Oracle, Sun and WordPress

by Steve, April 21st, 2009

techWord that Oracle will purchase Sun Microsystems may not seem to be of general interest, but it’s big news in the tech sphere. In my office, where we support Sun’s Solaris operating system, along with HP Unix, IBM’s AIX Unix, Linux and Darwin (Apple’s port of BSD Unix), the news was pleasing to the extent that Sun will be able to survive (their OS and developer toolset, especially their dbx C/C++ debugger, are tops in the ‘nix world).

While the implications for my vocational world were clear, it took me a little longer to grasp how it may affect my avocation in Web publishing. In January 2008, Sun bought the company that produces MySQL, a free, open source relational database, for a billion dollars. It’s still free, though Sun has enterprise versions of MySQL for sale.

Now comes Oracle, the 800 pound gorilla in the room for relational databases, to buy Sun. So, I asked a co-worker, when I finally started to grasp what’s afoot for those of us dependent on the stability, performance and availability of MySQL (the database of choice for WordPress and many other Web applications running on LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySql and PHP), what do you think this means for MySQL? Many users worried that Sun had bought it to kill it, but that’s not nearly as scary as Oracle.

I found the answer when I got back to my desk in the form of an e-mail from Oracle:

“Live Customer Event 4/28 – Comparing Oracle to MySQL” read the subject. And in the body:

As the global economy slows down, companies continue to look at alternative technologies that they feel are more cost effective and will save money on their bottom line. Learn why choosing an Oracle technology platform lowers the total cost of ownership for your company during this live, interactive one hour program. Tony Tarone, the Director of Operations at Cedar Document Technologies, will discuss how he gained a reliable, scalable, secure, and cost effective platform by moving from MySQL to Oracle.

Now, I have no idea whether this was planned before the acquisition of Sun was announced, but it sure doesn’t make me feel good about Oracle’s intentions. Of course, MySQL is open source, licensed under the GNU GPL, so there’s no taking it back now. But there’s probably not much reason for Oracle to continue support of the development community as Sun has. That’s a shame.

Soupin’ it up

by Steve, January 5th, 2009

techFor the first time in our avocation as a Web publishers, the family server has been upgraded to a brand new machine.

Until the last box could no longer keep up with the load, I was committed to using only discarded hardware running free software to keep the ol’ Wacky Enterprises blog farm humming. I’m still committed to open source software, but ever-increasing traffic had grown beyond the last machine’s ability to cope.

The last straw was when a disk on the old box started showing errors, and the price of a new machine was only a little more than the price of a new disk. Go figure; I guess the time had come.

The new unit features a modern, fast, 64-bit dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM. This may not sound impressive, but it replaces a single-core 32-bit machine with 256MB of RAM, which was a replacement for the original box, a 200MHz Pentium Pro with 32MB or RAM.

For the non-nerds, that basically means that performance issues we suffered due to memory swapping on our old machine should be non-existent with this one.

For the nerds, on the old machine I had to tune apache to keep it from spawning too many child processes, lest the machine run out of memory, start swapping, and bring the blog farm to its knees. Even with careful tuning, the old machine was so short on memory, it was constantly teetering on swapping, and I had to have a process monitor the load average and kill and restart Web server processes from time to time. That meant the Web server would get itself wedged into a corner, visitors would have timeouts and authors wouldn’t know if their post got saved.

The new box hummed through its first day today without a hiccup (and without the load average rising above 0.31).

For those who are really interested in the nerdly details, here are the particulars:

  • Intel Core Duo CPU E7300 @ 2.66GHz
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Linux 2.6.27.7-9-default x86_64 (openSUSE 11.1)
  • MySQL, Apache, PHP, WordPress

Planned and unplanned outages

by Steve, December 21st, 2008

techDue to ever-increasing visitor loads, the server that hosts this blog (and a few others) is no longer able to keep up. Coincidentally, our router is failing. And we’re dealing with snow and ice in Portland, which could easily lead to prolonged power outages.

A new, more powerful server is on order for the new year, and a new router should be installed in the next two days. Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if we’re offline from time to time in the next couple weeks!

Oregon Reddit Button WP Plugin

by Steve, May 22nd, 2008

tech
Update, September 2009: This plugin has been rendered obsolete by changes to Oregon Reddit. If I find the time, I’ll try to update it.

I was browsing links over on Oregon Reddit this evening, and I noticed that Mike Vogel‘s got an Oregon Reddit button on his post. Now, I’ve had a “Share This” plugin on this blog for a while, but I don’t even use any of those social bookmarking sites.

I do use Oregon Reddit, though, so I thought I’d figure out how he did it. As best I can tell (and being too lazy to just send Mike an e-mail), it’s a hacked version of the WordPress plugin Reddit Button. So I grabbed that plugin and hacked it to work with OregonLive myself.

In addition to making it go to our regional Reddit, I also made it a little smarter about filling in both the URL and the title on the submission form (the original only sent the URL).

Now, I’ve hacked WordPress plenty for my personal use, and this seems to work. But I’ve never redistributed a plugin before. This is GPL 2, free, open source software; use it as you wish, redistribute, whatever, but don’t be surprised if something doesn’t work like it oughta.

If you’re interested in the reddit documentation that this WP plugin is based on, I found it both at the Oregon Reddit site, and the more readable main Reddit site.

The original author did a nice job making this configurable to use any of the three Reddit buttons, and control where on your blog the button appears, etc.

Download Oregon Reddit Button, make it better, and send me your edits! Leave me a note if you like it or have any suggestions.

Update, May 23: I’ve tweaked the formatting a little bit to make it behave a little nicer, at least with my style sheet. The archive linked above now contains version 1.0.1 with these minor tweaks.

Oregon Reddit: Now slightly less broken!

by Steve, May 6th, 2008

techFor a while now, I’ve been using Oregon Reddit, a local version of the social bookmarking site hosted by OregonLive, the sort-of Web front for that dying dinosaur of Portland media,The Oregonian.

For a while when it first started, before people really figured out what it was or even that it existed, a handful of bloggers discovered that they could get links to their blog posts on the front page of OregonLive. As originally configured, the current top link — as voted on by the then-small user community — would be posted on the front page of OregonLive.

This kind of linkage could really bump traffic. You’d be amazed the kind of traffic OregonLive gets. Traffic to this blog would typically triple when linked like this. But the visit depth would go flat, and there was no increase in comment traffic. The traffic referred by OregonLive was not the kind of traffic I’m used to, and when they did comment, they often didn’t seem to even realize they’d left the OregonLive site.

Witness the Metblogs post I wrote about how to buy a new car, where one commenter on that site says:

I just want to say Congratulations to the Oregonian!! What hypocrites!! You print an article basically outlining how car dealerships screw everyone over…Yet you’ve happliy taken millions of their dollars to run their ads. THE DEALERSHIPS SPEND MORE MONEY THAN ANYONE IN ADVERTISING TO YOUR NEWSPAPER! Not so smart biting the hand that feeds you….

It was all fun and games, and even led to some hilarious links on The Oregonian‘s putative “front page” on the Web (such that it is). I had some fun posting a link to my criticism of the paper’s weak coverage of the blog movement. Nice to see the headline “Oregonian: a Day Late and a Dollar Short” on the Oregonian’s Web site. It stayed there for a quite a while, too.

But, like all good things, this had to come to an end. There was the case of one user in particular using Oregon Reddit to pimp his client’s commercial Web site. Then came the political operatives trying to game the system to keep stories about their candidates on the front page of OregonLive.

To do this, it was a simple matter of submitting a link, having all your cronies vote it up, and voting everything else down.

A vigilant group of three to five people (or one person voting from multiple logins on multiple IP addresses) could keep a link on top for a day, easily, with the side effect that interesting links got buried quickly.

What has followed this is a general sense that pretty much everything gets voted down immediately upon submission. There have been a number of flurries of posts about how broken Oregon Reddit is, and whether some users somehow cheated the system to get higher “karma.”

Interestingly, a significant portion of the Oregon Reddit community is made up of OregonLive employees, yet most of them don’t seem to know much about how the Reddit algorithm works.

Finally, they did something that should settle things down and make the thing work a little more reasonably: they stopped putting the “top” submission on the front page of OregonLive. Now there is no motivation to vote other posts down, since having the top post doesn’t buy you the traffic from the front page anymore.

It’s still a brutal world. I submitted three links today, and lost a couple karma points. (I think I’ve pissed off most of the OregonLive staff, not to mention the guys who pimp commercial Web sites and all the politicos.)

They guy who runs Silicon Florist asked me what I think the true utility of Oregon Reddit is, which is why I started writing this post.

Reddit is social bookmarking software. It is a place where you can submit links that are of interest to you, and through collaborative filtering, find other interesting links. Everybody gets to vote on every link or comment submitted. You gain (or lose) karma based on votes on your submissions, and submitted links get more points based on up votes and rise up the “hot” list where they are presumably seen by more people.

You can configure it so that when you vote down a link, it no longer shows up in the list. This allows you to keep a list of only the links you liked or haven’t checked out yet. In the best case scenario, there would be hundreds of links submitted daily, and you could quickly filter based on your own past preferences (you can add “friends” and see all their posts in a list) or you can see what the community as a whole has liked.

The current user with top “karma” is “hawth,” who gained his seemingly insurmountable karma dominance by submitting a ton of interesting links. He stopped posting links after an OregonLive employee accused him of cheating the system (but later apologized). Since he stopped posting, things haven’t been nearly as interesting. OregonLive staff continue to post links to stories on OregonLive. Most links get voted down immediately, and links rarely get more than two or three points.

There have been some new users with a flurry of posts recently, so hopefully that combined with the removal of the front-page listing will contribute to a more friendly atmosphere at Oregon Reddit. The key to making the system work is to increase the sheer number of submitted links, and increase the number of people voting. The facts that posts rarely rise into double-digit points and that the top post often has only one or two points are clear signs of this problem.

But the recent move to take the top post off the front page is a definite step in the right direction. Things are clearly slightly less broken than before!

Oops…

by Steve, March 31st, 2008

techSome time over the last few days, the software that runs this blog, or the database on the back end, decided to mess with me. All of my WordPress “Pages” were converted to “Posts,” which is why the links above to “About,” “FAQ,” and “Links” don’t work.

In real life, I’m employed as a software engineer. I fix buggy software daily. But I’ve been on a short vacation, and couldn’t be bothered to turn it into a busman’s holiday.

I’ll fix it one of these days. Meanwhile, if any readers are WordPress hackers and have seen this happen, I’d be happy to know how to fix it without having to restore from a backup (which is what I’ll be doing as a last resort).

Fun With Syndication

by Steve, March 6th, 2008

techIf you’re like me, and don’t think making Portland, Ore. look like Vancouver, B.C. should be the beginning and end of city development policy, you’ll probably like Portland Gentrification and Other Problems. With a sidebar of links annotated with snarky commentary like “Page after page of unintentionally hilarious stupidity that must be seen to be believed” (pdxcondos.net) and “PSU Architecture students see steel, get wood” (SkyscraperPage Portland Forum), you’re either going to love this blog… or just plain hate it.

I’m loving it, and added it to my feed aggregator the other day. (I read blogs almost exclusively in my aggregator, which means I get to have black text on a white background, regardless of what bad style decisions a blog author may have made, and I get to skip the ads.)

Anyway, today when I updated my feed, it came up with a bunch of new posts. The top of the list was about Natalie Imbruglia’s latest single. There was news of Joan Armatrading’s tour. A review of Neil Young concert. And something about “Pink snuggles up to hairy rocker.” All mixed in with articles about Portland gentrification, including “‘Fast Flip’ b/w ‘Do Ya Wanna Rent My Condo’ (12″ dance remix, nm, no ps).”

rssreader

Confused? So was I, until I realized that either my aggregator was confused, or the blog’s feed got crossed with the feed from The London Paper. Fun stuff.

They’re Watching Me

by Steve, November 8th, 2007

techI’m a bit wonky about numbers… some of you might know this about me. So I have a couple different ways of tracking visitor stats for this blog. One of them is AWStats, which analyzes my Apache logs and gives me nice reports. The other is Site Meter, which uses an image and some JavaScript embedded on each page of the site. I like Site Meter because it gives me an instant look at who’s on my site at any given time, and organizes data by visit, which is cool. Today I just happened to take a look, and lo and behold, I got four visits from my friends at Portland Public Schools, all within about 45 minutes. Glad you guys are reading!k12-1.jpg

Zzzaaaaap!

by Steve, July 11th, 2007

tech-entryWell, it happened again, almost exactly a month after it happened before. Seven hundred-some Portland General Electric customers lost juice in North Portland, this time on the hottest day of the year. We didn’t have the multiple power surges like last time, and we managed to get all of our stuff unplugged just in case. The only casualty was the Wacky Enterprises blog farm, which does not function without all those electrons wiggling around in the copper, and was consequently off-line for five hours (from 4:30 PDT to 9:30 PDT).

So two lengthy outages in two months is making me think more and more of moving this whole enchilada to a hosting company. Anybody got good suggestions? Requirements: WordPress (and all its requirements, e.g. MySQL, PHP, etc.) , ssh/ftp access, reasonable rates, 24×7 rock-solid reliability, decent customer service. Local would be nice. Maybe I should just collocate, since I’m kind of anal about running my own servers.

The bonus of doing it here by myself is that it’s basically free. Maybe I’ll just keep it that way, and consider PGE’s monthly outages a cost of doing business.

Thursday Thirteen Ed. #78: Odds ‘n’ Ends

by Steve, January 31st, 2007

Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again

— Bob Dylan, “Odds and Ends”

meIt’s been a tumultuous few weeks here at Wacky Blog Central, so let me just lay into it.

  1. I migrated all our blogs to a new server over the weekend, and other than a few glitches, things have gone swimmingly.
  2. One glitch was that I made the mistake of using SuSE’s yast2 to configure apache, and it totally f’ed up my virtual host set-up. This caused all of Wacky Mommy’s traffic to be routed to this blog for a day. I fixed it by doing it the good old fashioned way: editing httpd.conf, and all its subordinate *.conf files with vim. I mean, seriously, yast2 totally f’ed up the virtual host configuration.
  3. Another glitch was that I didn’t set up the aliases for www, which meant if you put “www.” on the front of our blog URLs, you wouldn’t find us. (Why anybody — and by this I mean Web site owners — still uses www is beyond me. It made sense in the old days, when www.somedomain.com meant “a computer named ‘www’ on the domain ‘somedomain.com’”. These days, though, I would guess 99.9% of Web sites are virtual domains, so the www is just plain spurious. Subdomains can still make sense, for instance if you have a software package site, you can have mysoftware.com, docs.mysoftware.com, downloads.mysoftware.com, etc. But www is just silly. Of course it’s the World Wide Web. Why waste those keystrokes?)
  4. Another unrelated but stupid pilot error glitch was that I let this domain expire yesterday. Oh, man, I can’t believe I did that. I renewed and everything seems to be back in order. It is if you’re reading this, anyway.
  5. The dog had a massive “accident” in our home last night. Shudder. Thank god for the the following:
    1. Carpet shampooers
    2. Bi-O-Kleen Bac-Out
    3. A strong intestinal constitution (me, not the dog)
  6. The new TV device for the new computer doesn’t work as well as the old ATI All-in-Wonder. I’m not sure if it’s the USB interface (probably) or the hardware mp2 encoder, but there’s this horrid delay when watching from an external source (like a VCR). And the DVR software pretty much sucks. It’s cool to have a remote control, but damn, when you’re watching a recorded show, and you fast forward, it’s virtually impossible to stop and play again without it jumping to the beginning. Why the hell isn’t there a commercial skip feature? Basically, they haven’t made the effort to make this a fully-featured DVR.
  7. Did I mention the dog crapped all over the house?
  8. Yeah. It’s fucking horrible.
  9. On a brighter note, the sun’s been shining in Portland for several days. Cold, clear and crisp.
  10. We had “family art night” at school last night, which I was expecting to be an evening of sitting at grade-school cafeteria tables with the kids as they pasted things together. Instead, we were treated to a concert by Trashcan Joe. No glue, no markers, no glitter, no whining about not being able to make it look like the teacher’s example. Nice.
  11. Due to a snow storm two weeks ago, and a fever last week, I went nearly two and a half weeks without playing hockey. I finally get out on the ice yesterday and was pleased that I haven’t totally lost my cardio.
  12. I still haven’t cleaned up all the boxes from the new computer and misc. peripherals.
  13. We’ve got a Web server (this one!) in our bedroom. It’ll be there until I decommission the old server, which means migrating the mail server to the new Web server and a couple other virtual domains and…. and…. Oy. Maybe running our own blog farm isn’t such a great idea.

Busy busy busy.