Long Time Gone

Posted on 4th May 2010

It has been quite a few months since I last posted here. Quite a few events and projects have happened and held my attention since I last wrote in my blog. And I still have a backlog of photos and videos from last year to get through too!

I did wonder whether anyone might think that after talking about Why The Lucky Stiff in one of my last posts, that I had done the same. Well for those who follow my CPAN Testers work, will know that CPAN Testers 2.0 has been a rather major project that finally got properly underway in December 2009. It's nearing completion, and I'll cover some of the highlights in a future post. Although it's been my most consuming project over the last 6 months or so, it hasn't been my only one. As mentioned in another of my last posts, I'm writing a book about how to host a YAPC. Due to other projects taking a higher priority, this has taken somewhat of a backseat for the time being, but I do plan on getting a second draft together within the next few months. I have looked into self-publishing the book and I'm now planning to have it formerly submitted with an ISBN (the internation book numbers) and supplied via print-on-demand print runs.

Another project that has been ongoing alongside my CPAN Testers work, has been my website management system, Labyrinth. This has been the website application I have been developing since 2002, and although several other Perl web frameworks have now been developed since, to lesser and greater degrees, Labyrinth has had the disadvantage of only having 1 core developer for the past 8 years. It's not an application that will revolutionise web development and deployment, but it has very successfully worked for a number of websites I have developed over the years. After having been relatively stable for the past year or two, I'm now cleaning up the code so I can properly release it as open source. This is mostly so that anyone wishing to contribute to CPAN Testers, or the YAPC Surveys, will then have all the code available to them. If anyone wants to use it and help develop it further, that would be a welcome bonus, but realistically other web frameworks have gained so much mindshare that I'm not expecting Labyrinth to make much of a dent any more. Not that that is a problem, as Labyrinth has made deploying websites so much easier for me, that I'll just be glad to let people help on CPAN Testers and the YAPC Surveys.

Speaking of the YAPC Surveys, YAPC::NA 2010 and YAPC::Europe 2010 are fast approaching. These will be next projects to get up and running. Thankfully the code base just needs a few upgrades to the latest version of Labyrinth, and some work on skinning the CSS to match the respective YAPC sites. All being well this should only take a few days. Then I'll be looking to release this version of the code base for anyone wishing to run similar surveys for themselves. I've already had one interested party contact me regarding a conference in October, so hopefully the code will be suitable, and only the questions need adapting. We shall see.

My other major project this year, also began back in December 2009. As some readers are well aware, I am an ex-roadie. From 1989-1994 I was a drum tech, lighting engineer and driver for Ark, one of the best Black Country bands ever. Not that I'm biased or anything ;) Last year the band got together for some rehearsals and planned a few reunion gigs. With interest gaining, an album was also planned. So this year, the band began recording and booking gigs. As a consequence the Ark Appreciation Pages desperately needed a makeover. I'll write more about what happened next in another post. Ark are back, and Mikey and I are delighted to be able to be involved with the band once again.

That's just a few of the projects that have taken up my time over the last 6-8 months. There are several others that I hope to post about, with family, time and work permitting. Expect to hear a little more from me than you have so far this year.

File Under: ark / book / conference / labyrinth / opensource / perl / website / yapc

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Posted on 23rd July 2008

I should really have expected that interest to my site would hit overload last night, but I had thought it would cope. Unfortunately it meant I was sitting on the box, watching when the load average got too high and shutting down processes. As a result I did some quick profiling of the code using the lovely Devel::DProf, and spotted a few calls that were compelely unncessary, both as function calls and database calls. So I've quickly reworked some of the requests, and on my test machine the requests are now being processed in roughly 0.8 seconds rather than 1.6 seconds. Result!

It often takes something like being popular for you to actually take a second look at the performance of your site. Thankfully in my case, the changes are relatively minor, and have made significant improvements. I shall now be taking a better look at a few other sites I run soon, as I'm sure there are similar quick hit improvements I can make.

File Under: labyrinth / website

Fixing A Hole

Posted on 5th February 2008

I recently made some minor alterations to the site, most you shouldn't notice, and some that are part of the admin screens. However, one noticeable part that I've removed is the Digg links. I can't really say why I added them in the first place, apart from the fact it seemed like a good idea at the time and several other sites have them too. My site doesn't really get the high end traffic that other more prolific and structured writers get, so it seemed a bit daft keeping them there when no-one was ever likely to use them. I know a few read my thoughts via their favourite RSS feeds, so obviously that has been worthwhile adding to the site, but Digg, well at least I know how it works if I'm ever asked to add to another site ;)

File Under: labyrinth / website

A Light In The Black

Posted on 5th January 2008

Now that I'm looking to another year of the Birmingham.pm World Tour, with visits to a number of UK LUG and Perl Monger groups, LUGRadio Live (UK not US), the UKUUG Spring Conference in Birmingham, YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe, as well as possibly a few European Workshops too, I need to start think what I'm going to present. I like the fact I can go to Linux based groups and conferences and talk about a variety of Perl topics, as although I might not be an expert, I know enough to give an introduction in several areas at least. But for more Perl specific technical events, I really need to stick to what I know.

The problem is that I feel I've done enough with CPAN Testing, Phrasebooks and Selenium for the time being, and it does get a bit boring for both me and the audience if I'm repeating myself every year. I may do some update on CPAN Testing, as there are likely to be changes in the coming year, a lot of which is being worked on currently, but what else is there that I could present that would be of interest to somebody?

One talk subject that has crossed my mind has been to do something like 'Labyrinth - A Perl Success Story'. It's been commented a few times that within the Perl community we talk a lot about the possibilities (particularly with frameworks) rather than getting to the finished product. While Labyrinth might not be for everyone, it might possibly be something that works for some, and as a consequence might interest people who have been asking me what it is and why I wrote it. However, although it is related to web and content management it isn't the next Catalyst or the new Jifty. You might be able to draw similarities between them all, but there are also many differences. Labyrinth isn't a framework as such, it's not meant for high-availability websites, and it also doesn't have the large development team knocking out code and fixing bugs that the others have. It's just me. But it might have just enough functionality and usability for someone to pick it up and get a site running how they want it to work, without having to understand the magic internals of frameworks like Catalyst and Jifty. I wouldn't be talking about the internals anyway, as I would prefer to give examples of how I solved problems and interesting asides that led me to learn something new about web design. I'm just not sure enough people would find it that interesting.

Further topics that come from the guts of Labyrinth, and are things that I have been keen to see how other people solve the same problem, are user input validation and content output correction. At the moment Labyrinth handles these within the same codebase, and it works rather well. However, it seems rather the wrong thing to do, to present a talk where the code to do the job isn't on CPAN and is embedded in another system. As a consequence I've been thinking about abstracting the code out of Labyrinth and releasing it separately. It might make for an interesting discussion and may provide people with an reasonable example of how they can use one solution to treat their input and output.

I've also started thinking about doing a short talk along the lines of "My Favourite CPAN Modules". A number of people have done this in the past and at one London.pm meeting several years ago, Leon presented one that got me looking up a few modules I'd not really heard of before. It's probably a talk better aimed at local group technical meetings and maybe a Workshop if appropriate, but I've also been thinking it might be better to actually to structure several talks of this style, but with a theme. So one talk would be "The Web Edition" and feature several modules useful for website development, another "The Test Edition" feature several useful Test modules, and perhaps also "The Mail Edition" with a selection of useful email modules. I've made an attempt at this style of talk before, but got too involved with the mechanics, when really all you need is a quick flavour of what the module can do, with enough references for you to go and find out more yourself.

I still need something more concrete for LUGRadio and the YAPCs, but at least I have some ideas to work with now. If anyone has other suggestions, please let me know.

File Under: community / conference / labyrinth / linux / perl / yapc

Welcome To The Monkey House

Posted on 14th April 2007

Why Grango? That and how do you pronounce it have been asked every so often. I'll answer the latter first. It's pronounced "Gran" as in 'granny' or 'Gran Turismo', and "go" as in "to go somewhere".

The initial question begins several years ago. When DanDan was 2, he started making references to something he called The Grango. We had no idea what he meant, but he kept trying to tell us about it. We eventually got the gist that he was trying to describe the monster in a few nightmares he'd had. It was an odd description and because he didn't know enough words at the time, he struggled to give any clues as to what the creature was. Then a while later we happen to watch a nature programme on the TV and he pointed out The Grango. It was an Orang-utan. I don't think he did a bad job trying to say what it was all things considered.

When it came round to sorting out a new domain name for some server space I wanted, it seemed an obvious choice. It turns out others had thought of the name for other reasons, but the .org domain was available. In time I'll probably give the domain to DanDan, but for now it's proved handy for my Open Source work.

Another obvious choice was the title for this piece. Remember Animal Magnet? No, well it seems all the comments for this clip all remember hearing being played most nights at Edwards No.8 in Brum :)

File Under: dandan / labyrinth / website

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