software packages bring their own monitoring and load balancing configuration that is dropped into /etc/monit.d and /etc/haproxy.d. Each server monitors itself with monit and a central Icinga instance monitors the monit processes on all servers. MCollective collects the HA-proxy configuration from all servers and delivers it to the actual load balancers. They see it as a benefit that the developers also write the load balancer configuration for their services. I find this very cool and impressive!

Access his slides here.

"Scalarium running on Scalarium" by Jonathan Weiss, Peritor

This talk is about EC2 & Eucalyptus cluster management. See http://www.scalarium.com/ for the full marketing info.

Jonathan explained in detail how they bootstrap an initial Scalarium instance with Capistrano which is then used to bootstrap a second instance. These two instances can then manage each other which provides true redundancy.

And of course Peritor is hiring, like everybody else :-)

The discussion after the presentation was very interesting. This is the 3rd or 4th Scalarium presentation I have seen and I like it more with each time. I think they really build an interesting technology there that turns AWS into a reliable and managable platform.

“Silicon Berlin” and “Velocity Europe post-mortem” by Schlomo Schapiro, ImmobilienScout24

This was my talk:

This talk helped me to understand that we need a short definition of the Silicon Berlin idea. Here is my first attempt at writing a short pitch, please comment to improve:

Silicon Berlin is a label or brand that hopes to unite Berlin web companies to make Berlin a better place for web companies. It can serve as a label under which a community of web companies and IT people can act together. Silicon Berlin - beeing a true community effort - is not owned by anybody and can be used by anyone interested to further their goals with regard to making Berlin more attractive for web companies and for people who like to work in web companies.

See the following for more information about the topic:

If you don't like the name, logo or anything else, please drop me a line (or comment) with an alternative suggestion.

Thanks a lot to everybody who came and took part in the discussion.