All posts by

Outages and Domino Art

rod

There they are in front of you. Ten thousand dominos standing on the floor… waiting. You have the perfect viewing location in the front row of the balcony overlooking the event. Then it happens. Someone pushes the first domino. Artistically and with predictable rhythm the dominos begin to fall. Each one striking the next one as if to say “It’s your turn.” Then within five minutes, it is all over. The last domino falls as if taking a bow to the cheering of the crowd.

Domino art is a one-time unique event that depends entirely on the skill of the setter. If only one domino is out of place, too close or too far away from those on either side, the art fails. Each domino is dependent on two others to fulfill the design of the artist. The beauty of domino art is only fully appreciated as all of the dependencies are present and doing their job.

“Blink is down again! You gotta be kiddin’ me. What kind of software are we running here? It seems like it is down more than it is running!” Perhaps you have heard that statement in the last couple of weeks or even said it yourself.

And as we’ve run through a rough patch keeping all systems go, it made me stop and marvel at the many dependencies that need to be in place to keep Blink up and running, producing its artistry, on a 24/7 schedule.

Recently while working on the functional code for Blink, I copied a command from our documentation and ran it in our production environment without closely examining the command or its parameter list. After all, it was from our documentation! The result was a loss of all Blink icons for about four hours. Programming without error? In heaven maybe! Common sense programming is something Blink relies on to keep chugging each and everyday (and using common sense is as close to error free as we can get in this life).

Authentication (what you use every day or every hour to log in to Bethel’s systems) is the second dependency needed to keep Blink running. All this work to log community members in and out on a continual basis is done by two authentication servers – machines that do nothing but authenticate users and send a validation token to Blink that says “this person is a legitimate user… let them in.” If one of the authentication servers has a problem, a critical dependency is lost and the dominos will be stopped cold.

Blink also depends on data flow. To serve you information that’s geared to your role at Bethel, Blink constantly draws info from multiple databases. Without that data flow, Blink will display the familiar “Error Report” instead of the channel information that you expect to see or worse, Blink will shut down entirely. Each bit of data in turn depends on database operating systems and network infrastructure to transmit a proper sequence of info and at just the right time.

Blink rarely shuts down just because it is tired or grumpy or having a bad hair day. Like domino art, Blink relies on many other dominos doing exactly what they were intended to do when they were intended to do it. When that happens consistently, the artistry of our portal will continue to run 24/7 without interruption. It’s something I sometimes take for granted as web systems become more and more a part of our everyday at Bethel and beyond–all dependencies, working together, performing their function in the proper order. It really is a thing of beauty, something to be cheered.

The Lumiere Brothers

rod

One hundred and fifteen years ago Auguste and Louis Lumiere invented cinematography—moving pictures or video, as we know it today. On March 19, 1895, Auguste and Louis recorded workers leaving their factory in Lyon, France. The film was 17 meters long and was hand cranked through a projector to produce the world’s first “video.” It lasted approximately 50 seconds.

George Eastman refined and popularized video technique. Eastman Kodak developed the Kodak Brownie movie camera, a wind up camera that could be held in your hand. The Kodak Brownie movie camera sold for just $45 and instantly made home movies the rage of the 1950’s.

Today we take video for granted. We can go to YouTube to watch educational videos on how to grow heirloom tomatoes or how to fillet a Northern Pike to remove the Y-bones. Digital technology, the speed of our computers, and the ability of our networks to handle the bandwidth, have made video a ubiquitous part of our culture.

Bethel’s redesigned website will offer the ability to include rich streaming video features on our pages. Behind the point and click mechanics of the website, there will be new video-on-demand capabilities provided by a streaming media server.

The server will store the video content and stream it directly to you as you interact with the Bethel site. The streaming server will also make live video available over the web. Get ready to watch live broadcasts of WBCS-TV news on a web browser near you.

Streaming servers alone cannot produce compelling video. I am sure I could ask my friend G. W. Carlson to sit in front of a camera and drone on about the factors leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, but that can hardly be categorized as compelling video (my apologies to G.W.). Video content used on Bethel’s redesigned web site will need to accomplish the goals of attracting new students and communicating Bethel’s values clearly to a generation that is inundated with video content. As compelling video content becomes available, Bethel’s redesigned website will be ready to handle it.

Thanks Auguste and Louis. We celebrate your creativity and your invention. We have come a long way in 115 years.

Like Walter Johnson

rod

Walter Johnson, hall of fame pitcher for the Washington
Senators in the 1920s, was asked the secret of his success. He responded simply “You can’t hit what
you can’t see.” Walter Johnson
worked to be one of the hardest throwing pitchers the game has ever known.

In the current web site redesign process, Walter Johnson’s
words are still true. It will be
easy to hit the visual elements of the redesign because we can see them. It will be easy to say “Yes, I love the
overlap of those images” or “No, I do not like that color pallet at all”. It will be easy to say “I love the
creative content on this page” or “No, that presentation of content is not
acceptable”. Those are sensory
elements that we see and react to with passion.

What we cannot see are those elements going into the redesign
behind the scenes. A completely
new architecture will replace one Apache web server with two new virtual
servers. It will replace a single
application server with four new virtual servers. It will provide load balancing between our servers to keep
any server from being overrun. It
will provide capacity to for using web tools such as streaming video and
Bethel’s own Bubblequest without disrupting our external web site.

Like Walter Johnson, it takes hard work to develop something
you cannot see. Bethel’s web site
redesign process is moving forward with a lot of hard work on the network team,
the systems administration team and the web services team. Network load balancing is in
place. New virtual servers are
handling the load. New front-end Apache servers are being designed and made ready for service. In other words there is a lot of hard
work going on where it cannot be seen to give Bethel a web presence that will
be robust and fault tolerant as well as attractive and compelling.