Tuesday 28 June 2011

Debian on a NetVista N2200

While Puppy Linux has been a solid base for this web server for quite some time now, before bringing up a second NetVista N2200 unit, I was looking to move OS to something a little more familiar - a Debian-based OS. I'd found myself wishing for the ease of the deb package management and cursing the way the entire Puppy OS was copied into RAM on startup - very clever and fast, but I don't really want my precious 256Mb filled up with unused instances of /usr/bin/xeyes ...*

I wasted an entire weekend hacking PusPus, which claimed to be able get Debian Etch onto the NetVista. This claim was true, but the OS was all but unusable - any attempt to apt-get install some useful components (like ssh), or even running apt-get update was enough for a segmentation fault and complete system halt. Tweaking the PusPus Makefiles to fetch and build a Debian Lenny image resulted in exactly the same problem.

The Single Point of Truth on all things N2200 is, rather bizarrely, the comment thread at the foot of This Guy's Blog Post, but there is some great stuff there. My saviour was the replacement boot loader and OS image by der_odenwaelder (username: NetVista, password N22008363). This guy has done a sterling job in papering over the nastiest deficiencies in the NetVista's quirky hardware.

Finally I have a (relatively) up-to-date Debian build (Lenny) on my new machine, and it goes beautifully. My local APT Cache is really starting to pay dividends now, and will be even more valuable once I migrate this machine to the same platform.

Now that I can run a more "conventional" Linux OS, I'm getting excited again about the server potential of this all-but-forgotten black box. You can pick them up from eBay's Workstations category all the time for a pittance, and with a suitable RAM and CF Card injection, you've got a handy-dandy general-purpose server that you can leave switched on 24/7 while it uses less power than your broadband router.

(*) Just an example - I removed all of the XWindows stuff from the Puppy image as soon as I got it working.

Friday 17 June 2011

2011H2 Ponderables

What's on the cards and/or on my mind for the second half of 2011?

  • Going on holiday to Canada and the States in July. Woohoo!

  • The BRAIN (Blatantly Ridiculous Array of Inexpensive Netvistas) - utilising yesterday's ultra-low-power hardware, today!

  • Evaluator Chain - continuing my personal, hopefully fortune-making project

  • Continuing the epic Ubuntu Build Box story, that somebody, somewhere, may find useful...

  • Less Code - enjoying the luxury that in the Java world, it's almost certain that someone has solved your problem and published a good solution

  • More Tests - to make sure that what code I have written is absolutely rock solid

  • Enjoying Learning about HTML5, CSS3, Ruby, JPA2 and more

Friday 10 June 2011

On Walkthroughs

At my current employer, as part of their flavour of Agile (no two ever the same!) we developers are required to conduct a walkthough of every story we finish. Present must be a tester and a BA. All very well in theory.

But it seemed to us that some walkthroughs were uncovering bugs and/or oversights early, while other stories were breezing through their walkthrough but then exploding once the testers got their mitts on them. What was going on?

It turned out that in many cases, the developer, having spent possibly days neck-deep in the code, had a level of understanding of the problem domain far in excess of the BA and tester he was demoing to. As a result, the developer (consciously or not) would exude a confidence in his solution that would almost intimidate the "spectators" into not objecting to any deviations from the story specification.

A walkthrough conducted in this vein is almost useless, which led me to the formulation of the following rule:

The value of a story walkthrough or other such demonstration is directly proportional to the experience level of the audience