Open Source Love Day June 2010

Last wednesday, we held our Open Source Love Day for June 2010. This one was productive despite the heat that had us sweating the whole day long (as a sidenote: it got even warmer the days afterwards). Some features were finished and will help at least us in our projects. We still look forward for the right way to release them. Another release was even more problematic, you will read about it below.

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.

On this OSLD, we accomplished the following tasks:

  • Launch4j is a java application launcher for Windows, handling all the stuff a startup script would do, too. At the last OSLD, we added the ability to restart the application in case of a crash or other unplanned exit. To utilize this feature for automatic update routines, we needed to add the additional feature of starting another command instead of the original one. If the program fills a special file with the command needed, Launch4j will execute it after the program’s exit. This patch builds onto the previous patch and we are still investigating how to publish this functionality without breaking backward compatibility. We are looking forward to release it on the next OSLD.
  • We use RXTX to perform the serial (RS232) communication on all our java projects. We worked on an issue with serial converters over the course of several OSLDs now and released the patch to the issue tracker of RXTX after a longterm stability test. See the reworked patch for issue #144. There is another issue with the flush() method that seems to affect not only virtual RS232 ports that we currently investigate. But we aren’t yet able to come up with a complete issue description or a fix, so this will be suspended until the next OSLD.
  • We have written the Campfire Hudson Plugin as part of previous OSLDs. When issues emerged, we got patches from the community here. Thank you guys! We included the changes to the code and prepared a new release, when maven failed. This is not an issue, except when it fails repeatedly and messes up the workspace and the repository. After a long time of helpless fiddling with the parameters, we decided to start over and increase the version number to 2.1 (instead of 1.2). All of a sudden, everything worked out fine. Maven is a mysterious beast.
  • The initial work for a New Hudson Plugin was made. One tradition of the OSLD has always been to scratch our own itches. While there are many useful hudson plugins, we have the immediate need for another one that doesn’t exist yet. Without going into details here (we save this for the next OSLD), we produced a proof of concept and a first iteration of the code. Stay tuned for details on the next OSLD.

What were our lessons learnt today?

  • If you don’t succeed with maven’s automatic processes, do not try to sort out things manually. You’ll just end up with a gigantic mess that won’t work either way. The best way to deal with maven failures is to revert everything and try again with different parameters.
  • The best approach to develop hudson plugins is to adapt the old “monkey see, monkey do” process. There are so many plugins already, chances are good your immediate question was already answered somewhere. Just check the found solution for accidental complexity. Sometimes, the first solution isn’t the easiest.
  • When dealing with the legacy Win32 API, combined knowledge scraping is king. We had discussions throughout the day that only consisted of little parts of recollections about knowledge that seemed long forgotten. But finally, we put the pieces together and solved the problem. It should be called teamthink, i guess.

Retrospective on the OSLD

The weather at this OSLD was way too hot to operate at normal speed. But we got some nice results and a cliffhanger for the next OSLD. We left soaked with sweat but happy that evening.

Open Source Love Day May 2010

Last friday, we held our Open Source Love Day for May 2010. After the excessive yak shaving of last month’s OSLD, this one was more productive. We got one feature right nearly instantly and several others throughout the day. To keep us from feeling depressed, we allocated dedicated “research time” to get to know a project before starting to develop on it. So one point on our current list of accomplishments is only research work that should be counted as “thought investment” for further improvements.

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.

On this OSLD, we accomplished the following tasks:

  • Netty is a java framework to perform network communication, transparently using different transport mechanisms. We use it in a customer project environment and it worked mostly well. But we noticed some issues that might have to do with the framework, so we decided to put it under development. But before hopping in right away, we invested some hours to really anatomize it. Our achievement isn’t noticeable yet, but might be in the future.
  • Launch4j is a java application launcher for Windows, handling all the stuff a startup script (the infamous start.bat) would do, too. One thing that’s easy to perform in a batch script is to restart the application if it went down with an error. We wanted this feature in Launch4j and we succeeded. Before releasing the changes to the project, we need some rethinking of our approach, as it is very special to our case, but if you are interested, we send you the patch on request.
  • RXTX is a project to perform serial (RS232) communication. Over the course of the last OSLDs, we worked on an issue that appears in combination with serial converters. See the OSLD posting for march 2010 for details. This issue seems to be completely fixed now. We will run some longterm stability tests with it and then release a patch to the issue tracker of RXTX, issue #144.
  • Our internal tool for business administration was greatly improved this time. The tool isn’t open sourced yet, but we are not afraid to publish it in the future. The new features will directly decrease our administrative overhead and give us more time to perform our main duty – developing software.

A sidenote regarding the yaks (see last month’s OSLD posting to understand this one)

Our monthly “Homepage Comittee” meeting went smooth this time. The setup pain of last month is now paying out and we got our homepage updated. It seems the yaks haven’t grown beards again yet.

What were our lessons learnt today?

  • Pure C code tends to produce endless code blocks. Simple refactorings like extract method/function take a long time and aren’t supported by the IDE. The sentence “there is no boolean!” left some of us impressed, too.
  • The C/C++ Eclipse workbench (in fact, a bunch of plugins for Eclipse) was a joke instead of a help. It didn’t exactly prevent us from doing our work, but that’s all it did. Launch4j came along with project files for the Bloodshed Dev-C++ IDE, which – besides its bloody name – seems to be up to its tasks. We decided to use Dev-C++ over Eclipse for development on Launch4j.
  • Hpricot is a very versatile HTML parser/manipulator. It is just pure joy to work with. (Ok, we knew that one before)

After the fruitless OSLD of april, this one was a great relief for us. The new restart feature for Launch4j worked out instantly and will solve many of our current immediate problems (and some of yours, hopefully). The solution for RXTX got us out of trouble, too. All in all, this was a successful OSLD.

Open Source Love Day April 2010

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.