Skip to main content

Eating my dog food

I was carrying home a bag of dog food recently for my dogs when the neighbour made jokes about eating dog food and the coming recession. I think recessions are like winter - you know it'll come eventually, but it's hard to imagine in the depths of summer.

But my point is really about dog food, and eating it. The woman who sells me Nutromax claims the salespeople eat it to prove it's good. As a computer-geeky guy, I'm familiar with the expression "eating your own dog food" to mean, using your own software. I just looked it up on wikipedia and discover that the original idea did indeed come from an advertisement about dog food, and that it's now used mainly about software. Here's what wikipedia says about the idea:

Using one's own products has four primary benefits:

1. The product's developers are familiar with using the products they develop.
2. The company's members have direct knowledge and experience with its products.
3. Users see that the company has confidence in its own products.
4. Technically savvy users in the company, with perhaps a very wide set of business requirements and deployments, are able to discover and report bugs in the products before they are released to the general public.

A disadvantage is that if taken to an extreme, a company's desire to eat its own dog food can turn into Not Invented Here syndrome, in which the company refuses to use any product which was not developed in-house.

So, that's my introduction to say that I've finally created myself a Drupal site for my business. It had previously been hosted at googlepages, because it was free and easy and I thought Web 2.0 was cool (just kidding about that last one). Also because I didn't have a server or domain name, because I thought I'd just be a consultant.

After three years, I'm still working as an independent consultant. What I've changed is:

  1. I've got my hands full with Drupal and CiviCRM for Canadian non-profits. I may do some projects outside that scope, but I've now got a more specific niche.
  2. I'm not just a "consultant", but a full service shop - i.e. websites from beginning to end, even mail. I use the "keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler" rule, and working on other people's servers turned out to be more complicated than running my own server (no, not in my basement, I use a commercial Canadian service for the hardware and network).
  3. I'm committed to remaining "agressively small" [credits to Mark Surman and Phillip Smith]. There's an assumption in the technical world that you have to "grow" your business to be competitive (yes, not just the technical world). I think that ideology is wrong in a general way from economic and environmental points of view, but specifically wrong for most Drupal websites. Big shops with layers of management do not make better websites, and certainly not cheaper - the big shops are not driven by real 'economies of scale' but by delusions of money and/or fame by the owners. You know who you are ...

That's my story so far, now go visit my new site.

Popular posts from this blog

Me and varnish win against a DDOS attack.

This past month one of my servers experienced her first DDOS - a distributed denial of service attack. A denial of service attack (or DOS) just means an attempt to shut down an internet-based service by overwhelming it with requests. A simple DOS attack is usually relatively easy to deal with using the standard linux firewall called iptables.  The way iptables works is by filtering the traffic based on the incoming request source (i.e., the IP of the attacking machine). The attacking machine's IP can be added into your custom ip tables 'blacklist' to block all traffic from it, and it's quite scalable so the only thing that can be overwhelmed is your actual internet connection, which is hard to do.

The reason a distributed DOS is harder is because the attack is distributed from multiple machines. I first noticed an increase in my traffic about a day after it had started - it wasn't slowing down my machine, but it did show up as a spike in traffic. I quickly saw that…

CiviCRM's invoice_id field and why you should love the hash

I've been banging my head against a distracted cabal of developers who seem to think that a particular CiviCRM core design, which I'm invested in via my contributed code, is bad, and that it's okay to break it.

This post is my attempt to explain why it was a good idea in the first place.

The design in question is the use of a hash function to populate a field called 'invoice_id' in CiviCRM's contribution table. The complaint was that this string is illegible to humans, and not necessary. So a few years ago some code was added to core, that ignores the current value of invoice_id and will overwrite it, when a human-readable invoice is generated.

The complaint about human-readability of course is valid, and the label on the field is misleading, but the solution is terrible for several reasons I've already written about.

In this post, I'd like to explain why the use of the hash value in the invoice_id field is actually a brilliant idea and should be embrac…

Upgrading to Drupal 8 with Varnish, Time to Upgrade your Mental Model as well

I've been using Varnish with my Drupal sites for quite a long while (as a replacement to the Drupal anonymous page cache). I've just started using Drupal 8 and naturally want to use Varnish for those sites as well. If you've been using Varnish with Drupal in the past, you've already wrapped your head around the complexities of front-end anonymous page caching, presumably, and you know that the varnish module was responsible for translating/passing the Drupal page cache-clear requests to Varnish - explicitly from the performance page, but also as a side effect of editing nodes, etc.

But if you've been paying attention to Drupal 8, you'll know that it's much smarter about cache clearing. Rather than relying on explicit calls to clear specific or all cached pages, it uses 'cache tags' which require another layer of abstraction in your brain to understand.

Specifically, the previous mechanism in Drupal 7 and earlier was by design 'conservative' …