The Crapolla According to Fek'Lar

You Know You're DOOMED When...

some dork runs test deployment software on a backup server, and it tells everyone your new column is 9 months old.

You've stumbled onto another issue of The Crapolla, a journal written for software professionals. No not the managers; I mean the people who do the work.

This Crapolla is sponsored by...

In This Issue...

Building a Server

Take a Letter

The FNG in cube 86 writes...

Hey Fek,

What's the difference between a gnome and Santa Claus?



That's easy. They're in different unions.

Magical Little People
Local 502

Diet Coke Santa
Diet Coke Swigging Guys
Local 28


The Fleet is Aging

How long do you expect a server to last? Do you replace machines before they die, or do you wait for the room to be filled with foul-smelling smoke? These are some of the important questions I'm wrestling with these days.

LowComDom's fleet of Linux boxes are at least five years old. These machines have been running almost every second during their lives. One machine is a Pentium 133 that was fished out of a garbage can and rehabilitated.

Assuming that sometime within a year at least one server is going to die, I started looking at the options.

  1. Windows: Are you kidding? No one in their right mind uses Windows for a server. The internet is a bad neighborhood, and the stuff from Redmond just doesn't cut it. Besides, these guys torpedoed my retiring at 40 plan. I'm sending them as little money as I can for the rest of my life.
  2. Solaris: You can actually get these pretty cheap. Crash picked up a slightly used fast blue box for 600 bucks. New, these jewels used to cost ten grand. The only thing I'm not thrilled with from Sun is the idea that you have to buy everything from Sun. Their parts are the absolute most expensive. You can't second source.
  3. New Linux Distros Running on Intel: This is essentially more of the same of what we have today. I have a strange relationship with Linux, I like that it's open, almost free, and you can do anything you want to it.

    On the other side of the coin, I don't like playing "find the driver". I'd like something a little more modern so I don't have to spend all my time on the OS. I've got other things to do.

  4. Macintosh: I hear you collectively saying, "Huh?"

    This isn't the Mac of 1984. Today's Mac is running FreeBSD. It is a solid UNIX machine with the desktop the Linux Klingons keep screaming they will build one day. You can buy memory, hard drives, mice, keyboards, audio digitizers, CD/DVD burners, and scanners from anyone without having to play, "Find the driver". Best yet, Macs aren't as expensive as people keep thinking they are.

    I bought a Mac Mini several month ago to be a photographic server. I decided on using the Mini only for the core computer functions, but not use the internal 40 gig hard drive. I could buy another external drive for my experiments, and for all intents and purposes, have a completely different computer. This fits in another way, LowComDom has projects on the drawing board that are going to eat hard drive space. Another large external drive would make sense in a real deployment.

I bought a 300 gig drive for a hundred bucks (Damn it's a good time to be a consumer!) and an external enclosure. This makes the Mac itself a quickly cold swap-able part when something goes bad. If you've ever had your laptop go tits-up with all your data on it, you know why external drives are a good strategic idea. It also meant I could keep using the internal drive to play Space Pokies Version 6.00328 R85 without screwing up the experiment.

This seems like a big list. But I'd have to install it on any machine no matter what OS it was.

Let's kick through the Gimmes first. Apache, Perl, PHP, and Bind come pre-installed on a Mac. You don't notice this unless you fire up a terminal window. Grandma will never find it - unless she's Ada Lovelace.

Apache needed a couple small tweaks to handle PHP and server-side includes.

Perl needed a couple modules which were easy to install via CPAN.

PHP needed no mods.

Bind... Bind in a four-letter acronym that means Voo Doo. The inventor of Bind doesn't understand why we all still use it. It's primitive, and not fun to play with. I wasn't looking forward to it.

The gods smiled upon me. A software company called Cutedge Systems has published the ultimate Bind configuration program, called DNS Enabler. You can do in 10 minutes what took me three weeks to figure out a long time ago. For 15 bucks, my worries went away.

Next for the programs which would need some work.

The most popular Mail Transport Agent (MTA) is SendMail which is not pre-loaded on OS 10.4. But I found another MTA called PostFix is. I didn't know anything about PostFix, so I started Googling for info, and stumbled upon, Cutedge Systems, who also sell PostFix Enabler. For 10 bucks, you can configure PostFix to do anthing you want. Not only that, it will handle the POP3 requirement as well. License price: $10 - SOLD!

There's been a free MySQL build for Mac for years. You run an installer, and drop one file into a directory, and the compilation and configuration is a breeze.

MajorDomo presented the biggest challenge. It needed a perl module or two added from CPAN. But the real brain twister was it's need to know the UID and GID you want the program to use. You can't just crack open /etc/password for the UID and /etc/groups for the GID. Theses files exist, but the Mac just doesn't use them. Instead you need to fire up NetInfo Manager from your Utilities directory to find these numbers. After that, it was a breeze.

Well, it was a breeze until I tried to get it to work with PostFix. I keep forgetting you have to build an alias in your mail program that calls the wrapper program MajorDomo uses. I forget this every time.

After this, dumping Biff's software on the machine was not too bad except the Mojo-Cam engine which is very primitive and needs a re-write. Once that thing got banged together it's never been modified. It's old and slow - just like Mojo.

There you have it, a fully functioning internet server. Total cost about 800 bucks including the computer, extra RAM (a full gig), hard drive and enclosure, and software licenses ($25).

The Mac is a little different approach to UNIX than Linux is. Both change management and back-up/archiving are being re-thought.

Benchmarks? No numbers, but here's a set of approximates. Every time The Crapolla is published a program is run to link words in the column to words in the LowComDom Online Dictionary. On the Pentium 133 I mentioned, the program takes several hours. On the standby server it takes 8 minutes. On the live server it takes 4 minutes. On the Mac Mini 3 minutes. You could fit 10 Mac Minis into the cavity of the current live server.

As you can see, there are many choices when building an internet server. The choice is not always a slam-dunk. A Mac can be as good a server as a Linux box because you'll find most the same programs running on them. As with anything else, one's strategy when addressing the task determines what you get.

This Issue's Headline submission to the National Daily World Enquiring Globe.

Jacko Summoned For Jury Duty!

Defendant Gives Up on Insanity Defense.

Let's play, "Who said this?"

Heard in the halls of various software companies.

"I'm not supposed to eat or drink after sunset tonight, and nothing tomorrow. I'm not even supposed to work."
"Just like every other day, eh?"

"We're promoting you to Senior FNG"

"How many Chewbacca dolls do you need?"

"You shouldn't be expected to have dry heaves at work."

"Verizon licks the big one here!"

"I just burned another CD to slit your wrists by."

"I don't need to be sharing saliva with you."

Excuse Me

Space Pokies calls.

(The Last Honest Geek)

Remember: The Crapolla contains my personal opinions. That's right they're mine, so get your own! And you kids get off my lawn!

Although written with the software professional in mind, my mind tends to wander all over the place, and I sometimes write about politics, mass stoopidity, dumb things I saw, and whatever else comes to mind.

From time to time, I use salty language, thus The Crapolla is not intended for children, or certain people in the Bush Administration.

This whole mess is copyright © 2005 by LowComDom Performances, all rights reserved. Wanna send this to your friends? Go ahead and pass out the URL.

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