Wolfram Alpha Language Coming Soon

Wolfram Alpha has always been a interesting if not quirky ‘intelligent search engine’. It can do things like:

Now its creator, Stephen Wolfram, has announced a ‘language’ that bolts on top of the curated data Wolfram Alpha uses.  It looks like Mathematica on steroids hooked to the cloud. This preview video is well worth watching:

From the video the Worlfram Language appears to be more like a high level collection of functions that fit nicely together to process data vs a ‘language’. The annoying part is, I don’t see a way to get my hands dirty and play with it at the moment.

More information:

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ReCaptcha getting hard to read, found streamlined substitute in FatFree

Recently implemented a Captcha field on a signup page.  So, to start with I looked around for a good plugin to handle this. ReCaptcha was the first one that popped up. ReCaptcha does support themeing, which is nice since the default red and yellow is a bit loud.  The problem I came across is it renders hard to read images a good 20% of the time. See example below.

recaptcha

Can the average user be expected to get past this hurdle? I seriously doubt it.  We don’t want to deter users from succeeding at signing up. We especially don’t want to make them feel stupid because of some clunky but well intended gadget on the page.

So for now instead of ReCaptcha I went with the PHP FatFree Captcha plugin. It doesn’t have the audio component, nor the refresh or help button, but I think it is a lot cleaner. I wish the ReCaptcha library had configuration options for this, and a ‘difficulty’ level.

fatfree_captcha

Here is a code example of using PHP FatFree (F3) to display a captcha image inline in a form. You supply the ttf font on your own.

<? // use FatFree's captcha feature to build a 7 letter captcha image
$img = new Image();
$img->captcha('./library/fonts/Arial.ttf',16,7,'SESSION.captcha_code');
?>

<img src="data:image/png;base64,<?= base64_encode($img->dump()); ?>" />

<? 
// the correct answer is stored in:
// $_SESSION['captcha_code'];
?>

 

Other thoughts about blocking spammy signups:

We could go without a captcha field, but at the same time, we want to cut down on spam. A good trick, which compliments a captcha, is to add a hidden form field which must be left empty for the submission to succeed. A human never sees this field so it is no problem for that use case. However, greedy spam robots will normally fill out every single form field they find in the HTML. The robots are too dumb to recognize they are tipping their hand, and the submission fails.

 

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On Pluggers, Rockstars, Ninjas, and other fun labels for developers – which are you?

My first boss taught me there are two types of programmers: pluggers and rock stars. It was the late 90’s, and programming talent was in high demand. I was the young gun they brought in.  A plugger would not have worked out they told me. There was just too much opportunity to be had!  We went on to attempt our own web based online auction system hosted with Windows NT 4.0 powered by a Pentium 100 chip using a FoxPro backend… You can guess the outcome, but that is another story.

As I’ve thought about it over the years there are many categories, or rather stereotypes for programmers beyond the garden variety plugger and rock star.  In general stereotypes are negative, politically incorrect, and ignorant. At the same time, stereotypes help us survive in the wild and make for humorous but sometimes hurtful labels.

Pluggers, or better Samurai Coders

samurai

Pluggers are the ultimate katana / keyboard wielding soldier.  A plugger comes into work on time everyday and reliably gets their work done without stirring things up. Like Samurai, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause, following the rules and the spec without question.  Work gets done, but at best it is average, since the average programmer is probably a plugger / samurai anyway.

The Joke about Samurai Coders:
Too bad swords are obsolete and so is their skillset.
Harsh but true, programmers who get in a comfortable rut are going backwards in the ever changing software job market.

Where Samurai Coders can improve:
Generally, I’ve noticed Samurai Coders are not very interested in learning new things unless forced.  My recommendation is to join a software book club, attend local meetups, or at the very least watch a tutorial video with lunch everyday for a week. Then share what was learned with the team.  Also, don’t forget to try and poke holes in the spec.

 

Rockstar aka Diva

rockstar

The opposite of a plugger, rockstars crave attention, challenge, and accomplishment. They can work well on teams, provided there are not too many of them in one area of the system (or they fight). Rockstars have an insatiable hunger to take on projects WAY beyond their abilities.  They may just get away with it too.

The Joke about Rockstars:
Fashionably dressed in their own mind. Some rockstars are so cool they wear the same clothes everyday.
When managing a rockstar – don’t forget to schedule a bug fix release, just tell them it’s an encore.

Where Rockstars can improve:
The best performers know their limitations. A rock star needs to understand their own limitations and especially the limitations of the frameworks and tools they rely on.  I would encourage a ‘junior’ rockstar who only knows one programming language to learn a second and somewhat different programming language from their first.  Rock stars should also learn to pass on their good energy and experience by being everyday leaders and mentors.

Some Rockstars are really just Divas who rock the boat whenever they don’t get their way. Divas think their code is perfect and can’t listen.

 

And now for something completely different…

Humorous stereotypes for developers including Ninjas, Do Alls, Hackers, Acronym Guy/Gal, Barnacles, and Mercenaries.

 

Ninja

ninja

JavaScript Ninjas, DevOps Ninjas, and all other sorts of Ruby/Python/PHP/iOS Ninjas are running around out there. Some job postings even request Ninja’s by title.

Ninja coders work in stealth, and leave no trace. Similarly, their code must be kept quiet. No logging statements… no comments… just an odd tingling sensation on the back of the neck that something might be wrong.  A Ninja’s code is so concise, nobody, not even their future selves will be able to decipher it.

Ninjas fix bugs like lightening. Warning: may require multiple strikes to close the ticket. Warning 2: these ‘lightening’ strikes may start fires elsewhere.

 

Do All

ned

You may have encountered the software team member equivalent of ‘Ned Flanders’ once or twice your career. It is easy to recognize the okily-dokily Do All.

The Do All volunteers to work evenings and weekends to make sure the features that ‘have’ to ship do.  They might get some of the cooler tasks, but they also volunteer for the stuff that is ‘too hard’ for everybody else.  A sure sign of a Do All is they have absolutely no interests outside the current sprint.

The Joke about the Do All:
Calculate their actual take home pay on an hourly basis and you’ll feel sorry for them.

 

Hacker

hacker

To a hacker, their code is such a masterpiece, why would it need testing or documentation?

Hacker Behavior:

  • Runs port scans and network sniffers on co-workers machines.
  • Attempts to install malware on co-workers machines.
  • Thinks more code is always the solution, especially when it comes to bug fixes.
  • Attempts to sneak non-business compatible licensed libraries into the code base.
  • Runs a really screwy build of Linux so they don’t have to join WebEx meetings and avoid platform testing.

The Joke about Hackers:
They are probably really just a script bunny.

 

Acronym Guy/Gal

acronym

You may have witnessed this breed, common to the Enterprise Java and .NET stacks. When Acronym Guy/Gal announces themselves, they proudly rattle off the acronyms associated with the stack they work on. Their resume is covered with acronyms. They may have a habit of reciting acronym chains. An Acronym Guy/Gal often recommends building new features using acronyms they know nothing about because they have yet to pad their resume with them.

The Joke about Acronym Guy/Gal:
Acronym Guy/Gal fails to realize how fast today’s acronyms go from popular buzzwords to yesterday’s maintenance project, or fade into nothingness.

 

Barnacle

barnacle

Barnacles have been at the company way too long and are VERY intent on staying. When threatened the typical barnacle defense mechanism is to bring up ‘how things used to be done’ based on a self serving oral history of the organization. A barnacle argues against upgrading anything, kicking and screaming their way out of a meeting that proposes even the slightest degree of change.

The joke about barnacles:
Over the years, barnacles have walled themselves off with so much bad code they believe they are indispensable. (Yeah, keep believing that barnacle). Hence, one of the least productive people on the team. Their co-workers notice this and shake their heads ‘ahh, what a silly barnacle…’.

 

Mercenary

merc

A hired gun. The mercenary’s mantra: “Identify the problem and prolong it.”

Mercenaries are very, very good about bringing up schedule problems… but only 2 weeks before their contract ends.  A mercenary’s agenda usually involves scope creep if not wholesale re-writes. Mercenaries are fun to talk to at the water cooler because they have seen more of the outside world, have interesting stories, and have a different emotional take on the situation.

The joke about mercenaries:
When invited to irrelevant meetings, a mercenary is the only person in the room smiling (except the Do All who arrived early and has the eagerness of a puppy to get the meeting started).

 

The End

Don’t be offended if you see yourself somewhere in this article.

I’ve been several of these over the years at different times, perhaps multiple categories at once, usually without realizing it. The challenge is to step outside yourself and analyze your own behavior, like you might debug a program. What makes you tick? How you can transcend a label? My goal is to deliver value on a daily basis to my team, my code base, and my customer/employer. Stereotypes for that sort of individual might be: team player, a full stack developer, but I think it is best described as simply: software professional.

Photo credits:

Samurai Photo from indi.ca, CC-License Rockstar Photo from LUIS BLANCO PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER CC-License Ninja Photo from Lachlan HardyCC-License  (cropped) Do All Photo from Popculturegeek CC-License Hacker photo from sfslim  CC-License Acronym photo from mraible CC-License Barnacle photo from mscheltgen CC-License Mercenary photo from xJason.Rogersx's CC-License

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Software Development Heaven – sit stand desk and Herman Miller chair

This year I joined the sit-stand work environment revolution and I love it! When it comes to being a successful software professional, investing in the right tools is important. Many of us overlook ergonomics, especially our desk and chair. In terms of productivity, I would argue our desk and chair are just as important as our workstation/laptop, keyboard, IDE, and even wifi connection.  An internet connection is now suddenly much less useful to me when it doesn’t come with an ergonomically designed sit-stand workstation.

Unfortunately most employers are cheap when it comes to providing good desks and chairs for their people. Thankfully this is changing. In 2006 Joel Spolsky pointed out a top of the line chair helps with staff retention and productivity. When averaged out over the life of the furniture, per day it costs less than toilet paper! Think about that the next time you use the bathroom.

I have gone through 4 chairs from big box stores in the past 6 years. Some for $75, one $200! This time around I did some research and have hopefully fixed the issue once and for all. This time I went all out and invested in the best chair I could find. That means skipping the big box stores completely. Only boutique furniture stores that specialize in ergonomics have the right stuff. I also opted for a motorized sit-stand desk, allowing me to stand for part my work day further improving my posture.

BEFORE – sit down only, chair from big box store:

AFTER – sit stand motorized desk with Herman Miller Embody chair:

sit stand desk software
Sitting configuration.

sit stand desk, standing mode

Standing configuration with anti-fatigue mat.

I use an anti-fatigue mat when in standing mode. I spent about $40 on a good one from Amazon. My rug is pretty thin on top of hard wood floors. After an hour I do notice my feet start to ache without the mat. When standing I make sure not to lock my knees. I shift my weight between feet or adjust my posture every few minutes. At first it is a little strange standing up and programming. It puts me in a different kind of mental zone where I feel an urgency to get things knocked out.  Feels like ‘the meter is running’, so I need to get more done when I’m standing. I stand 2-3 hours at most in a day. The difference at the end of the day is noticeable!

I am overjoyed with this setup. My productivity is way up and I feel great!

This entire setup was $1,850 including freight shipping. That is less than a new 15” MacBook Pro! It should last 10-12+ years, much longer than your average development laptop. Doing the math, if this setup lasts just 10 years the cost is ~$0.50 per day.  Seems like a no brainer. Plus it makes a nice tax deduction, which are few and far between in the software business.

How to buy an ergonomic desk and chair – shop in person if possible:

When shopping for a desk and chair, I didn’t want to order it blindly off the internet, especially the chair. I recommend going to a showroom that carries Herman Miller chairs. Pacific Furnishings in Portland, Oregon carries the entire Herman Miller line. They have a huge selection of high end office furniture. It is a fun place to visit. I sat in the Embody model for about 10 minutes and noticed it improved my posture right away. The Embody makes it hard to slouch, but also has a nice rocking mode when in a conference call or watching a presentation. I also tried the Aeron and Mirra models, but I didn’t like them. The Embody was the chair for me. All Herman Miller chairs get great reviews but each model is unique and suits a particular body style.

herman miller embody for software professional

I just love the exoskeleton design of the Embody:

herman miller embody for software professional

Finding a good sit stand desk:

Sit stand desks may be harder to test out locally. Thankfully ErgoDepot has an office in Portland. The cheaper sit stand desks are way more wobbly when in standing mode. I considered the crank style desks because they are cheaper, but the crank takes FOREVER. So I went for the motorized version.

Motorized sit stand desk switch

The switch on the left is to power the motor, the switch on the right raises and lowers the desk.

If you are on a budget, a do it yourself (DIY) standing desk is not that hard to make. Here is the ghetto one I built temporarily. I considered building a second standing desk just for my laptop. That takes up extra floor space and switching machines would break my train of thought.

DIY standing desk

I recommend rigging something temporary just to see if you like standing while working.

Taking it to extremes:

If you really want to take ergonomics in the workplace to an extreme, ErgoDepot has desks hooked up to treadmills! I’m pretty sure coding while walking would be an interesting skill to master, perhaps someday an Olympic sport. Interviewer: For this next interview question we’d like you to implement the bubble sort routine in C while jogging on a treadmill. Ready, set, go!

They say spend good money on anything that separates you from the ground – your bed, your tires, your shoes. Now I include my computer chair and desk in that list and I hope you do too!

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AngularJS Review – A Sweet Client Side JavaScript Framework

AngularJS makes everything else look obsolete. I’m looking at you Backbone and Ember… It is one of those things where in hindsight the approach appears obvious because it is so elegant. However it took the web a good 15 years to arrive at this point. It makes jQuery look like VHS ;)

AngularJS-large

AngularJS’s biggest strength is how it automatically binds form data and DOM state in an intuitive spot called $scope. It keeps track of populating everything, firing events, showing/hiding blocks, even looping, sorting and filtering of arrays. It just works.

A short LIVE demo with code samples:

AngularJS Demo - Client Side CRUD Prototype

An example of backing a page with JSON, allowing local additions, local sorting, local filtering by name, and AngularjS form validation. Note - this demo works with AngularJS 1.1.5.

Name Filter:
Name Category
{{tree.name}} {{tree.category}}
Name required. Category required.
The Script:

The HTML5 - note the "ng-*" directives, those make the AngularJS wiring happen:

 

Other things I like about AngularJS:

  • Change a variable in the $scope in one spot and it is reflected in the DOM and everywhere else that variable is referenced. This works for variables used programmatically, including pagination, search filters, etc. Very slick.
  • Works great with JSON.
  • Supports dependency injection.
  • Unit test friendly.
  • Has its own rendering syntax, which is denoted by {{ some.data }}, which starts with just enough power but allows you to extend. That aspect of it reminded me quite a bit of Django.
  • Nothing is stopping you from using as many frameworks as you like along side it. There’s often no point in doing much with jQuery, but you can if you like.
  • It is flexible in terms of which modules you choose to utilize. AngularJS may be used as a single page app, or stand alone in a more traditional full-page-load-per-request style app.
  • It is easy to get started. The first few minutes of looking at it is a mind bender. However, after watching a 1 hour intro video I was pretty well oriented. You need to understand $scope, $routes, and how the app and its controllers fit together. After a day with it, and some pointers from a colleague who had done a couple apps in it, I was knocking out features at a good clip, perhaps even faster than I could with jQuery.

Like any software it has its weaknesses. What I don’t like about AngularJS:

  • Still a little quirky. The docs don’t always line up with the version you may be using. I started with 1.0.8 then switched up to 1.1.5, which helped a lot.
  • In terms of keeping legacy AngularJS apps updated, it would be painful to take a fully debugged 1.0.3 app that works in production and upgrade it to 1.2.x. There is just too much is going on under the hood. Note that I have not done that, but it is just the sense I get from working with it and seeing what kinds of stuff people are running into on StackOverflow.
  • AngularJS is asynchronous in nature which can be tricky to program against, especially when dealing with security in a single page app.
  • If you want to use an outside plugin, like a UI widget, be prepared for issues. It is up to you to make sure the widget events get applied to the scope, since it won’t know about them until you manually wire them in.
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Using MySQL with Encrypted SSL Connections

MySQL offers native support for connecting via SSL. By default this is available in AWS RDS MySQL instances. Using this connection method effectively encrypts all data going back and forth between the client and the server. This prevents eavesdropping (aka packet sniffing). This is especially important in relation to cloud hosting, where traffic sniffing may be possible by other customers. There are other ways to protect the traffic (ssh tunnels, VPN), and I discuss the pro’s and con’s of these below.

I wanted to find out how much of a performance hit MySQL’s SSL mode caused so I did a benchmark which you can read about here.  The performance penalty is pretty high – 20% and up, OUCH!

Documentation for using SSL natively with MySQL:

Application Layer Changes:

Connecting to MySQL in SSL mode requires extra connection options. On the command line this is as simple as adding the –ssl_ca option which points to the *.pem file. In the case of X.509 certificates, –ssl_cert and –ssl_key are also required. Note that RDS does not currently support X590 client certs for connecting.

This translates into minor application level code changes. In addition the SSL cert files will need to be stored on the application server.

Some documentation links:

For more information: Using SSL with MySQL

Changes to GRANT statements:

MySQL supports a GRANT statement modifier ‘REQUIRE SSL‘ which will need to be applied to the application layer database accounts. This requires the appuser account to connect with SSL.

GRANT SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE
ON database.* TO 'appuser'@'appserver'IDENTIFIED BY '****'
REQUIRE SSL;

Similarly to require the client to have a valid certificate, the ‘REQUIRE X509′ statement can be used:

GRANT SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE
ON database.* TO 'appuser'@'appserver'IDENTIFIED BY '****'
REQUIRE X509;

Alternate Methods of Securing Data Transport:

Protecting data transport between the db server and the app server can also be done using ssh tunneling with something like autossh or a VPN. While ssh tunnels are a little ghetto, a VPN is really the best option. Both these approaches delegate the encryption to the network layer making it transparent to the application layer. This sort of work is handled by the dev ops / networking / sys admin team.  Setting up a secured connection correctly so it is highly available takes skill and is not cheap. This is data security we are talking about, something to take very seriously!

With AWS RDS, ssh tunnels and a VPN are not feasible since MySQL is provided as a service. With RDS the underlying network and platform details are not accessible. It is not clear if the AWS Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) solution offers protection against traffic sniffing in relation to an EC2 app server connecting to an RDS database. With the 20% minimum performance hit from enabling SSL, that gives your team a lot to consider.

Why care about encrypting traffic between the app server the db server?

In many cases, the connection between the application server and the database server can be unencyrpted.

The most common starter case is an application connecting to localhost for its database. No need to worry about encryption there since everything is on the same box.

Going to a two tier or n-tier model where the application servers and the database servers reside on different hosts, the traffic may or may not need to be encrypted between them. If the hosts are all in the same rack sharing the same secured switch, or the traffic is on a trusted network, then there is no threat of packet sniffing.

This all changes the second you deploy to AWS or other cloud provider. Traffic between hosts goes across the cloud provider’s internal network. A cloud provider’s network is something you as a customer do not control, and in fact share with every other customer. When the underlying network is a shared resource, traffic sent between your servers should always be encrypted since you don’t know who might be listening.

It could be argued that unimportant data like system logs or metrics can be sent unencrypted. I agree, but it should be evaluated on a case by case basis.  Customer names, email addresses, account numbers, or other personally identifying information (passwords?!) do end up in log messages from time to time.

 

 

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Bechmark of MySQL with SSL on AWS RDS

Ran a very specific benchmark of MySQL – the native SSL connection performance penalty on AWS RDS.

When establishing a MySQL connection there is a way to tell the server to use SSL to encrypt the communication between the client and the database. When activated the database is doing all of its normal work plus the extra work of encrypting the data. Some overhead is expected. Advances in encryption technology and CPU power have come a long way since their original introduction so the actual impact might not be much.

The procedure was to setup an AWS RDS MySQL 5.6.13 m1.medium instance. A test database was filled with 10M rows to make it ~2.2GB in size. The load tests were performed using SysBench from an EC2 host in the same availability zone with and without the SSL option enabled.

Ran into some problems with SysBench and SSL options on RDS, which I will explain below, but first to the RESULTS!

Results of SSL vs non-SSL:

MySQL with and without SSL, 25 threads
With SSL Without SSL % Penalty (SSL)
Transactions/sec 36,535 43,561 -16.1% fewer transactions
Read/write requests/sec 3,885 4,597 -15.5% fewer requests
Avg (ms) 123 103 +19.4% (slower)
95th Percentile (ms) 172 126 +36.5% (slower)

 

rds_ssl1

rds_ssl2

Yeesh, MySQL’s native SSL hurts!

  • Add 20% to the response time, sometimes way more.
  • Cut throughput by ~16%. 

Personally - I was hoping for something like 3%…  I’m surprised at how high the performance penalty is and would look at other options first like a VPN. Response time and throughput may or may not be as critical as security (which can’t be compromised), but this is not an easy tradeoff.

Other sources of information on the topic of MySQL SSL performance:

In 2011 yaSSL did a similar benchmark test and noted a 15 -40% performance penalty, with an average penalty of ~17%. Their study was not specifically targeted at RDS and was ran locally on a Macbook Pro.

The MySQL Connector/J page has the following stat: “The performance penalty for enabling SSL is an increase in query processing time between 35% and 50%, depending on the size of the query, and the amount of data it returns.”

These results match the yaSSL results pretty closely, but it did not come close to penalties like the Java JDBC driver saw (though we didn’t test with Java in this case).

Limitations and Additional Testing Called For:

MySQL RDS instances always have SSL compiled in and enabled. This test compares the performance penalty of connecting with SSL vs a standard unencrypted connection. This test does not look at how the performance would change if SSL was disabled or excluded from the MySQL binary.

SysBench was not cooperating with MySQL SSL on RDS!

First of all, SysBench provides no documentation for the –mysql-ssl=on option, leaving you to rely on a series of error messages as your only clue. This SO answer was helpful. Ended up studying the source code and the mysql_ssl_set() function documentation. Not quite RTFM, but in this case RTFC – RTF Code!

As of Sysbench 0.4.12, when using the –mysql-ssl=on option, it requires the server’s CA certificate, the client key and the client cert.  That effectively forces you into X509 mode. This is hard coded into /sysbench/drivers/mysql/drv_mysql.c.

  if (args.use_ssl)
  {
    ssl_key= "client-key.pem";
    ssl_cert= "client-cert.pem";
    ssl_ca= "cacert.pem";

    DEBUG("mysql_ssl_set(%p,\"%s\", \"%s\", \"%s\", NULL, NULL)", con, ssl_key,
          ssl_cert, ssl_ca);
    mysql_ssl_set(con, ssl_key, ssl_cert, ssl_ca, NULL, NULL);
  }

As it turns out SSL options –mysql-key and --mysql-cert are optional for SSL mode and only need to be used if you want to connect with client X509 cert.

The problem with this is AWS RDS provides a cert file only but not the private key needed to generate X509 client certs! This was VERY annoying but I was able to roll up my sleeves, recompile SysBench (an adventure in itself), and got it to work with just the ssl_ca option.

# change sysbench/drivers/mysql/drv_mysql.c
# line 398 to
mysql_ssl_set(con, NULL, NULL, ssl_ca, NULL, NULL);

#then recompile sysbench

At first I tried to create my own client cert by skipping the private key option but that did not work. MySQL is smart about enforcing certificate authenticity.  It also makes sense that AWS keeps their RDS private key private. The side effect of that is MySQL ‘GRANT…. …REQUIRE X509′ does not work with AWS RDS. Amazon needs to allow users to install their own CA certs into their RDS instances. It is a little disconcerting to me that every single RDS MySQL instance is sharing the exact same CA cert!

How I ran the tests:

Prepare a 2.2GB database with ~10M rows.

sysbench --test=oltp --mysql-host=host --mysql-user=user --mysql-password=*** --mysql-table-engine=innodb --oltp-table-size=10000000 --max-time=180 --max-requests=0 prepare

Run the test with SSL:

sysbench --num-threads=25 --max-requests=100000 --test=oltp --mysql-host=host --mysql-user=user--mysql-password=**** --mysql-table-engine=innodb --oltp-table-size=1000000 --max-time=180 --max-requests=0 run --mysql-ssl=on

Run the test without SSL:

sysbench --num-threads=25 --max-requests=100000 --test=oltp --mysql-host=host --mysql-user=user --mysql-password=**** --mysql-table-engine=innodb --oltp-table-size=1000000 --max-time=180 --max-requests=0 run

 

Other MySQL Benchmarks:

I have benchmarked MySQL on RDS in a previous post, and discussed the pros and cons of running RDS vs an EC2 instance locally. This test cost under $0.50 on AWS. I love it! It was more expensive this time around because of the troubleshooting with SysBench.

I encourage readers to play around with load test experiments. Getting past assumptions by conducting experiments and analyzing the data is a lot of fun!

Posted in Data, Sys Admin | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Building SysBench in Ubuntu 13.04

When trying to build SysBench 0.4.12 you may be getting an error like:

/bin/sh ../libtool --tag=CC   --mode=link gcc -pthread -g -O2      -o sysbench sysbench.o sb_timer.o sb_options.o sb_logger.o db_driver.o tests/fileio/libsbfileio.a tests/threads/libsbthreads.a tests/memory/libsbmemory.a tests/cpu/libsbcpu.a tests/oltp/libsboltp.a tests/mutex/libsbmutex.a drivers/mysql/libsbmysql.a -L/usr/local/mysql/lib/ -lmysqlclient_r   -lrt -lm
../libtool: line 838: X--tag=CC: command not found
../libtool: line 871: libtool: ignoring unknown tag : command not found
../libtool: line 838: X--mode=link: command not found
../libtool: line 1004: *** Warning: inferring the mode of operation is deprecated.: command not found
../libtool: line 1005: *** Future versions of Libtool will require --mode=MODE be specified.: command not found
../libtool: line 2231: X-g: command not found
../libtool: line 2231: X-O2: command not found
../libtool: line 1951: X-L/usr/local/mysql/lib/: No such file or directory
../libtool: line 2400: Xsysbench: command not found
../libtool: line 2405: X: command not found
../libtool: line 2412: Xsysbench: command not found
../libtool: line 2420: mkdir /.libs: No such file or directory
../libtool: line 2547: X-lmysqlclient_r: command not found
../libtool: line 2547: X-lrt: command not found
../libtool: line 2547: X-lm: command not found
../libtool: line 2629: X-L/root/sysbench-0.4.12/sysbench: No such file or directory
../libtool: line 2547: X-lmysqlclient_r: command not found
../libtool: line 2547: X-lrt: command not found

First, install the mysql libs and necessary build tools if you have not already:

sudo apt-get install libmysqlclient-dev
sudo apt-get install gcc make build-essentials libtool automake

Then, run the extra libtoolize and autogen commands which correct the issue:

./configure
make
#... problem happens
# keep going to fix it...
libtoolize --force --copy
./autogen.sh
./configure
make
sudo make install

Thanks to:
http://sourceforge.net/p/sysbench/discussion/353124/thread/8b760e30/

This was not my problem, related to RANLIB, but may help you:
http://adminlogs.info/2012/11/19/libtool-error-with-sysbench-0-4-12/

Posted in Sys Admin | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Are you Smart yet? Will everything become Smart someday?

Everything is getting capital ‘S’ Smart these days. Smart phones, Smart homes, Smart cars, in EPIC there are ‘Smart phrases’, and even a local cafe chain has something called Smart beans….

The Smart trend lumps together intelligent networks, big data, bio-metrics, domains that end in .io, and apparently organic farming practices.  Makes Web 2.0 and the ‘e’ and ‘i’ nomenclature seem so yesterday.

The Smart trend actually takes a lot of smarts to solve and will no doubt take many iterations to get right.  Sounds like a lot of fun stuff to work on!

What is driving this change:

The cost of smartness is dropping based on two principles:

  • Sensing:
    Physical instruments that collect data are becoming more sophisticated, widely available, and easily networked. I personally love the idea of easily and cheaply connecting the world of software to the real world of atoms, photons, temperatures, pressures, ppms, and anything else that can be measured.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Storing:
    The cost of storing most ‘facts’ is already a rounding error. So, why not just store everything? If you doubt this, see my review of the book “Free”.

The ‘Smart Milk Carton’ concept:

There is a romantic idea of the future where the milk carton tells the fridge it is running low or expired. The fridge then adds milk to the household shopping list. The grocery store sees this and gives you a coupon for milk as you pull up to the store. Or, the delivery service drops off more milk automatically.

cat

That is a novel application of technology, but I’m not sure it solves a need that bothers people enough. Maybe for a restaurant or cafeteria this makes sense, but it would be a luxury for the average household.

Smart becomes practical when the information flow has economic significance:

As a thought experiment, apply the ‘smart milk carton’ technology to a hospital’s store of medications. The hospital’s inventory of drugs could become Smart. When a medication runs low or expires more is automatically ordered. Orders to suppliers happen automatically reducing human error and staff overhead. Analyzing the flow of medications can help reduce costs, ensure vital drugs are fully stocked, and forecast which drugs are needed when.

The information flow surrounding a $4 gallon of milk once or twice a month is not that interesting or economically viable. The information flow surrounding the millions of dollars worth of medications used everyday is just one example of how hospitals will get ‘Smart’.

Smart devices measure you:

You know how if you don’t pay for something (like Facebook or Google) you are the product?

Well our DNA, vital signs, and behaviors are about to be measured and commoditized in the coming decades like never before. Human biosensors are coming out that track every facet of our health (sleep patterns, nutrition, digestion, respiratory, cardio, etc).  Two popular products that already track health stats and sync to the cloud are fitbit and jawbone.

In practice biometric data analysis has the potential to substantially lower the cost of overall treatment (and perhaps save lives). Right now, measuring things like a person’s vital signs or EKG is still somewhat intrusive. Eventually it will be a matter of swallowing a capsule or having a subdermal implant that syncs to a smartphone.

Smart and the changes ahead:

There are social implications as the Smart revolution rolls out. The ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of this technology will be in two different and very unequal worlds. Those who have access to this technology will be able to remove variability from their business, maintain their health to a higher degree, and be in greater control of their environment.

A side effect is monopolies may stay in power longer because of the extra edge that comes from wielding the most data and having the best toys. This will create additional barriers to entry for market newcomers.  Maybe this has always been true though?

In 50 years today’s world will look like the dark ages in terms of all the advanced knowledge we will have about our health, our potential, and our interactions as a society. Can you imagine what it was like 50 years ago to go on vacation to another country with just a guide book and paper map? We’ll look back and say, gosh can you image what it was like not to know your blood chemistry stats in real time on your phone? Yes, cholesterol really does spike after eating a burger and fries!

For more reading:

The Human Face of Big Data by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt has dozens of examples of the application and promise of big data. The book lives up to its name. It is huge, twice the page size of a standard book!

bigdatabook

Milk and Cat image by ‘the bridge‘ on Flickr
Sensor image by Huskeflux on Flickr

 

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