Wondering What Everyone Knows

Posted on 26th September 2014

The YAPC::Europe 2014 survey results are now online.

YAPC::Europe Survey

Although we appear to have had an increased response this year, 42% up from 36%, there were only 74 actual responses, down from 122 last year. Sadly it was a smaller audience in total, and perhaps that's partly due to the previously core attendees not wishing to travel further. However, that said, as we are attempting to increase attendance at conferences, it was hoped that more first time attendees from South Eastern Europe would attend. Unfortunately, it would seem the opposite was the case, with only 4 responses from people who came from Bulgaria itself. I am willing to accept that many of the non-respondees are non-native English speakers, and found it difficult to complete the survey, but that would be true across a lot of Europe too. Those responding were not just the usual attendees either, there were many first and second time attendees there too.

I think part of this lack of reponse from previous years, is also down to the lack of promotion of the surveys. As I'm not able to attend in person at the moment, I have to hope that the organisers advertise the surveys, but it would be nice to have the speakers themselves mention them too. It is obvious that several speakers value the feedback they get, both publicly and privately, so it would be nice to see that encouraged after each talk. My hope is that the knock-on effect is that respondees also complete the main survey too.

Looking at both the demographics and the questions around Perl knowledge and experience, it would still seem we have an attendance that is on a upward curve for all aspects. Although attendance is perhaps getting older and wiser, that's not necessarily true of Perl programmers in general, particularly outside the traditional group of people who get involved in the community. It would be great to see how we can change that in the future. After all, Perl's future relies on those coming to the language in their teens and early twenties. If you're interested in helping, reading Daisuke Maki's post about what do you want your YAPC to be?, is very worthwhile. YAPC::Asia has helped to change attitudes, but that has only happened because the organisers set themselves goals of what they want to achieve. With YAPC::Europe, we haven't had this, partly due to the organisers changing each year, but also because there doesn't appear to be any long term goals.

From the responses of this year's attendees, we can see that we have a lot of people who are involved with the community in several ways. However, what about those who aren't involved. Is it just this conference is their first exposure to the Perl community, did those people not respond to the survey, or is it that they weren't there? YAPC::Asia's decision to be inclusive to other languages and technologies has been a benefit, not just to Perl, but to the whole OpenSource community in Japan. Couldn't we do the same in Europe or North America?

This year the conference schedule was largely handled by a small remote group of interested volunteers, who stepped up when Marian asked for help. I believed it worked, and if the same group, perhaps with input from next year's local organisers for what they would like, this might be a step to help improve the schedule. Using the same team for YAPC::Asia has worked, so why not elsewhere. It is always difficult to get to know about good speakers, particularly if the speakers was previously unknown to schedule organisers. The missing speakers are not too surprising, but it is always nice to see some unexpected suggestions, and it is useful for schedule organisers to get these hints so that they can try and reduce clashes. I would also encourage attendees to make use of the star system in Act, as this too can be used by the schedule organisers to identify popular talks, and ensure that in future they are in appropriately sized rooms.

I would also suggest that speakers and organisers take note of the topic suggestions. These are subjects people are asking to hear, and if they are returning attendees, may well be your future attendees at your next talk. The beginner track is also a great one, and would be worth looking at for the future. I know it was attempted for several years, but seems to have died off, which is a shame. Those new to Perl wanting to get more involved, can and want to learn a lot from the rest of us. It's why they come. It would be great to have them return to their bosses afterwards full of ideas, which may then enable them and/or their colleagues to return in the future.

Talk Evaluations

In an organisers mailing list, it was asked whether the talk evaluation surveys should be partly public, and exposed to the organisers. For anyone worried about that, I have said no. One reason being that I don't think that the results can or should be compared. Every attendee has a different opinion and a different scale to anyone else. We also have a wide variety of attendees to talks. Trying to compare a talk with 100 attendees to one with 10 doesn't make any sense. My second reason is that I think speakers or respondees should not be publicly compared. In private, one bad review could be taken into consideration and either disregarded, or help the speaker improve next time. Making that public is likely to have two effects; firstly a request from speakers to not be part of the evaluations, and secondly judgements made against the speaker for past work, when they have learnt and improved. They deserve our support, not rejection.

I have also been asked about providing talk evaluations for the video streams. Initially I was against this, partly because of a couple of people launching a torrent of abuse at me for not doing them already! However, a couple of people who have been more rational have asked about doing them. As such, I've started to look at what is involved. I expect these talk evaluations to be different, if only because the listener is not in the room, and the rapport and presentation will have a different feel during the stream. I may look to introduce this for YAPC::NA 2015, if I can get the rest of my plans for the surveys implemented, together with the changes to Act in time.

Future Surveys

I have several plans to write about the future of the surveys, and I'll be writing a few more blog posts about them in the months to come. If you have suggestions for improvements, please let me know. The software is now on CPAN and GitHub, so you are welcome to contribute changes, to help move things along. If you would like your event, workshop or conference, to have a survey, please get in touch and I'll see what I can set up for you.

File Under: conference / survey / yapc
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A Celebration

Posted on 11th August 2014

August the 16th is CPAN Day. Its the day that is marked as the first upload to CPAN. CPAN came into existence in July/August 1995, but on August 16th 1995 Andreas König made the first true upload to the archive. And so began a growth that is continuing and growing to this day. Jumping ahead to several weeks ago, Neil Bowers decided to make a big deal about this day. After all we celebrate Perl's birthday, why not celebrate CPAN too.

Neil has been posting several ideas for how you can improve distributions on CPAN, with the aim of making several releases on CPAN Day. With that aim in mind, Neil posted some stats and graphs to show what has happened on CPAN Day in previous years. I did some data mining and came up with a page to help monitor CPAN Day. I sent the link to Neil, who then came up with several suggestions. Trying to create the graphs proved interesting, and thanks to everyone on Twitter who sent me various links to help out.

The page has expanded slightly and includes the neoCPANisms, which Neil has been monitoring. NeoCPANism being the number of new distributions that have never been uploaded to CPAN before. It will be interesting to see how many new distributions get released on CPAN Day, as the biggest day of new release was nearly 2 years ago, with 41 new distributions release on the same day.

The page is now created in real time (well every 5 minutes) so you can see how we're progressing throughout the day. The page is now available at stats.cpantesters.org/uploads.html. You can watch progress for each day now, not just CPAN Day, but let's see if we can reach the suggested target on Saturday :)

File Under: cpan / perl / statistics
1 COMMENT


Sunshine Of Your Love

Posted on 17th July 2014

The survey results for YAPC::NA 2014 are now online.

Even we with lower numbers of attendees this year, 27% of you took the time to respond to the survey. As always, this doesn't necessarily allow us to see the whole picture, but hopefully it is enough of a cross-section of the attendees to help us improve future events. Once again we had a healthy number of respondees for whom this was their first YAPC, many having never attendeed a workshop either.

There was a bit of a mixed reaction throughout the survey. Although having read the feedback from the talk evaluations, there was a lot of positive comments, and several words of encouragement for some of the new speakers, which was great to see. Overall it seems to have been another great conference, although there are areas of communication that many felt could be improved.

I see I'll have to expand the options for the question "What other areas of the Perl Community do you contribute to?", as firstly I would include hacking on Perl core, as part of a Perl project (i.e. a group of great people doing great work to improve Perl), but also to include a new option; I donate to one of the funds managed by TPF or EPO. During the conference I saw a few Twitter posts about contributing to some of the Perl funds, which I think came about following Dan Wright's presentation. It is great that so many have donated, big and small amounts, to the various funds. They all help to improve and promote Perl, and give us good reasons to continue putting together great conferences and workshops every year.

It was great to see any good list of suggestions for topics this year, and I hope that speakers new and old, get some ideas for future talks from them.

Lastly it does seem that the location question, really does depend where the current location is. The higher numbers last year may also indicate that Austin was easier to get to for most people, whereas a more easterly location, such as Florida, may restrict the ability to attend for those on the west coast. It would be interesting to see whether a similar opposite trend would result if the conference was held in Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah or Arizona. There must be several Perl Monger groups in those states, so if you're in one, perhaps think about balancing out the number of eatern hosting states ;)

File Under: community / conference / perl / yapc
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100 Nights

Posted on 13th July 2014

100 in more ways than one!

100 #1

11 years ago I was eager to be a CPAN Author, execpt I had nothing to release. I tried thinking of modules that I could write, but nothing seemed worth posting. Then I saw a post on a technical forum, and came up with a script to give the result the poster was looking for. Looking at the script I suddenly realised I had my first module. That script was then released as Calendar::List, and I'm pleased to say I still use it today. Although perhaps more importantly, I know of others who use it too.

Since then, I have slowly increased my distributions to CPAN. However, it wasn't until I got involved with CPAN Testers that my contributions increased noticeably. Another jump was when I wrote some WWW::Scraper::ISBN driver plugins for the Birmingham Perl Mongers website to help me manage the book reviews. I later worked for a book publishing company, during which time I added even more. My next big jump was the release of Labyrinth.

In between all of those big groups of releases, there have been several odds and ends to help me climb the CPAN Leaderboard. Earlier this year, with the idea of the Monthly New Distribution Challenge, I noticed I was tantalisingly close to having 100 distributions on CPAN. I remember when Simon Cozens was the first author to achieve that goal, and it was noted as quite an achievement. Since then Adam Kennedy, Ricardo Signes and Steven Haryanto have pushed those limits even further, with Steven having over 300 distributions on CPAN!

My 100th distribution came in the form of an addoption, Template-Plugin-Lingua-EN-Inflect, originally written by the sadly departed Andrew Ford.

100 #2

My 100th distribution came a few days before I managed to complete my target of a 100 consecutive days of CPAN uploads. A run I started accidentally. After the 2014 QA Hackathon, I had several distribution releases planned. However, had I realised what I could be doing, I might have been a bit more vigilant and not missed the day between what now seems to be my false start and the real run. After 9 consecutive days, I figured I might as well try to reach at least a month's worth of releases, and take the top position from ZOFFIX (who had previously uploaded for 27 consecutive days) for the once-a-day CPAN regular releasers.

As it happened, Neil Bowers was on a run that was 1 day behind me, but inspired by my new quest, decided he would continue as my wingman. As I passed the 100 consecutive day mark, Neil announced that he was to end his run soon, and finally bowed out after 111 days of releases. My thanks to Neil for sticking with me, and additionally for giving me several ideas for releases, both as suggestions for package updates and a few ideas for new modules.

I have another quest to make 200 releases to CPAN this year, and with another 20 release currently planned, I'm still continuing on. We'll see if I can make 200, or even 365, consecutive days, but reaching 100 was quite a milestone that I didn't expect to achieve.

100 #3

As part of my 100 consecutive days of CPAN uploads challenge, I also managed to achieve 100 consecutive days of commits to git. I had been monitoring GitHub for this, and was gutted to realise that just after 101 days, I forgot to commit some changes over that particular weekend. However, I'm still quite pleased to have made 101 days. I have a holiday coming up soon, so I may not have been able to keep that statistic up for much longer anyway.

100 #4

As part of updates to the CPAN Testers Statistics site, I looked at some additional statistics regarding CPAN uploads. In particular looking at the number of distributions authors have submitted to CPAN, both over the life of CPAN (aka BackPAN) and currently on CPAN. The result was two new distributions, Acme-CPANAuthors-CPAN-OneHundred and Acme-CPANAuthors-BACKPAN-OneHundred.

When I first released the distributions, I only featured in the second. For my 100th consecutive day, I released the latest Acme-CPANAuthors-CPAN-OneHundred up to that day, and with my newly achieved 100th distribution, was delighted to feature in the lists for both distributions.

File Under: opensource / perl
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Time Waits For No One

Posted on 10th May 2014

When I relaunched the CPAN Testers sites back in 2008, I was in a position to be responsible for 3 servers, the CPAN Testers server, the Birmingham Perl Mongers server, and my own server. While managing them wasn't too bad, I did think it would be useful having some sort of monitoring system that could help me keep an eye on them. After talking to a few people, the two key systems most keenly suggested were Nagios and Munin. Most seemed to favour Munin, so I gave it a go. Sure enough it was pretty easy to set up, and I was able to monitor the servers, using my home server to monitor them. However, there was one area of monitoring that wasn't covered. The performance of the websites.

At the time I had around 10-20 sites up and running, and the default plugins didn't provide the sort of monitoring I was looking for. After some searching I found a script written by Nicolas Mendoza. The script not only got me started, but helped to make clear how easy it was to write a Munin plugin. However, the script as was, didn't suit my needs exactly, so had to make several tweaks. I then found myself copying the file around for each website, which seem a bit unnecessary. So I wrote what was to become Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest. Following the Hubris and DRY principles copying the script around just didn't make sense, and being able to upgrade via a Perl Module on each server, was far easier than updating the 30+ scripts for the sites I now manage.

Although the module still contains the original intention of the script, how it does it has changed. The magic still happens in the script itself.

To start with an example, this is the current script to monitor the CPAN Testers Reports site:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest;
my ($VHOST) = ($0 =~ /_([^_]+)$/);
Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest::Run($VHOST,1000);

Part of the magic is in the name of the script. This one is 'apache_request_reports'. The script extracts the last section of the name, in this case 'reports', and passes that to Run() as the name of the virtual host. If you wish to name the scripts slightly differently, you only need to amend this line to extract the name of your virtual host as appropriate. If you only have one website you may wish to name the host explicity, but then if you create more it does mean you will need to edit each file, which is what I wanted to avoid. All I do now is copy an existing file to one to represent the new virtual host when I create a new website, and Munin automatically adds it to the list.

Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest does make some assumptions, one of which is where you locate the log files, and how you name them for each virtual host. On my servers '/var/www/' contains all the virtual hosts (/var/www/reports, in this example), and '/var/www/logs/' contains the logs. I also use a conventional naming system for the logs, so '/var/www/logs/reports-access.log' is the Access Log for the CPAN Testers Reports site. Should you have a different path or naming format for your logs, you can alter the internal variable $ACCESS_LOG_PATTERN to the format you wish. Note that this is a sprintf format, and the first '%s' in the format string is replaced by the virtual host name. If you only have one website, you can change the format string to the specific path and file of the log, and no string interpolation is done.

The log format used is quite significant, and when you describe the LogFormat for your Access Log in the Apache config file, you will need to use an extended format type. The field to show the time taken to execute a request is needed, which is normally set using the %T (seconds) or %D (microseconds) format option (see also Apache Log Formats). For example my logs use the following:

LogFormat "%h %l %u %t \"%r\" %>s %b \"%{Referer}i\" \"%{User-agent}i\" %T %v"

The second to last field is our time field. In Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest, this is stored in the $TIME_FIELD_INDEX variable. By default this is -2, assuming a similar log format as above. If you have a different format, where the execution time is in another position, like $ACCESS_LOG_PATTERN, you can change this in your script before calling Run(). A positive number assumes a column left to right, while a negative number assumes a column right to left.

The last number passed to the Run() method, determines the number of lines read for the access log to describe the average execution time. For high hit rate sites, you may wish this to be a higher number, but as most of my sites are not that frequently visited, 1000 seems to be a reasonable number.

The config statements that are generated for the Munin master monitor are currently hardcoded with values. This will change in a future version. For the example above the config produced reads as:

graph_title reports ave msecs last 1000 requests
graph_args --base 1000
graph_scale no
graph_vlabel Average request time (msec)
graph_category Apache
graph_info This graph shows average request times for the last 1000 requests
images.warning 30000000
images.critical 60000000
total.warning 10000000
total.critical 60000000

The highlighted values are interpolated from the arguments passed to Run(). In a future version I want to be able to allow you to reconfigure the warning and critical values and the graph base value, should you wish to.

I have now been using Munin::Plugin::ApacheRequest and the associated scripts for 6 years now, and it has proved very successful. I have thought about releasing the module to CPAN previously, and have made several attempts to contact Nicolas over the years, but have never had a reply. I know he was working for Opera when he released his script, but have no idea of his whereabouts now. As the script contained no licensing information, I was also unsure what licensing he had intended the code to be. I hope he doesn't mind me having adapted his original script, that I'm now releasing the code under the Artistic License v2.

Although I haven't been able to contact Nicolas, I would like to thank him for releasing his original script. If I hadn't have found it, it is unlikely I would have found a way to write a Munin plugin myself to do Apache website monitoring. With his headstart, I discovered how to write Munic plugins, and can now set up monitor of new websites within a few seconds. Thanks Nicolas.

File Under: opensource / perl / website
1 COMMENT


Counting Out Time

Posted on 20th March 2014

I had an SQL query I wanted to translate into a DBIx::Class statement. I knew there must be a way, but trying to find the answer took some time. As a result I though it worth sharing in the event somebody else might be trying to find a similar answer.

The SQL I was trying to convert was:

SELECT status,count(*) AS mailboxes,
count(distinct username) AS customers
FROM mailbox_password_email GROUP BY status

The result I got running this by hand gave me:

+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| status    | mailboxes | customers |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| active    |     92508 |     48791 |
| completed |       201 |       174 |
| inactive  |    116501 |     56843 |
| locked    |    129344 |     61220 |
| pending   |      1004 |       633 |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+

My first attempt was:

my @rows = $schema->resultset('Mailboxes')->search({},
    {
        group_by => 'status',
        distinct => 1,
        '+select' => [
            { count => 'id', -as => 'mailboxes' },
            { count => 'username', -as => 'customers' } ]
    })->all;

Unfortunately this gave me the following error:

DBIx::Class::ResultSet::all(): Useless use of distinct on a grouped 
resultset ('distinct' is ignored when a 'group_by' is present) at 
myscript.pl line 469

So I took the 'distinct  => 1' out and got the following results:

+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| status    | mailboxes | customers |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| active    |     92508 |     92508 |
| completed |       201 |       201 |
| inactive  |    116501 |    116501 |
| locked    |    129344 |    129344 |
| pending   |      1004 |      1004 |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+

Which might be distinct for the mailboxes, but is not sadly distinct for customers. So I try:

my @rows = $schema->resultset('Mailboxes')->search({},
{
group_by  => 'status',
      '+select' => [
            { count => 'id', -as => 'mailboxes' },
            { count => 'username', -as => 'customers', distinct  => 1 } ]
    })->all;

and get:

Failed to retrieve mailbox password email totals: 
DBIx::Class::ResultSet::all(): Malformed select argument - too many keys
 in hash: -as,count,distinct at myscript.pl line 469\n

After several attempts at Google, and reading the DBIx::Class::Manual, I finally stumbled on: SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT colname)

My query now looks like:

my @rows = $schema->resultset('Mailboxes')->search({},
    {
group_by  => 'status',
'+select' => [
{ count => 'id', -as => 'mailboxes' },
{ count => { distinct => 'username' }, -as => 'customers' } ] })->all;

And provides the following results:

+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| status    | mailboxes | customers |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+
| active    |     92508 |     48791 |
| completed |       201 |       174 |
| inactive  |    116501 |     56843 |
| locked    |    129344 |     61220 |
| pending   |      1004 |       633 |
+-----------+-----------+-----------+

Exactly what I was after.

DBIx::Class does require some head-scratching at times, but looking at the final statement it now seems obvious, and pretty much maps directly to my original SQL!

Hopefully, this provides a lesson others can find and learn from.

File Under: database / perl
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Rendez-Vous 6

Posted on 17th March 2014

My 2014 QA Hackathon

Day One

I arrived the previous day, as did most of us, and we naturally talked about coding projects. Not necessarily about work at the hackathon, but discussion did come around to that too. I talked with Tux at one point, who convinced me that a stand-alone smoker client would be really useful. Once upon a time, we did have this, but with the advent of the more sophisticated smokers, and the move to the Metabase transport layer, the old script never got updated. The following morning Tux sent me a copy of the script he has, so at some point over the next few months I will take a look to see what I do to make it compatible with the modern smokers.

My intention was to release a distribution each day of the Hackthon. Unfortunately this was scuppered on the first day, when trying to add support for the full JSON report from CPAN Testers, when I realised I don't store the full report in the database. In the future when we have MongoDB and replication set up, this will be a non-issue, but for the moment, I now need to store the full report. This now requires a change to the metabase database on the cpanstats server (as opposed to the Metabase server). Over the course of the hackthon I reviewed the changes needed, and updated a lot of the Generator code, as it was an ideal time to remove SQLite references too.

In looking into the code changes, Andreas and I again looked at the updated timestamp used by the various CPAN Testers sites to do statistical analysis, which was also causing us problems. In the Metabase, the CPAN Testers Report fact is the container for all the child facts, such as LegacyReport and TestSummary. When the facts are created by the tester, the 'creation' timestamp is used to reference the time on the tester's own server that the report was generated. This could be better stored as UTC, but that's a problem for another day. However, it does mean the timestamp could be different to the one on the Metabase server. When the Metabase server retrieves the report from the outside world, it updates the 'updated' timestamp across all facts and saves into the SimpleDB instance on the server. Except it doesn't. The 'updated' timestamp is always the same as the 'creation' timestamp. Andreas has been noting this for quite some time, and finally he convinced me, at which point we roped in David Golden to take a look. Reviewing the code, there is nothing wrong that we can see. The 'updated' timestamp should be updated with the current timestamp on the Metabase server, which should also cascade to each child fact. As such you would expect several reports to have a different 'creation' timestamp from that of the 'updated' timestamp, even if only different by a second. Sadly this is going to take more effort/time to debug, as David in particular is working several different aspects of QA here at the hackathon.

Towards the end of the day, I spoke with liz and Tobias (FROGGS) about how CPAN Testers might handle perl6 modules. Currently there is no client available, but there could be in the future. However, due to the way Perl6 modules are to be uploaded to CPAN it is possible that smokers may submit reports for perl6 only modules, as many ignore the path to the distribution. Right now, liz tells me that all perl6 modules are being release under the /perl6/ path inside the authors' directory. This makes things easier for CPAN Testers as we can initially ignore these test reports, as they will not be valid. However, in the longer term it will be interesting to have a CPAN Testers smoker client for Perl6. The main difference would be to record in the metadata that it's a perl6 only distribution, and we *should* be able to carry on as normal, submitting reports to the Metabase, etc. It may require some distributions to have a 'Did you mean the Perl 6 distribution?' link on the website, but for the most part I think we could handle this. It will require further work to define a CPAN Testers Perl 6 Fact, but it will be a nice addition to the family.

Day Two

The morning was spent visiting the Charteuse cellars, and enjoying a tasting session, before heading back to the hacking in the afternoon.

In the afternoon, I started to look at some of the statistics the CPAN Testers Statistic site generated. After some discussions with Neil Bowers, he was interested in the drop-off of report submissions when a distribution was released. I believed this to be fairly consistent, and found that it did indeed last roughly 8 days, with a tail off that could last for months or years. There was an initial blast of tests within the first few hours, thanks to Chris' and Andreas' smokers, but the rest of the more reliable smokers get submitted within those first 8 days. Neil has created some initial graphs, and I'm looking at ways to integrate those with the Reports site. How we display these will likely revolve around a specific selected version, as overlaying versions might be a bit too much ... we'll see.

It also led me to think about what time of day do testers submit reports. So, I'll be looking at creating some graphs to show submissions per month, per day of the week, and per hour of the day. Along with BooK, we discussed further metrics, although they look likely to be used within their CPAN Dashboard project, although some of the data can be provided by CPAN Testers APIs already, so little work need by me :)

Looking through aggregated data, as stored and indexed within the Statistics codebase, it was obvious some had were now incomplete. It seems some of the outages we had in the last few months, prevented the data storage files from being saved. As such, I started off a complete reindex. It meant the Statistics site was out of sync for the following day, but at least it meant we once had again had correct data to produce the graphs we wanted.

There was more work rewriting the Generator to store the report objects. Yves asked why I wasn't using Sereal sometime ago, when I posted about using Data::FlexSerializer, and at the time I didn't have a need to rework the code. However, seeing as I'm rewriting to store the perl object now, rather than just JSON, it does make sense to move to Sereal, so hopefully that will make Yves happy too ;)

Day Three

Continued work on the Generator to remove all SQLite references, and a few further clean ups. Also worked on adding the necessary support to allow perl6 reports to be ignored. At some point in the future we will accept perl6 reports, but following further discussion with Tobias, we'll handle this using the metadata in the report not on the path of the resource.

Salve interviewed me for a future post about CPAN Testers. It'll be interesting to see whether I made sense or not, but hopefully I managed to convey the usefulness and uniqueness of CPAN Testers to Perl and the community. It good opportunity to also thanked Salve for starting the QA Hackathons, as without them CPAN Testers may well have stalled several years ago. Like many other projects, if we had relied on email to handle all the discussions and move the project forward, it would have taken years to get the Metabase working and move away from the old email/NNTP mechanisms.

charsbar updated CPANTS with some altered metrics, and at the same time added selected CSS colours for BooK and Leon, so I asked too. I now have a shade of my own purple on my author page ;) Thanks charsbar.

As Wendy went to lunch, she made the mistake of asking whether we wanted anything. I asked for a Ferrari, but sadly they couldn't find one, so I got a Lambourgini instead. If you don't ask, you don't get .... vroom, vrooom, vroom :) I'll add a picture once I've sorted them out.

At some point during the afternoon, Ricardo told me one of his asks for the hackathon. He wanted to be able to ignore the NA reports in his No Pass RSS feeds. Mulling it over this seemed entirely sensible, and so I fixed it. Ricardo celebrated :)

During a discussion with Neil, he mentioned that Paul Johnson was creating a Devel::Cover service, that he wanted to run like a CPAN Testers service. The idea was to write a system, that could allow distributed testing with testers sending in reports, which could then be accumulated, based on the OS being tested. As the Metabase is already able to handle different buckets, adding another bucket for coverage reports simplifies some of the work. The distributed client can then be moduled on the CPAN Testers means of report contruction, creating a new coverage report fact and use the same transport mechanism to submit to the Metabase. A web service can then poll the Metabase for the new bucket, and create report pages in exactly the same way as CPAN Testers. It'll be interesting to see whether we can use the same (or similar) code to provide this.

Day Four

The morning threw us a curve-ball, as the building wouldn't open up. It was a Sunday and apparently no-one works on a Sunday. Thankfully a few phonecalls to the right people got us in, just in time for lunch. In the meantime as we all were staying in the same hotel, we took over the bar, and borrowed a conference for the morning.

The poor wifi connection, gave us a good opportunity to have further discussions. Neil gathered together several interested parties to discuss author emails. Both PAUSE and CPAN Testers send emails to authors, and there is a plan to send authors a yearly email to advertise improvements to their modules, and let them know about sites and tools that they might not be aware of. However, although many emails get through without a problem, several fail to reach their intended recipient. Typically this is because authors have changed their email address but failed to update the email stored within the PAUSE system. CPAN Testers highlights some of these Missing In Action authors, but it would be better to have an automated system. Also, as Ricardo noted, the envelope of an email is left unchanged when is sent to the develooper network, so bouncebacks come back to the original sender containing the authors' potenmtially secret email address. It would be much better to have a service that monitors bouncebacks, but change the envelope to return to the handling network and can send an appropriate email to the sender. It could then provide an API to enable PAUSE and CPAN Testers, and any future system, to know whether compiling an email was worth the effort. For CPAN Testers there can be a great deal of analysis to prepare the summary emails, so knowing in advance an author email is not going to get through would be very beneficial. Neil is going to write up the ideas, so we can more formally design a system that will work all of PAUSE related systems. CPAN Testers already has the Preferences site to allow authors to manage their summary emails, and also turn off receiving any emails, and it may be worth extending this to PAUSE or other system to provide a subscription handling system.

The rest of the day was mostly spent monitoring the metabase table in the cpanstats database, as the new 'fact' column was added. The new field will store the reports from the parent in Sereal. I was a bit worried about locking the table all day, but no-one seemed to notice. While this was happening, I started back on the original new module I started on the first day of the conference,and had hoped to release. However, it highlighted further problems with the way reports are stored. I'm not sure what is doing it, but the underlying fact.content field in JSON was being stored as a string. In most cases this isn't a problem, however for this module it caused problems trying to encode/decode the JSON. After fixing the Generator code, it means the new module still didn't get finished. Well at least I have something to start my neocpanism.once-a-week.info stint with :)

Wrap Up

I now have several pieces of work to continue with, some for a few months to come, but these 4 days have been extremely productive. Despite playing with the CPAN Testers databases rather than writing code, the discussions have been invaluable. Plus it's always great to catch up with everyone.

This year's QA Hackthon was great, and it wouldn't have been possible without BooK and Laurent organising it, Wendy keeping us eating healthily (and in good supply of proper English tea ... I'll try and remember to bring the PG Tips next time), Booking.com for supplying the venue and all the other sponsors for helping to make the QA Hackathon the great success it was. In no particular order, thanks to Booking.com, SPLIO, Grant Street Group, DYN, Campus Explorer, EVOZON, elasticsearch, Eligo, Mongueurs de Perl, WenZPerl for the Perl6 Community, PROCURA, Made In Love and The Perl Foundation.

Looking forward to 2015 QA Hackathon in Berlin.

File Under: hackathon / perl / qa
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History Of Modern (part I)

Posted on 23rd February 2014

Neil Bowers recently unleashed CPAN::ReleaseHistory on the world. Internally the distribution uses the a BACKPAN Index, which records every release to CPAN. I was already interested in this kind of representation, as I wanted to add a similar metric on each Author page of the CPAN Testers Reports website, but hadn't got around to it. Neil then posted about the script included in the distribution, cpan-release-counts in an interesting post; What's your CPAN release history?.

After a quick download, I ran the following for myself:

barbie@kmfdm:~$ cpan-release-counts --char = --width 30 --user barbie
 2003 ( 12) ==
 2004 ( 26) =====
 2005 ( 80) ===============
 2006 (  6) =
 2007 ( 59) ===========
 2008 ( 62) ===========
 2009 (122) =======================
 2010 (148) ============================
 2011 ( 89) =================
 2012 (156) ==============================
 2013 (123) =======================
 2014 ( 11) ==

So my most prolific year was in 2012. I'll have to see if I can change that this year. However, it does give a nice yearly snapshot of my releases.

As it turns out, for CPAN Testers I don't need the BACKPAN index, as I already generate and maintain an 'uploads' table within the 'cpanstats' database. I do need to write the code to add this metric to the Author pages. Thanks to Neil's script though, he has given me a starting point. Being able to see the releases for yourself (or a particular Author) is quite cool, so I may adapt that to make any such matrix more dynamic. It might also be worth adding a more generic metric for all of CPAN to the CPAN Testers Statistics website. Either way, I now have two more things to add to my list of projects for the QA Hackathon next month. Neil will be there too, so I hope he can give me even more ideas, while I'm there ;)

File Under: hackathon / opensource / perl
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Grand Designs

Posted on 31st December 2013

Over the last year I've made several releases for Labyrinth and its various plugins. Some have been minor improvements, while others have been major improvements as I've reviewed the code for various projects. I originally wrote Labyrinth after being made redundant back in December 2002, and after realising all mistakes I made with the design of its predecessor, Mephisto. In the last 11 years has helped me secure jobs, enabled me to implement numerous OpenSource projects (CPAN Testers and YAPC Conference Surveys to name just two) and provided the foundation to create several websites for friends and family. It has been a great project to work on, as I've learnt alot about Perl, AJAX/JSON, Payment APIs, Security, Selenium and many other aspects of web development.

I did a talk about Labyrinth in Frankfurt for YAPC::Europe 2011, and one question I was asked, was about comparing Labyrinth to Catalyst. When I created Labyrinth, Catalyst and its predecessor Maypole, were 2 years (and 1 year) away from release. Back then I no idea about an MVC, but I was pleased that in later years when I was introduced to the design concept, that it had seemed an obvious and natural way to design a web framework. Aside from this and both being written in Perl, Labyrinth and Catalyst are very different beasts. If you're looking for a web framework to design a mojor system for your company, then Catalyst is perhaps the better choice. Catalyst also has a much bigger community, whereas Labyrinth is essentially just me. I'd love for Labyrinth to get more usage and exposure, but for the time being, I'm quite comfortable with it being the quiet machine behind CPAN Testers, YAPC Surveys, and all the other commercial and non-commercial sites I've worked on over the years.

This year I finally released the code to enable Labyrinth to run under PSGI and Plack. It was much easier than I thought, and enabled me to better understand the concepts behind the PSGI protocol. There are several other concepts in web development that are emerging, and I'm hoping to allow Labyrinth to teach me some of them. However, I suspect most of my major work with Labyrinth in 2014 is going to be centred on some of the projects I'm currently involved with.

The first is the CPAN Testers Admin site. This has been a long time coming, and is very close to release. There are some backend fixes that are still needed to join the different sites together, but the site itself is mostly done. It still needs testing, but it'll be another Labyrinth site to join the other 4 in the CPAN Testers family. The site has taken a long time to develop, not least because of various other changes to CPAN Testers that have happened over the few years, and the focus on getting the reports online sooner rather than later.

The next major Labyrinth project I plan to work on during 2014, is the YAPC Conference Surveys. Firstly to release the current code base and language packs, to enable others to develop their own survey sites, as that has been long over due. Secondly, I want to integrate the YAPC surveys into the Act software tool, so that promoting surveys for YAPCs and Perl Workshops will be much easier, and we won't have to rely on people remembering their keycode login. Many people have told me after various events that they never received the email to login to the surveys. Some have later been found in spam folders, but some have changed their email address and the one stored in Act is no longer valid. Allowing Act to request survey links will enable attendees to simply log into the conference site and click a link. Further to this, if the conference has surveys enabled, then I'd like the Act site to be able to provide links next to each talk, so that talk evaluations can be donme much more easily.

Lastly, I finally want to get all the raw data online as possible. I still have the archives of all the surveys that have been undertaken, and some time ago I wrote a script to create a data file, combining both the survey questions and the responses, appropriately anonymised, with related questions linked, so that others can evaluate the results and provide even more statistical analysis than I currently provide.

In the meantime the next notable release from Labyrinth will be a redesign of the permissions system. From the very beginning Labyrinth had a permissions system, which for many of the websites was adequate. However, the original Mephisto project encompassed a permissions system for the tools it used, which for Labyrinth were redesigned as plugins. Currently a user has a level of permission; Reader, Editor, Publisher, Admin and Master. Each level grants more access than the previous one as you might expect. Users can also be assigned to groups, which also have permissions. It is quite simplistic, but as most of the sites I've developed only have a few users, granting these permissions across the whole site has been perfectly acceptable.

However, with a project I'm currently working on this isn't enough. Each plugin, and its level of functionality (View, Edit, Delete), need different permissions for different users and/or groups. The permissions system employed by Mephisto came close, but they aren't suitable for the current project. A brainwave over Christmas saw a better way to do this, and not just to implement for the current project, but to improve and simplify the current permission system, and enable to plugins to set their permissions in data or configuration rather than code, which is a key part of the design of Labyrinth.

This ability to control via data is a key element of how Labyrinth was designed, and it isn't just about your data model. In Catalyst and other web frameworks, the dispatch table is hardcoded. At the time we designed Mephisto, CGI::Application was the most prominent web framework, and this hardcoding was something that just seemed wrong. If you need to change the route through your request at short notice, you shouldn't have to recode your application and make another release. With Labyrinth switching templates, actions and code paths is done via configuration files. Changing can be dne in seconds. Admittedly it isn't something I've needed to do very often, but it has been necessary from time to time, such as disabling functionality due to broken 3rd party APIs, or switching templates for different promotions.

The permission system needs to be exactly the same. A set of permissions for one site may be entirely different for another. Taking this further, the brainwave encompassed the idea of profiles. Similar to groups, a profile can establish a set of generic permissions. Specific permissions can then be adjusted as required, and reset via a profile on a per user or per group basis. This then allows the site permissions to be tailored for a specific user. This then allows UserA and UserB to have generic Reader access, but for UserA to have Editor access to TaskA and UserB to be granted Editor access to TaskB. Previously the permission system would have meant both users be granted Editor access for the whole site. Now, or at least when the system is finished, a user's permissions can be set so they can be restricted to only the tasks they need access to.

Over Christmas there have been a few other fixes and enhancements to various Labyrinth sites, so expect to see those to also find their way back into the core code and plugins. I expect several Labyrinth related releases this year, and hopefully a few more talks at YAPCs, Workshops and technical events in the coming year about them all. Labyrinth has been a fun project to work on, and long may it continue.

File Under: labyrinth / opensource / website
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Lullaby of London

Posted on 21st December 2013

The 2013 London Perl Workshop Conference Survey results are now online.

Although percentage wise the submissions are up, the actual number of respondents are just slightly lower than previous years. Though it has to be said I'm still pleased to get roughly a third of attendees submitting survey responses. It might not give a completely accurate picture of the event, but hopefully we still get a decent flavour of it.

Two questions, which I plan to pay closer attention to in future surveys are; 'How do you rate your Perl knowledge?' and 'How long have you been programming in Perl?' Originally the age question usually gave some indication of how long someone had been using Perl, but from experience, I now know that doesn't work. As such, these two questions hopefully give us a better idea of the level of knowledge and experience of attendees. Perhaps unsurprisingly London.pm had a lot of attendees who have been around the Perl community for many years, particularly as it was the first non-US Perl Monger group. However, we do still see a notable number of people who are relatively new to Perl. It will be interesting to see whether these numbers change over the years, as although the community doesn't appear to be growing radically, it is still attracting first-time attendees.

Looking at the list of suggested topics, I was intrigued to see "Testing" in there. Apart from my own talk and Daniel Perrett's, there wasn't anything specifically about testing. I don't know if its because the older hands are more weary of giving test talks, or whether everyone thinks everything has been said, but I do think it's a topic that worth repeating. We regularly have new attendees who have never seen these talks before, so hopefully we'll see some more submitted at future workshops and YAPCs. There was also a lot of interest in practical uses of web frameworks. Although Andrew Solomon held a Dancer tutorial, seeing how to solve specific problems with web applications would be valuable to many. Having said that, the diverse range of subjects that was on offer at the workshop, was equally as interesting. I just hope Mark and Ian are so inundated with talks next year, we have an even greater choice from the schedule.

Thank you to Mark and Ian from organising another great Perl event, and thanks to all the speakers for making it worth attending. Also to all the attendees, especially those who took the time to respond to the survey, and for all the talk evaluations. I know the speakers appreciate the evaluations, as I've had a few thank yous already :)

Enjoy the results.

File Under: community / london / opensource / survey / workshop
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