On a weekend in the '50s in middle America, you'd see guys clustered around some neighbor's hot rod, admiring the raw horsepower that could be unleashed and waxing philosophic about the merits of various approaches one might use to raise the coolness factor of the car. Well, here we are in the '00s, and last night I found myself with a handful of men and women in my wiring closet, admiring the raw MIPS of my web server and waxing philosophic about the merits of various wireless networking protocols.
As I've mentioned before in some of my public lectures, I'd built a very wired home for which being CIO is potentially a full time job. In all, we'd put about 5 miles of Cat5 wire in the walls (there are a couple of wireless nodes as well for those times when I want to take my laptop to bed or when I've got visting IBMers in my conference room). I hired an installer to pull the cables, but I did all the termination and equipment installation myself because 1) if anything broke or needed to be modified, I wanted to be sure that I knew how to do it and 2) I figured that with all this practical experience in being a sysadmin/network engineer that maybe someday I could get a real job that my friends could understand. I should show you a network diagram (and I've got one, because my network has too many moving parts for me to keep in my head), but briefly, it all starts with a T1 coming from the outside to a router and then in turn to a dedicated Linux firewall appliance. The network splits out from there into untrusted and trusted subnets. The untrusted subnet is home to my web server and an application server (which fuses all the home audio, video, security, and telephony subsytems of the home and so both are locked down quite tightly) while the trusted subnet contains all the home components consisting of a handful of Macs and a terrabyte file server with a streaming tape backup. I have a long list of things to do to the network, and even keeping all the latest security patches current and checking the logs for bad guys trying to push their way in is something that consumes time every week. Last night, I'd installed a security patch on my web server (an Apple Xserve, which BTW has an IBM processor inside :-)) which in turn caused a failure in MyMSQL installation. For those of you who tried to register/login to the Handbook the past few hours, my apologies for the inconvenience; I shall discipline my sysadmin severely. I should note that I'd received a handful of email messages telling me about the problem and very politely admonishing me for the profoundly lousy error messages my site reported (a "General Error"). Happily, it's just a simple matter of programming, not a systemic failure of my site's architecture, for me to provide a less user hostile response. Perhaps I'll host a programming party some weekend and get my friends to help.