A small 2017 retrospective

I don’t have a huge tendency to do new year resolutions, I’m more the continuous integration type of person where I make a resolution at any time of the year when it makes sense. One thing that did want to achieve as 2017 was starting out was to blog more, with an aim of at least one post a month, and preferably a post every two weeks. I didn’t quite make it with a total of ten posts for 2017, a total of two more than in 2016, so it was a slight improvement! If you count the fifteen draft posts that I wrote in the year, which in most cases just needs some tech details, or a couple of bug fixes to polish the details to actually post, I actually wasn’t that far from the a post every two weeks goal. Let’s see how I get on with this in the new year!

I also started full time into my IoT platform role, and to say it hasn’t been a completely expected roller coaster would be an understatement…. I love a good roller coaster and I think this is the biggest one I’ve ever climbed upon. I got involved in areas of IoT and components of the entire stack that I never thought I would be involved in. I seem to wear about 8 different hats, at last count, and it’s certainly been fun and interesting but busier than I expected, getting pulled into different things that I and others hadn’t planned or anticipated. It’s been a lot of fun, in the Fedora IoT space I didn’t achieve nearly as much as I had hoped but I had also not expected a few of the big blockers and other issues that slowed that down, thankfully it looks like a lot of that is pretty much resolved so I can start driving that forward early in the new year. I have lots of ideas here and this year we’ll start to build the IoT community in Fedora and by the end of the year I believe it’ll be fun and useful!

In the ARM space there was quite a lot of achievements. The big one being the initial support of aarch64 SBCs (finally!), I was very proud of the work we achieved here, it’s a single install path with uEFI/grub2 and a single install path. More work in the short term, by a team of cross team distro people, which took us a lot longer than I’d hoped, but the outcome is a lot better experience for end users and a much more supportable platform for those that need to support it moving forward! It was no means our only achievement with a lot of other ARM improvements including on the Raspberry Pi, accelerated GPUs, initial support for the 96boards platforms. Three is of coarse already LOTS of work in motion for the ARM architectures in 2018 and I’m sure it’ll be as fun and insanely busy as always but I feel we’re now going into it with a good base for the aarch64 SBCs which will rapidly expand in the devices we support moving forward!

Other than that I had a lot of travel, meetings, talks and other things. AFAICT I took around 35 flights, attended around a dozen conferences, numerous meetups and gave around 20 talks! A long with other Fedora and work commitments it was an overall insanely busy year! I somehow, with some of the bangs that 2018 has already shown us (and TBH I blame 2017 for meltdown/spectre) I doubt the coming year will be any quieter than the last… lets see if in among all of that I can meet the ~26 blog posts goal this time around?

Useful commands for manipulating PDFs on Fedora (any linux really)

So it’s not much of a secret that the Red Hat expenses system is truly terrible. Not a well known is the EMEA accounts team still require what I call “Arts and Crafts sessions” (all receipts attached to bits of paper and scanned as a whole) even though there’s no legal requirement for paper receipts to be provided any more in the UK/Ireland/EU!

Anyway the system regularly routes the emailed PDFs to /dev/null for no apparent reason and then you have to scratch your head and try and work out what’s wrong.

Size: this is the regular issue, basically if the PDF is larger than a few Mb it barfs. Thankfully ghostscript comes to the rescue here.

gs -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4 -dPDFSETTINGS=/screen -sOutputFile=new_file.pdf original_file.pdf

The -dPDFSETTINGS setting has a few options:

  • /screen selects low-resolution output and hence the lowest file-size.
  • /ebook selects medium-resolution output with a medium file-size.
  • /printer uses high-resolution option which is mainly used for printing PDFs.
  • /prepress) similar to /printer but gives you the largest files.

Too many pages: Airline bookings are the great ones here, they add pages of adds to a one page receipt. Two pages are either to “print” just the page you need, or use oowriter (Libre Office Writer) to open it, delete the pages and export as PDF again.

Multiple PDFs: In theory the system can handle multiple docs. My millage has varied a LOT here. Easy fix comes from the poppler-utils package:

pdfunite doc-1.pdf doc-2.pdf doc-3.pdf out-doc.pdf

PDF versions: I have found 1.4 be the most effective here. Ghostscript comes to the rescue again here:

gs -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4 -dPDFSETTINGS=/screen -dNOPAUSE -dQUIET -dBATCH -sOutputFile=output.pdf input.pdf

Adjust the level -dCompatibilityLevel to the version you need.

Flock Rochester

I’m not going to do a day by day outline of what I did at flock, if I did it would basically be “blah blah blah I talked a lot to a lot of people about a lot of tech topics” and anyone that’s ever met me would have guessed that! It was, as in the past, a great conference. A big shout out to the organisers for an excellent event with two excellent evening events! So I’m going to give a brief summary to my talks and link to slides and video recordings.

My first talk was an overview of the state of aarch64 and POWER as secondary architectures. The slides aren’t particularly interesting as they’re just words for discussion points. The video has all the interesting bits. A related talk was Dennis’s Standardising ARMv7 booting with a memorial quote by Jon Masters 😉

My second talk was about using Fedora as a base for IoT. Slides are here but the talk was quite a bit different to the slides and is more interesting so I suggest watching the video.

I also actively participated in Dennis’s Fedora Release Engineering going forward because well obviously I’m part of it 😉 and it was interesting for where we’re going, and even where we’ve come from in the last year or so 🙂

Finally I loved the Keynote Be an inspiration, not an impostor by Major Hayden. He’s published a follow up blog post with a FAQ too.

The least memorable bit was the terrible Amtrak ride back to New York City. On the plus side it makes the worst of the British National Rail service seem amazingly on time! NEVER AGAIN!

Standing desks

So around three months ago (yes, I must do a post on that too) I changed roles at Red Hat and moved from constantly travelling and being on customer sites to working from home. As a result I needed to setup a workspace that I could use day to day.

One thing I’ve always wanted to try is a standing desk. I have back problems, and generally not the best posture, so I thought that would be one way to be able to deal with at least the later, and potentially even the former. The main problem, until recently, is that decent standing desks tend to be very expensive and I didn’t want to needlessly go and spent a lot of extra money for something that would be used for a week and never again. So I decided I would start with a cheap height adjustable desk, which I needed to get anyway due to my height, and then use it as a the basis of a standing desk and then hack it from there. The initial combo I decided on after a lot of looking was the IKEA Galant Height Adjustable Desk at £49 and the IKEA Lack Side table at £8 plus delivery. I figured at less than £100 including delivery if it was terrible I wasn’t wasting a lot of money!

As it turns out it’s been much better than I ever expected it to be. I initially setup the desk to the height I would want when sitting. At a height of six foot three inches I’m not the shortest of people so when sitting I prefer a higher than average desk. Sitting the Lack table on top of the desk by chance also ended up also giving me the perfect standing height. Bonus! A few quid for some foam gym mats plus a decent height adjustable monitor (the most expensive bit by far!) and I was done! Well mostly, I still haven’t decided on a decent keyboard yet.

So how does it look? Well a little bit weird to be honest. How does it work? Better than I ever expected as I find I can happily stand at the desk for a full eight hour working day without too much issue and I’ve even done longer (hello Fedora beta release candidates!!) and my back feels better than it has in a long time! I was also trying to decide on a decent but reasonably priced office chair to buy but now I’m not going to bother. Interestingly IKEA has also just launched the BEKANT sit/stand desk which is reasonably priced and has electric motors for raise/lower. It’s likely I’ll end up getting one of these one day but for the moment my IKEA hack is working pretty well.

Cheap IKEA Standing Desk

Flock 2014 revisited

So having almost recovered from the lack of sleep that is one of the guarantees of conferences in general, but definitely a Fedora one, I thought I would reflect on a few bits. I’m not going to cover all the talks as a lot of people have done that and all the talks are on the Flock 2014 YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure.

As others have mentioned the venue was great, easy to get to and from for transport and the hotel. Huge kudos to the organisers of the event! An event such as this takes a lot of time and energy, and with the dust barely settled the Flock 2015 Bid process is already under way so if you’re interested in hosting 2015 in North America…

My State of ARM and aarch64 in Fedora went well, I enjoyed it and the room was packed with as many people standing as there were sitting 🙂 There was lots of good questions and interest, both in the talk, and in the hallway in general.

I went to numerous excellent talks, too many to count or remember and I’m looking forward to catching up on a number of talks I missed due to schedule conflicts, via the videos, when I get some spare time. Of course the other major part of the conference is the hall way track. There I had too many conversations to recall and caught up with numerous old friends, met a number of people I’d been dealing with online and had never met in person, and of course met a whole bunch of new friends too! It’s amazing how much can be achieved when talking to someone on the walk between conference rooms!

One of the other major things I enjoyed about Flock this year was the overall positivity of everything about the conference, whether it be people’s general attitude, the presentation titles and the presentations themselves or people in the Litre Pub 😉 . And of course being one of our values I have to mention that catching up with so many good friends is always the sugar on top of the cake!

A change of scenery

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a number of months. Almost six in fact, I started writing it well over two months ago because I got an email over the weekend saying that it had been 90 days since I’d started at Red Hat. That’s right, I have a new job! I’d been at my previous employer for nigh on five years and I felt that I was no longer growing and that it was time for a change so when someone approached me about putting on the Red fedora I thought it was a too good an opportunity to pass up!

My official title is Senior Consultant as part of the UKI (United Kingdom and Ireland) and EMEA Infrastructure Professional Services team and I’ll be spending most of my time dealing with Enterprise customers dealing with RHEL and Cloud related things so my role doesn’t directly involve Fedora on a day to day basis. That’s not to say my role won’t involved Fedora as there’s certainly some opportunity there especially with the upstream enterprise related products such as FreeIPA, oVirt and before long OpenStack as well as many many others. It might even one day involve some ARM related work because there’s certainly interest there. Generally it won’t affect or change much in terms of my involvement as all, in most things it will just be business as usual.

One thing that has changed is the amount of travel I do has increased dramatically at least in the short term. Places I’ve been to so far include Helsinki, Munich, Paris and Cairo.

My team is recruiting more people so if you’re possibly interested in joining the Red Hat consulting team in the UK get on contact with me if you want some more information or want to have a chat about the roles.