Posts from 2009

Rebuilding front page is an application for storing and organising images – ostensibly a very simple desire but one I found not catered for by existing web applications when it was first conceived in 2005. The concept was an application that was simple and easy to use while still allowing for a degree of organisation to ensure images weren’t stored in a single “pool”.

With a small, well-defined feature set it seemed like a good time to address some of the issues which had crept in


When I first started developing the application, PHP 5 hadn’t been released for very long and was receiving a mixed reception. Regardless, I started developing using a custom built framework I had cobbled together from scratch – one that would eventually go on to be refined and used in some of my work projects. With the lack of other mature frameworks to compare with, it was rough round the edges and did little more than segment out code into the MVC pattern and even then it wasn’t an entirely clean encapsulation; it was however useful.

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Replacing a server – part 2: the plan

The whole orange by Tim Dorr
The whole orange by Tim Dorr used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license

The first part of this series was a heavy on lists and common sense and light on the details. Cacti tend to be more interesting than audits, despite their importance, and the amount of work being put into such a security hazard can seem ill spent when all you want to do is get down and start fiddling. This is what the plan is all about. It marries riotous list-making with tinkering joy.

what may seem expensive now may be cheap in comparison to possible hair-pulling later


The first thing I did when the prospect of a new server arose, before looking at prices or stats, was make a wishlist of everything that I wanted. Despite working without incident for so long, there are places and processes where certain aspects could be smoother – this is the case with any computer and having the time to figure out improvements is a rare joy; opposed something breaking and a near-as-dammit replacement is swiftly procured.

The wishlist was split into areas which are a pain to currently work with and areas where it would be good to try something different. The latter is obviously the more contentious – why change if it works – however I always like to try something new for every project, how else can I learn?

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Replacing a server – part 1: the audit

Windows Servers - Data Center
Windows Servers - Data Center by jaxmac used under Creative Comments Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works license

For a small digital agency, running an off-site server is as important as it is unglamorous. You don’t get any of the desirable super-tech of running a cluster but all of the headaches of running a constantly used, high-availability external computer. My workplace’s existing dedicated server (which I championed, configured and maintain) is used to provide web hosting to a variety of clients – both large and small – and for the past three and half years has provided a flawless service. Upgrading is not to be taken lightly and the reasons for doing so must always result in a better service to clients – whether that’s decreased work load for you or improved site responsiveness. For me it boiled down to entropy: three and a half years is a long time for hardware to run and it will eventually fail and make my day/week/month hell on toast.

First step on this crazy adventure: audit.

Cleaning house

the more you know and the better prepared you are, the easier it’s going to be

Audit is a filthy word round most parts and conjures up images of bespectacled pencil-pushers or greasy tax collectors. Despite this, documenting what you have is the first step to getting something better. When I begun this process however I found that, like a house, over time a server accumulates clutter: old domains, long since defunct sites, errant processes; automation only goes so far before a cleaner has to step in.

Spending a day archiving and removing cruft is tantamount to dusting the shelves and throwing away old books and furniture before moving house – it reduces the effort required later in the process. My removals included:

  • Domain name end-points – for ones which had either expired or the persons / companies had moved on
  • E-mail accounts – accounts for expired domains are useless, just as accounts for long since lapsed campaigns are
  • Test folders – a separate test environment means accumulation of in-progress sites was inevitable. I found a year without modification is a good metric for when to cull
  • Errant services – automated / scheduled processes such as a log-parsers; awstats was set to run on Apache’s log files – no longer necessary when every site we host uses Google Analytics
  • Old databases – very few of these but the odd one sometimes slips through

After archiving, it was time for the document itself.

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Wrap up

2009-04-12 18:05:14 2009-04-12 19:55:12 2009-04-12 19:59:59 2009-04-12 20:03:23 2009-04-12 21:20:29 2009-04-13 10:14:54

The missing Kyoto photos are retrieved! All things told there weren't that many good photos on the iffy card, mostly blurry geisha photos (geisha ghosts?) and some lamentably blurry night shots - one of the great problems of my D50 screen and chimping is that slightly blurry photos tend to be missed and only visible upon more detailed examination.

I have been awake since 0330 local time which is annoying as I was asleep 2300 local time and up for lord knows how long before that, jet lag is a real pain and I don't remember ever suffering from it to this extent beforehand. Anyways, some thoughts on travelling around Japan:

  • Get used to train stations: where to look for times and what to look for (rapid, limited rapid express etc.); always note which exit you use and entrance you want, they may not be one in the same and orientation is easier if you've done the route before; get familiar with the ticket machines as you'll either be ticketing, SUICA'ing or PASMO'ing and they all involve adjustment machines at some point
  • Improve your train sleeping: this is a necessity if you are jetlagged or have a full schedule as you'll be able to hit the town at night and still have energy for the important parts during the day, even an half an hours nap can improve things; just make sure you're the last stop or have people around you who can wake you up if you get overzealous with the napping
  • Learn your landmarks: if you're like me and can't read Japanese fluently then navigation can be tricky so instead of recognising stores / pubs, go for colours or tall buildings or quirky objects outside, there are plenty of all three kicking about and makes exploring a hell of a lot simpler
  • Be prepared to be scrutinised: if you're European or American then you will naturally stand out in most areas of Japan, Tokyo not so much but other areas you will be glanced at more often than not, a friendly smile and a nod is usually all it takes to make everyone feel at ease; there will also be a natural radius around you on trains and local transport, you can mitigate this by plonking yourself in between two current passengers but otherwise there is a general reluctance to sit next to you if it can be at all helped.
  • Don't expect high technology everywhere: Tokyo is privileged in its use of wireless internet, modern transport methods and so forth but other areas of Japan can be just as rural and disconnected as your home country - downloading TV to your mobile phone is a nicety, not provided as standard
  • Get good shoes: or tough feet (general life advice but especially relevant)

I know have a plethora of bits of paper (receipts, ticket stubs, reservation tickets, leaflets etc.) and photos to organise. Last count for photos was just a hair under 700 and unlike my last trip there are very few duplicates and the overall quality of the photos has surprised even me - helped of course by the stellar weather that held for all but a single day. One thing I do regret is not taking my lens hood for my 18-200, with the 18-55 there's little need for one but looking through some of the photos there was definitely a need for one (and me holding the lens cap in conspicuous positions was not a good interim solution) - here was me thinking lens hoods were just for camera pimping.

Other random thoughts include my choice of clothing - definitely took too many warmer tops although I was expecting the weather to be 6-8 degrees less than it was, unseasonable warmth indeed. No matter how much you cram into a backpack, it can always hold more with judicious application of body weight and zip moulding. Do not trust hotel bedside clocks - their alarms oscillate between weedy and useless to sonic sleep destroyers. Hotel wake up calls are surprisingly sinister at 6am.

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Final thoughts

My train to Narita airport leaves in just over three quarters of an hour and I've just filled myself with an assortment of breakfast foods (and some not breakfast foods, seriously - hamburgers?) so some random bits and bobs as they come to me:


  • Shinjuku station on a Saturday - bleh
  • Shinjuku station on a Saturday night while squiffy and trying to get from east to west - bleh
  • My bag is the densest thing in the universe, its gravitational field has already claimed my sanity
  • Akihabara - noisy
  • DVDs - expensive
  • CDs - my addiction

Now for 1.5 hours on a train, 12 hours on a plane, 2 hours in an airport, 1.5 hours on a plane and 40 minutes on a train (and 15 minutes in a taxi most likely). Homeward bound.

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