There’s no lack of boastful articles about the benefits of open source software; I have not come here to bury them (or praise). They can do wonders and sometimes they just can burn your energy.

I’m still a fan.

But it takes work.

In a current project I am responsible for setting up three open source academic web applications on a cloud server (look at me ma playing a system admin!). And just for rounding, they are written in three different P languages – PHP, Python, and Perl.

Oh P.

After 4 weeks (well I am getting paid for about 5 hours per week)… I am finally 3 for 3. Just to get them running.

I could not even do this were it not for searching and so many helpful responses in various stack exchanges and individual blog posts. I’ve been sudo apt-getting like mad. You enter suggested cryptic commands and watch screen and screen of progress fly by. Then you test. And it fails. Then you realize it probably needs an apache restart. Still fail. New error. New search. Try a different module.

It’s a game of sorts.

But then there are these things…

The first one had maybe 14 messages back and forth in a GitHub issue thread. It was suggested I installed wrong, or that I did not understand the code (that’s definitely correct). That my settings were wrong. Then in the end… “Our setup script had the wrong directory for a default”.

Now while I can whinge about this, on the other hand, I had the person who knew the code in and out helping me one on one. He or she just kept suggesting things, even if they were not helpful, in the end, the thing is running.

For the second one, it actually set up good, but we found errors in use. And after a good chunk of time finding the error, it turns out they did not recommend the correct version of PHP. Installing it was not hard, but there was a mad cycle of figuring put how to get apache to use the one I wanted.

I notified the developer.

One of the contributors to the assessment interface code decided to use those [new capabilities only in PHP 7.1].  I should update the readme, thanks.

Even with this, I have to be thankful I can communicate directly to developers, and usually before I do that I can figure out the answers elsewhere.

And it does give me some more empathy for people who use my pile of SPLOT code and stuff. I am sure people use my stuff and get stuck where I’ve made errors or forgot to document something.

And for all of this, I would rather have open source code as is (well open can be better, always), then not. And people who respond to my half informed questions and others who freely offer solutions elsewhere.

My hair is ok.


Featured Image: Added “oops” text and Wikimedia Commons Open Source Initiative image shared under Creative Commons CC BY to Old Man Pixabay image by Pexels. Also cropped image to be mostly “head”.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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