Open Source Love Day April 2010

Our Open Source Love Day for April 2010 didn’t yield the desired results. Instead, we went to give our yaks a shave.

Today, we held our Open Source Love Day for April 2010. Well, to be honest, we tried to. We didn’t achieve that much to present publically and felt really depressed at the end of the day. At least, we can try to explain what went wrong. It all has to do with our own breed of yaks that needed to be shaved today. But first, lets explain the basics.

The Open Source Love Day

We introduced a monthly Open Source Love Day (OSLD) to show our appreciation to the Open Source software ecosystem and to donate back. We heavily rely on Open Source software for our projects. We would be honored if you find our contributions useful. Check out our first OSLD blog posting for details on the event itself.

Today, we reached out to perform the following tasks:

  • RXTX is a fine java library to access the (rather legacy) serial port to send and receive data over the RS232. On our last Open Source Love Day, we proposed a patch for a problem with disappearing emulated COM ports. This happens a lot if you use USB or ethernet converters and unplug them accidentally or because your intranet got shut down. The patch works well, but not perfectly. We noticed that the IOException we introduced gets thrown much too often. Today, we wanted to fix our fix. We only came to the conclusion that the problem might be a lot more complex than we initially thought.
  • Launch4j is another java library/tool we use to deliver production-ready software bundles. It’s a launcher that increases the user experience at the critical “first contact” for Windows users. The project is mature and useful, but out of development for nearly two years now. We want some features in it, so we thought we might build them today. But the yaks didn’t let us.
  • We have an internal tool for our business administration that desperately needs some hugs. So even if this isn’t strictly Open Source yet, we allocated some time to add a few features. But they outgrew their timebox, too.

At the end of the day, we didn’t accomplish anything ready to be released. That’s frustrating to us and has no value to anybody else. We promise to do better next time.

How the yaks got shaved

Every organization has a secret stable where yaks are raised just for the sake of raising yaks. Once a year or so, they need a shave, so you’ll find yourself shaving yaks before you know what’s happening. That’s what happened to us today.

The term “yak shaving” isn’t our invention. It describes the result of a process when in order to accomplish task A, you need to do task B first. Task B can’t be done before tasks C and D both are completed. Task D, you figure it already, is dependent on task E, which in turn… Soon and inevitably, you’ll find yourself shaving yaks because it is what needs to be done to accomplish your todo list.

This is our story: On every Open Source Love Day, we also gather to have a short “Homepage Comittee” meeting. This is our formal approval process to publish content on our website. One improvement we wanted to implement today was an automatic publishing process. It copies the content of our internal Content Management System to our webserver. Simple as that. This was the starting point of an odyssee.

To copy the content, we used wget. But wget in the version of our distribution had a bug (and missed a feature), so we needed to update wget… Soon afterwards, we found ourselves upgrading our main PostgreSQL database (which went incredibly smooth but took forever) and wrestling with certain dependencies of other parts of the system. We realized we are now officially shaving yaks when we got the error message:

You need to have ruby gems 1.3.2 installed. Your version is 1.3.1!

Remember we started with taking a snapshot of our CMS using wget. Clearly, separating our services to more machines would have helped a lot. But that would’ve taken more than one day to do. It’s on our wish list for the next Admin Day.

Let’s conclude this blog post with the insight that we need to timebox our work better when working for the OSLD. And our yaks are shaved and ready for the summertime.

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