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Working on Internal Systems

May 15th, 2008 By:bryan · No Comments

I haven’t been nearly as active in the OLPC mailing lists discussions and software testing for the last weeks due to a 10-day illness and then some internal office systems stuff that I am still working on. About a day after the glorious start of the Bishwamitra and Bashuki schools, my lower lip started mysteriously swelling. It kept swelling and swelling despite my sweet coaxings and entreaties to shrink. It swelled so large that I couldn’t close my mouth and was extremely was painful. The infection also caused a nasty fever that kept me in bed. I was too tired to do any serious work, but not too tired to learn some super cool vim plugins! like MiniBufExplorer, python omnicomplete, and I finally learned to fully appreciate Visual Mode.

Once I got back to work, I had to attend to some internal systems issues that I had never attended to. After 7 months in business, we didn’t have a file server, print server, contact manager, shared calendar, nothing.  So I have been pretty consumed w/ these matters in addition to working on some touchpad issues that are dogging the kids at Bashuki.

At heart I am an IT Manager/sysadmin and probably always will be. I really enjoy this kind of work and don’t really like being a leader, proposal writer, or schmoozing. I am slowly trying to work my way out of OLE Nepal leadership. I always intended for this organization to be entirely led by Nepalis. When I was still a member of OLPC Nepal, I was one of the leaders their and not entirely comfortable w/ that role. I don’t pretend to know what’s best for Nepal. I have always seen my role to enable talented Nepali leaders to reach their goals. In the case of OLE Nepal, those leaders are Rabi Karmacharya, Saurav Dev Bhatta, Mahabir Pun, and Rajeev Adhikari. And they are extraordinarily talented. When Rabi, myself, and Mahabir started OLE Nepal, I was involved in every single funding proposal, every strategy, and every big decision. The other day, Rabi, Saurav, and Rajeev held a long-term strategy session.  I wasn’t involved at all and extremely happy not to be. Instead I created a Debian init script for Fedora-Commons, got the Redmine project management app, up and running, and learned how to use update-rc.d. I am infinitely more happy working on the latter type of problems than the former.

So sysadmin stuff:

Office Wiki

I have set up MoinMoin for our internal officewiki. The problem with Mediawiki is that it has no access controls. We need to document our hiring process but those not involved don’t need to see that information. I don’t want to make all internal the sysadmin documentation accessible to all staff. They don’t need to see what security settings I have on X server and probably don’t want to. MoinMoin does have access controls and it is pretty easy to backup.

Project Management:

I looked at Trac, installed it, and well . . . I don’t like it.  At all. It was a pain to configure and pretty esoteric. I set up Redmine and it was an absolute breeze and offers a lot more functionality. I was bit wary because it is aRuby on Rails app and I have heard that Ruby on Rails has stability issues. I haven’t really stress tested it yet, so we shall see. I am using Redmine w/ mod_rails and apache. Mod_rails requires the pre-fork version of Apache 2.2 . I don’t really understand the difference between prefork and mpm but I do understand that the Apache documentation is consistently confusing.

Redmine is great. Each project gets its own wiki, forums, roadmap, gantt charts, and calendar. We aren’t using it w/ Subversion or git yet.  We will see how that works.

I would like to use the OLPC Trac but it is reallly slow across our office Internet connection. We also intend to use redmine for our internal testing of apps. The folks doing the application testng will be fairly non-technical and I think they will have a quite a bit of trouble using Trac.  Also OLPC’s Trac only have milestones for the Sugar releases. I can’t create milestones for E-Paati releases.

Asmita and Priyata Bhatta, software testers/voices of E-Paati activities

They are so cute!

Also, we will use Redmine to manage sysadmin and office administration tasks. Examples of this are: buy me 3 adapters! My mouse doesn’t work! I need a ride to the pilot school on Monday together w/ the Secretary of Education, please arrange.

It is easy to lose track of this stuff even w/ a small office. But — the office is growing rapidly. We are hiring 5-6 more folks in the next couple months. That should put our total full-time staff up to  22 people. We also have a # of folks that want to volunteer on a regular basis, we have two interns right now. So all these people requires more structure! I am amazed that we have a lot of people compared to OLPC organization itself. Well, I can tell you we aren’t slacking. We’re here from 9 am – 7/8 pm. Rabi and I usually log 12-14 hour days, Om works for several hours before he even shows up to the office, I constantly harrass Ties to do something amazing w/ Squeak.

We have a lot of people because content development and implementation are extremely resource-intensive! We have 4 developers + 2 graphic designers + 1 curriculum designer working full-time on content development. We have 3 technical people working on systems administration + networking and will add two more sysadmin/network admins in the next two months. We will also hire a power engineer to work on sustainable power solutions for rural schools.

I digress, back to sysadmin stuff. I have set up zimbra for our shared calendar and shared contacts but I am wondering if we should just use a shared Google Calendar and Google Contacts if they exist. Zimbra is awesome but it requires its own server because it has specially customized version of Apache that won’t play well w/ other versions of Apache. So maybe it will be back to google calendar, which does have a plugin for redmine . . .

I still need to set up a Samba file and print server, document our internal office and school network, and source control for our E-Pustakalaya application, yadda yadda. But I am making progress :)

My next goal after Samba server will be to set up an LDAP server using EBox. It promises to be a user friendly tool for LDAP management. And I really need to learn LDAP but it needs to be easy for others in the office to manage, i.e. someone in addition to me like Sulochan or Dev.

A few more thoughts in this ramble. I am extremely impressed w/ Redmine and probably w/ Ruby on Rails in general. Redmine is less than a year old and it already has a ton more functionality and ease of use than Trac. I have looked at the code and it appears that redmine is able to easily reuse code from other rails apps rather than creating it from scratch while most of the code for Trac seems to have been created for Trac. Perhaps Django provides this same advantage.

I am working on the touchpad issue but sidetracked for this week so I could finally get some internal sysadmin stuff done, otherwise it may never get . Thanks to Mstone, sj, tomeu and others for looking at this problem.

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