Monthly Archives: July 2008


Still (evidently) not got to grips with the SFW consolidation.

Having successfully executed a full build with one additional module, I thought I was past the steep bit of the learning curve, and added in six more modules.  Of course I didn’t expect them all to build successfully first time – bound to hit snags, typos, gotchas, miscellaneous bugs.  But I did expect to get meaningful error messages from those modules that failed to build.

It didn’t build.  httpd itself failed, so the modules didn’t even have the prerequisites to try to build.  The error was an invalid –with-apr in the configure.  Seems that it tries to build both prefork and worker MPMs, but with just one APR build (on worker).  That relies on worker getting built before prefork, and the error suggests that didn’t happen.

Having failed to figure out what among my changes could possibly have caused this (unexpected) error, I fell back to recreating the entire hierarchy from the same clean tarball I’d started out with.  Same error!  So it wasn’t anything I’d done, and looks suspiciously like a heisenbug.  Bugrthat 😦

OK, I wonder what happens if I just remove those –with-apr configure options from the apache-prefork build?  Hopefully it’ll get though to building the modules, so I can get the results I want: successful build or relevant errors!  It’s running now.

What’s so great about the Goog?

As we all know, Google is the best search engine and the most useful single site on the ‘net.  Not that it’s perfect, and outside of its core web-search function, it has some manure-grade junk out there too.

Now there seems to be a bit of a meeja fuss over some goog-killer-wannabe called cuil.  I can only attribute this to cuil having an effective bullshitPR department, to get so much attention.  The report on El Reg (NSFW) shows a snapshot of results, that leave me no wish to see more: for the first time in over 20 years on the ‘net, I’ve been exposed to … ahem … dirty pics (I won’t say porno, because I don’t see how two men masturbating is supposed to titillate).  Ahem, not what I want in my search results.

And don’t forget, El Reg is a regular Goog-basher who you’d expect to welcome – albeit not uncritically – a real alternative.

But what’s really so good about the Goog?

It is indeed a million times better than the other media darling, but then Yahoo’s indexing always was a sick joke, and I really can’t see how anything other than mindshare in the mainstream meeja ever sustained it.  But the same cannot be said for all the alternatives.  When Google was launched, Altavista was out there doing a great job – albeit with less hype than the big Y – and the Goog was no more than a comparably competent alternative.

I think the comparison to Altavista at a time when the Goog had yet to develop its pagerank (automated peer review) to give it a real lead in terms of results quality, can reveal what’s really so much better about the Goog.  It’s not that Google gave us what we wanted (which Altavista also did): it’s that Goog spared us what we didn’t want! No deezyner page with pretty graphics.  No crap.  Just the information we were looking for.  And – later – text-based ads that still don’t seriously detract from the useful results.

And that’s comparing Goog to the best of the pre-goog bunch: a good site with a logo that was at least pretty (wikipedia has it still), and incomparably less obnoxious crap than Yahoo inflicts on you.  Ironic that it now seems to have been swallowed by Yahoo and gone minimalist – a decade on from the opportunity it lost and Google won.

The most gruelling fruit …

What fruit is the most gruelling, while also the most satisfying and the most gorgeous?

My candidate: wild blueberries.  Collecting them from here is a mini-triathlon.  First I ride the bike high up in the moor, starting on the road, but later on a rough track, and finally a mile or so of non-track where I carry it much of the way.  Then there’s a landmark where I can park the bike (and be confident of finding it again) and continue on foot over rough terrain.  At this point I want a backpack, not the cycle pannier I’m carrying.

Finally the precious fruit.  But these wild blueberries are tiny compared to the farmed ones you get in the shops.  Neither do they come in great dense clumps: rather they tend to be sparse.  No doubt being rather late onna Sunday afternoon doesn’t help there.  Bottom line: picking them is a great deal of work, for very little result.

But yes, it’s all well worth it.  The bike ride is a pleasure.  The walk is almost a pleasure, even if it’s challenging keeping ones footing on terrain that varies between rocks and bogs, and when more-than-half-blinded by the sun.  But most glorious of all is the swim, in the bigger, deeper pools of the river, high up in the moors.  The swim marks the end of collecting the blueberries, and is coupled with a fantastic natural massage in the white water.  Wonderful, and a blessed relief on a hot afternoon!

The homeward journey, and each milestone is a blessed relief.  Returning to the bike; reaching the point where I can ride it; and best of all now getting back to the surfaced road.  The homeward journey is predominantly downhill, to a welcome shower and a glass of deep-chilled hungarian pinot grigio – a wonderful wine for hot summer weather.  Mmmm 🙂

Can’t beat it.  And I haven’t even collected an excessive crop of insect bites, as might be expected after prolonged exposure to that vegetation.


Continuing my epic Adventures in OpenSolaris, I was able to burn a DVD of SXCE.

I’m happy to report that since then I’ve installed SXCE, and things are going much more smoothly under it.  OpenSolaris (2008.05) is for the time being relegated to a VirtualBox, where its quirks are pretty much harmless.  SXCE seems to be a much more stable platform to work on.

That also means I can now build the SFW (Sun Freeware) consolidation, and thus work within Sun’s development environment.  Which was basically the goal of the exercise.  I’ve navigated my way around it just enough to integrate one of my own Apache modules, which now successfully builds and generates a package.

This is still not an environment I’d choose to work in: the SFW consolidation is huge and unwieldy, and its build is an epic several-hour job. I need to figure out at least how to sync my work with the repository rather than use giant tarballs.  But at least I’m now able to do Sun work in its primary target environment of Sun’s webstack (which is part of SFW).

Apache: sponsorship vs membership

It seems Microsoft’s sponsorship of the ASF is being mis-reported as membership, for example here.

That is not merely wrong: it’s impossible. ASF members are not corporations, we’re individuals. We earn membership by what we do, not what we pay[1]. So while it’s entirely possible for Microsoft employees to become members[2], the idea of the company doing so is a non sequiter.

The idea that this gives Microsoft any kind of influence in Apache projects is also nonsense.  Apache projects are managed by individuals who leave behind any corporate affiliations when we don the Apache hat.  The most a company can get is an indirect stake in an Apache project by employing or contracting with key developers, and (AFAIK) the nearest Microsoft has come to that is in their joint project with SourceSense.

[1] Membership of the ASF costs nothing, just as contributing to ASF projects doesn’t pay.

[2] At least, as far as the ASF is concerned, though Microsoft’s attitude towards the common good may have to come quite a lot further. The biggest shift may come if they want badly enough to hire someone who insists on their right to participate in opensource projects.

Apache += Microsoft (sponsorship)

Another OSCON announcement: Microsoft is joining Google and Yahoo as a Platinum Sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation.  That means an additional $100K a year: small-change to MS, but a big benefit to a volunteer-based nonprofit organisation.

This seems to fit Microsoft’s general direction of increasing friendliness to opensource organisations such as ASF who do not pose an ideological or legal problem for them.  This is a progression from past deals such as sponsoring ApacheCon (Dublin 2006, IIRC) and offering free MSDN membership to Apache developers.

Thank you Microsoft.

Open Sourcing Sun’s Web stuff

When Sun opened Solaris, they opened a new era of cross-fertilisation with other projects.  Sun, like other vendors, benefits from the work of a much wider community.  The community, including the major projects like the Linux and BSD kernels, benefit from Sun goodies such as DTrace and ZFS.

Sun’s announcement this week of opening the Web server and proxy brings such opportunities for cross-fertilisation to the Web platform.  I haven’t worked on Sun’s server myself (I’ve dabbled with its API, but not the innards), but my colleagues include some who work on both Sun’s and Apache technologies.  Now there’s no longer a risk of Intellectual Property issues getting in the way of such folks participating fully in multiple communities.  Or of anyone else with an interest in re-using Sun’s work.

This is for Sun, in quite a strong sense, a return to its roots: back in the 1980s it was the major platform for innovation, including much of the foundations of today’s networking.  It was Solaris 2 in the early 1990s that saw Sun (metaphorically) don a business suit, unbundle the C compiler, and alienate the geeks, and I suspect it’s no coincidence that in the early 1990s a bunch of geeks formed a community around the infant Linux alternative!  Now we’re happily back to the heart of geekdom!


Sun has been hiring! Now that it’s official, I can welcome my new colleagues in the WebStack team. And did I mention, one of them was formerly the key man at our biggest(?) competitor!

First we have Brian Overstreet, who answered our advertisement and has now joined us. Brian is a relatively recent grad, with opensource credentials in a couple of projects including Mozilla, and a background as solaris guru whilst at college. He should make a great addition to our team. Welcome Brian!

Just a day or two later, our star new recruit Jeff Trawick joined at a senior level. Jeff comes to us from IBM, where he worked for many years, rising to lead in their web server project. Jeff is of course also a well-respected and long-standing Apache core developer and ASF member, making two of us on Sun’s webstack team. Welcome Jeff!

Anyone else interested in working here, not that Brian takes just one of the entry-level jobs. The other is, to the best of my knowledge, still open!


Yay!  We’ve got our public loo back in the centre of town!

It’s quite an attractive building from the outside, being of old, darkish stone construction (in keeping with neighbouring civic buildings), and partially obscured by trees.  But for rather a long time – a couple of years, it’s been boarded up, and we’ve had hideous blue metal portaloos instead (ugh).  Someone in the know could walk five minutes to use the bus station’s facilities instead, but that did nothing for the eyesore in the heart of town.

In the past few weeks, they’ve finally had some works done on the old building, and reopened it.  The doors are different and much more prominent, and I’ve yet to go inside.  Just glad to see the back of those blue monstrosities!

Gnome apes Windows

OpenSolaris is sometimes disparagingly dubbed things like “Project Copy Linux”.  The comment has some truth in it: there are elements in OpenSolaris that “look and feel” much more like Linux than traditional Unix.  I’d say that makes sense: in terms of convenience and friendliness, desktop-oriented Linux (eg Ubuntu) is clearly ahead of the competition: not only trad. Unix, but also Windows (obviously) and Mac (surprisingly to me)[1].  Put a Unix kernel and other Solaris goodies into a Linux-like desktop, and you have a pretty compelling system.

The heart of the desktop is, by default, Gnome (that’s the same default as in many Linux flavours).  Whether you prefer Gnome itself to Sun’s Java desktop is a matter of taste; I’m happy with either, or indeed with KDE.  Putting bash (by default) and other GNU stuff under the hood, and moving towards a decent packaging system and development environment improves it more, or will do once ‘bleeding edge’ features are ironed out.

But it’s not all good, and Gnome today has given me a classic demonstration of picking up bad habits.  Having yesterday got hold of a blank DVD-RW, I inserted it to burn an SXCE boot disc.  Gnome detected it, and opened a CD/DVD manager window for me – nice.  Its help function tells me that to burn a CD, I right-click the blank DVD icon and select the write option from the menu.  Great, I have the ISO image, so I’ll just burn that to the DVD, right?

Nope.  After several seconds chugging away, it comes up with an error message, telling me to insert a suitable medium.  Try again, same thing.  Hmm, doesn’t it support the DVD?  The hardware certainly does, according to the manufacturer’s website.  But now there’s no help, no meaningful error message.  This is truly a Windows look-and-feel: gnome has turned plug-and-pray.  Nothing in /var/log that might give me a hint, either.

OK, Plan B, abandon the pretty GUI, and RTFM cdrecord.  Cdrecord also emits an error at the first attempt.  But this time, I have an error message I can use to adjust my commandline options.  Second time lucky, and I have a bootable DVD.

It’s installing now.

[1] That excludes the laptop,where the Mac’s effortless command of its hardware makes a compelling case, even if the desktop UI is deep crap and many of the applications are at least a generation behind Linux.