Searching for a Scalable, Centralised Config System

We’ve got some exciting plans cooking in the cauldron over at Hiive Systems, and one of them involves replacing our existing config management system for deployments – a couple of config files separated into always changes and rarely changed parts – with something more scalable, dynamic while still very fast to query and read.

While our back-end is running on MySQL, I’m concerned that there might be a faster way to do things. I’m looking for some insight from people who’ve “been there and done that” already, though, as this is going to be a lot of work to test and check – if someone has already got some experience with this, I’d love to hear it!

I’m looking at LDAP because our configs make use of a hierarchy already, and LDAP has a reputation of being very fast for reads. While writes are slower, this isn’t a very big deal (changing the default pagination or time zone for a deployment/user isn’t likely to be a very frequent thing), yet these configs are going to be hit up many times a second (our app servers are going to be working with a single tree of code that serves a very large number of deployments, and each “view” on the app server might be for a different deployment, database and user).

If you’ve got any suggestions or comments to make, feel free to add them to my question at StackOverflow.

Complaint to the RTA for their hypocritical "Heathcote" solution

The Princes Hwy, the major road from Sydney, down the south coast of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, ranges from suburban roads to freeways, and understandably, the speed limit along this road varies according to conditions.

Through most of the suburban sections, this multi-lane road is around 70KM/h, which is quite reasonable. Unfortunately, however, right at the edge of the suburban road system – right where the road transitions to and from 100KM/h – the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) has decided to arbitrarily reduce the speed limit of this major road down to that of a side street, limiting the speed to 50Km/h.

This speed reduction – from its previous limit of 70KM/h – was instituted after the tragic death of Tim Deane in July 2006 after he crossed this busy highway against the lights. Suburbs to the north and south, Engadine and Waterfall, each have pedestrian under/over passes (respectively), but Heathcote does not.

Unfortunately, though, the focus of the RTA has been around positioning camera equipped highway patrol cars and collecting a lot of revenue from motorists, who have to halve their speed – coming into the city – in a few hundred metres.

But the thing that angers me the most – and if you drive this road regularly, it should piss you off too – is that the RTA is happy to unjustifiably drop the speed limit and organise some very lucrative enforcement, but they can’t be bothered to put up fences – that physically discourages the kind of J-walking that has caused pedestrian deaths – along the median strip that separates the train station from the park. If our government and its agencies really cared about pedestrian safety, they’d have a fence put along the line shown in red on the map below, instead of just dropping the speed and raking in the money through cameras and fines.

Princes Hwy at Heathcote - the missing safey fence

If you think this situation is just rotten, money grabbing and immoral behaviour from an agency that professes to act in the interests of road safety, yet missing out on some of the lowest impact and high value actions like putting up a fence, tell the RTA what you think by making a complaint. The complaint I made tonight is included below: perhaps if we draw some public attention to this situation, we might stand a chance of getting this immoral situation corrected.

I would like to make a formal complaint about the conduct of the RTA with relation to the speed limit changes introduced some time ago on the only arterial road connecting Wollongong and Sydney, specifically at Heathcote.

After the tragic death of a pedestrian around this intersection some time ago, a knee-jerk decision was made to reduce the speed – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – down to 50km/h. This is a 4 to 6 lane highway that links Sydney to the entire south coast.

The Police and the RTA have managed to create quite a strong revenue earner by putting regular police and radar patrols, however, it is very clear the RTA is completely disinterested in safety: while inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of motorists a year, the RTA has taken no steps to protect pedestrians, as there is no fence discouraging pedestrians from crossing south of the lights, between the station and the park.

This hypocrisy is an abomination, and is the source of a LOT of frustration, disdain and disrespect for the RTA’s policies, and leads many people to reject the legitimacy & authority of your agency.

#nocleanfeed looking increasingly likely

Unfortunately, the next month or two are likely to result in some form of legislation passing the Senate that results in all Australia’s having their internet connections filtered using a mandatory, opaque system controlled by an agency of the Federal Government.

Way back in January this year, after some months of extensive online discussion and commentary, I managed to get some time with my local member, Sharon Bird, to talk about the issues surrounding the proposal for a mandatory internet filter.

The Protests

The people of Australia has been talking to the Minister too, trying to convince him that this is a truly, truly terrible idea, and that we don’t want it.

In late March 2009, the ABC’s Q&A featured Senator Conroy, and to welcome him were more than 2000 submissions – many times more than in any previous episode. You can watch the episode here.

The other high priority campaign against this filter – which goes well beyond what the government promised they were going to do during the 2007 election – comes from activist group, GetUp, with their Censordyne commercial.

If this wasn’t enough, the annual Internet Industry Awards held in London named our Minister the “Villian of the Year” for his policy. He shrugged off concerns and criticism by saying that people didn’t understand what he was doing, and trying to paint people who object to the compulsory filtering of the internet as people who support access to “pro-rape sites, bestiality sites, and child pornography promotion sites“.

The Situation

Unfortunately, it appears that one of the more rational and relevant arguments against a compulsory internet filter – that it would slow down the internet at the same time as the Federal Government are planning to spend billions making it faster with the NBN – has been diminished, with the ISPs participating in the pilot – the ones who will comment anyway – saying that the pilot was achieved without noticeably slowing down internet use.

I’ve got some pretty grave doubts about all of this – particularly with internet speeds increasing, making any delay on the pipe due to filtering resulting in a higher percentage slowdown as speeds go up – but even if these technical concerns disappear, there’s still the two really big issues that this filtering scheme is certain to fail on:

  1. It won’t protect the children; getting around it will be fairly trivial – via proxies or VPN connections through the firewall – and most of the really scary stuff on the internet is found in the dark underbelly, of P2P networks, newsgroups, and other impossible to police locations. If parents are told this filter will protect their children, they’ll (further) hand over parenting responsibilities for the government, leaving to a much more dangerous situation than exists today.
  2. It will put in place infrastructure that the this, or a future government, can use to control the internet in a much more draconian way into the future. Any bleating that the legislation will restrict the filter to controlling some 1300 sites which are already banned by ACMA holds absolutely no water with me: legislation can be changed (that’s why we have parliaments – to make and change laws) and who’s to say some future government on the skids but with a majority in both houses won’t try and use scare tactics or cries of national security to silence dissent.

Our Response

Our politicians – particularly in the Liberal Party – need to know, loud and clear, that this issue will cause thousands of us to change our votes. This is a touchstone issue that goes to the core of pretty fundamental issues of freedom and liberty in Australia, and with the internet still very very early in its history, putting these sorts of systems in place when we know they won’t solve the problem – and in fact could make it worse – is wrong, wrong, wrong.

While many of us thought that the Green’s opposition to this, combined with the Coalition’s increasingly strong stance against the planned filter, would leave this legislation dead and buried: Labor wouldn’t have the numbers to get it passed, even with the support of Senator Fielding.

After recent discussions with Canberra types, I’m now concerned that a deal will get done in the sitting periods remaining this year, and that the Coalition will join with Labor and vote this horrible thing (amended in some way) into law. With nut-job-nanna’s like Dana Vale from the Liberal Party coming out in support of the filter – without having a clue what she’s talking about and foolishly equating the evil found online with the filter as a practical way to combat it (not as a silver bullet, she says, but as one tool, which she supports regardless of the side-effects of this blunt and ineffective tool) – I’m really concerned that the Liberal party and their National colleagues might be ready to do a deal and see this thing installed.

So, what are you going to do to make sure the Opposition know they need to oppose this thing?