dmuth's blog

Vagrant 101: Simple Linux VMs

"I would totally trust this guy to run my apps!"

What is Vagrant?

Vagrant is command line utility that is used for setting up virtual Linux boxes with Oracle's VirtualBox

Vagrant is useful if:

  • You are a freelancer who works in many different development environments, and doesn't want a bajillion different services running on your machine.
  • You are a sysadmin who want to test out new machine configurations without the expense of provisioning a new EC2 instance (and possibly forgetting to turn it off, whoops!)
  • You work in a company where every developer needs their own development machine. Make some recipes in Chef, and now each member of the team can have an identically configured machine.

Wait, doesn't VirtualBox have a GUI?

Why yes, it does. However, using it is optional. Vagrant is simply another way to use VirtualBox. It also makes it easy to install different flavors of Linux, as we will see shortly.

How do I get started with Vagrant?

Go to the Vagrant website and download the latest version. Make sure you have VirtualBox, too. Once you've done those things, type these commands:

vagrant box add base
vagrant init
vagrant up
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Chef 101: An Introduction to Chef

Find this code on GitHub
Related Articles:
Vagrant 101: Simple Linux VMs

I've been using Chef for awhile at work, and seeing how complicated parts of it can be, I wanted to take the time to write a blog post about it, and give an introduction on how to be up and running with Chef. Hopefully it will save others some the aggravation I dealt with early on. Also, I tested these recipes out on an Ubuntu 12.04 box. (If you aren't running Ubuntu, no problem! Just install Vagrant)

Different Parts of Chef

There are a few different parts of chef:

  • Chef-server - The software that runs on a server and holds "cookbooks", "recipes", and "data bags". We won't be covering that here.
  • Chef-client - The software that runs on machines managed by Chef. It talks to the machine running Chef-server, downloads cookbooks from it, and runs the recipes in those cookbooks locally. We won't be covering that here, either.
  • Knife - A tool used to manage machines with chef-client on remotely. We definitely won't be covering that here.
  • Chef-solo - A tool used to run recipes out of cookbooks in the absence of a server. That will be the focus of this article.

Chef Configuration

If we try and run chef-solo right away, it will freak out because it doesn't have a configuration. So the very first thing we need to is create a configuration file, which we'll call config.rb:

base_dir Dir.pwd + "/"
file_cache_path base_dir + "cache/"
cookbook_path base_dir + "cookbooks/"
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Creating Self-signed X.509 SSL Certificates the Easy Way

Find this code on GitHub

If you're even a small-time sysadmin, chances are that you've had to create SSL certificates more than once. Creating a certificate signing request is generally easy enough--you create the .key and the .csr files, and send the .csr file off to your Certificate Authority (CA), pay them a ton of money, and they send you back your signed public key (usually a file ending in .crt).

But what if you don't want to go through all of that trouble? What if you just want to have a self-signed SSL certificate for a small project? Or for submitting to Amazon Web Services (AWS) so that you can access their API?

I wrote a script to help automate that:

# This is a wrapper script for making self-signed certificates

# Make errors be fatal.
set -e

if test ! "$1"
	echo "Syntax: $0 basename"
	exit 1


# Our secret key

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Shutting Down the PA-Furry Mailing List

Cheetah express! It gets there... after 12 naps.


The PA-Furry mailing list was originally started by me back in February, 2000. For the better part of a decade, it was a place for furries who lived in and near Pennsylvania to chat with each other.

Sometime in 2010, traffic on the mailing list started to drop off, due in part to the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other online venues, and due partly to the Pennsylvania Furries website picking up steam. By 2012, the list was fairly inactive, except for the occasional spam. Between the decline in mailing list activity, and an unrelated server move, I felt it was time to shut down the mail server and retire the mailing list. I intend to keep the archives online indefinitely.

Here are some related links:

For the curious, here is a graph of mailing list activity, by month:

As you can see, activity picks up in the middle of the decade, then drops off by the end of the decade. By 2011, the list is virtually dead, with only the occasional post here and there.

For the UNIX-heads out there, I generated the data for that list by running this command under the mail archive directory:

find . -type f \
    |grep -v attachments \
    |egrep "[0-9]{6}" \
    |sort \
    |sed -e s/'\/[0-9]\{6\}.html'// \
    |cut -c3- \
    |uniq -c

If there are any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me. My contact info is over here.

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My FurFright 2012 Pictures and Con Report

Impatient? You can view all of the photos over here!

I attended FurFright a few weekends ago and just now got to upload my pictures and make a blog post about it.

As I mentioned previously, I worked some pretty odd shifts in security, so I was often sleeping during the day, and didn't get to take all of the photos that I wanted to. That said, I did get some great photos taken during the Fursuit Parade, due to the fact that I was outdoors and had natural light to work with.

Hurricane Sandy put a damper on things and I was forced to return home early, which was Not Fun. Since I was concerned about traffic in NYC, I instead used Scranton as a waypoint of sorts. I set Scranton as the destination on my GPS, and when I was 50 miles away, changed the destination to my home. This turned a 4 hour trip into a 5 hour trip, but it was a very nice drive. I got to drive on US-209 to PA-33, and drive by my old stomping grounds in the Lehigh Valley. Along the way, I passed several dozen utility trucks heading south, towards the expected disaster area. The drive was cool enough that I think I'll do it on future trips back from FurFright.

Enough of that, here are some pictures:

Imaginary Skye Shia Moorhen Wii
Pink Husky Face Costello hiding behind plants
Nevask and another owl
Bierzun Imaginary Skye Giant husky plush

That's about all of the pictures that I care to post here. I have the entire archive at Flickr:

Share and enjoy!

The next convention I'll be at is Midwest FurFest. I hope to see you there!

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My FurFright 2012 Duty Hours

Loki on his Motorcycle
Professional dragon. Don't try this at home.

Once again, I will be working security at FurFright this year with the Dorsai Irregulars. I will be serving as a "sergeant" in this contract, which basically means I get to work longer shifts, and have less time off between shifts. Smiling Here is my duty schedule:

  • Thursday: 8 PM to Midnight
  • Friday: 8 AM to Noon
  • Saturday: 12 AM to 4 AM, 2 PM to 4 PM (fursuit parade), 4 PM to 8 PM
  • Sunday: 8 AM to Noon, 4 PM to 8 PM, 8 PM to 9 PM (fursuit parade)

Outside of those this, I'm available to hang out, socialize, and generally have fun. I hope I'll see many of my friends there!

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Career Paths for Software Engineers

Performance metrics can be harmful, too
Performance metrics can be harmful, too.

In years past, software engineers who performed rose up the corporate ladder would eventually find themselves in management. This usually ends poorly, since us nerds tend to talk to computers better than we talk to people. This means that while we're great at managing technology, we're not so great at managing fellow humans.

When I worked for Symantec some years ago, they had a career path for technical people (software engineer, sysadmins, etc.) that I thought was a great idea. It went something like this:

0-2 years experience Associate Software Engineer
0-8 years experience Software Engineer
6-14 years experience Senior Software Engineer
12-20 years experience Principal Software Engineer
15+ years experience Senior Principal Software Engineer
20+ years experience Distinguished Software Engineer
25+ years experience Senior Distinguished Software Engineer
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Node.js 101: Flow Control

"I eat, sleep, and breathe PHP (or C++). How is flow control different in node.js?

The if/then/else constructs that you're used to aren't any different in node.js, but function calls are much much different. Take this code, for example:

var results = db.query(query);

This won't do what you'd expect. The results variable will very likely be null. This is because nearly every function call in node.js that involves I/O, whether it's to the network or the filesystem takes a callback function as an argument, a function which will be executed only upon completion of the request. This is due to node.js's asynchronous nature.

Taking the above example, you'd write something like this, instead:

db.query(query, function(error, results) {
   if (!error) {
console.log("Sent our query!");
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Older Stuff

More buckled roadway
Under construction. Permanently.

I created this page to house links to older stuff that I don't necessarily want in the main menu, but would like have one click away from it...

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Node.js 101: Error Handling

"Why handle errors?"

Because as a programmer, catching errors is part of your job. You need to know when a disk write fails, a database query times out, or a web service returns zero bytes. You need to be able to react to exceptional (and not-so-exceptional) conditions, and do The Right Thing, even if The Right Thing is merely to print out that error and exit.

"I can just throw an exception, right?"

In some languages, this might work. In Node.js, not so much. Remember, each time a callback is executed, it gets its own stack. Take this code, for example:

function f2() {
    setTimeout(function() {
        throw new Error("I AM ERROR.");
    }, 100);

function f1() {


Execute that, and here's the stack trace you'll get:

            if (!process.listeners('uncaughtException').length) throw e;
    at Object._onTimeout (/Users/doug/tmp/node.js/stack.js:6:9)
    at Timer.ontimeout (timers.js:94:19)
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