Rob Peck Observations on technology, leadership and life.

Archiving A Yahoo Group

I’ve been on the Internet a long time, since the early to mid 1990s. And when you are on the Internet that long, you tend to leave a pretty long trail behind you. But over the years that trail gets overgrown as sites close, lists vanish, and machines crash. There is precious little left from those early years.

One thing that has persisted to this time, despite being pretty heavily neglected over the years, is Yahoo Groups. Those who remember the first dot-com boom may remember that Yahoo Groups was not originally Yahoo Groups. It was eGroups, which Yahoo bought and merged into their own sprawling empire. eGroups basically made it possible for anyone to set up a mailing list without needing access to a listserv service.

Well, it looks like the end has finally come for Yahoo Groups. Verizon, the new owner of the rotting corpse of Yahoo, has announced that all groups will disappear on December 14th. I was on tons of mailing lists during my early Internet years, and I would really like to archive and preserve those messages if I could. But how could I get them out of Yahoo?

Solving CSSMERR_TP_CERT_EXPIRED error on OS X Installation

I have an old iMac that has been sitting unused upstairs for awhile, that I decided to finally get rid of. Before putting it on Craigslist, like any good computer owner, I wiped the drives and went to reinstall the most recent version of OS X/macOS that this old machine would support. In this case, this was El Capitan.

But when I went to install, I kept getting an error about the OS not being able to install. Popping the log window open, I found an entry called CSSMERR_TP_CERT_EXPIRED. This would seem to be a prime suspect.

Better Sparkle Appcasts With Jekyll

If you have done and OS X/macOS development, especially any that predated the Mac App Store, you are probably aware of Sparkle. Even if you haven’t done any development, you have probably used Sparkle because it was basically the de facto method of providing update functionality in Mac Apps, and even to this day is still widely used on many apps distributed outside the official App Store.

Updates are distributed to applications by means of an “appcast”, an extension of the RSS specification containing information about updates. RSS itself is based on XML, which means you can build them just like you would build any other published document.

The problem comes when you start having a lot of updates in an appcast. Maintaining a large file can become difficult. But fortunately, using Jekyll collections, we can generate a single appcast using multiple files that are much easier to maintain. And, as an added bonus, we can use that same data to generate a download and changelog page from the same data.

Internal Auto-Renewing LetsEncrypt Certificates

I have a well-documented obsession with pretty URLs, and this extends even to my internal home network. I have way too much stuff bouncing around in my head to have to remember IP addresses when a domain name is much easier to remember.

LetsEncrypt launched to offer free SSL certificates to anyone, but the most crucial feature of their infrastructure, and one someone should have figured out before then, was scriptable automatically renewing certificates. Basically they validate you do in fact own the domain using automated methods, then issue you the new certificate. Thus, your certificates can be renewed on a schedule with no interaction from you.

Traditionally, they have done this by placing a file in the webroot and looking for that file before issuing the certificate (see my earlier blog post about Zero Downtime nginx Letsencrypt Certificate Renewals Without the nginx Plugin for more detail about this.)

But what happens when you want to issue an internal certificate? One for a service that is not accessible to the outside world, and thus, not visible using the webroot method? Well, it turns out there is a solution for that too!

A Fresh New Look

Welcome to the new, freshly redesigned robpeck.com!

It’s amazing how you can become used to a design. It becomes like a warm coat. You love the predictability, you spent a lot of time getting the fonts right, getting the layour right, and everything is just perfect. That was the case with this site, that was pretty much exactly how it was way back when I migrated the site from Wordpress to Jekyll in 2013.

To put that into perspective, my daughter was not even a year old yet. Barack Obama was just one year into his second term, the iPhone 5S had just dropped a month earlier, the first 4K TVs were shown off at CES. A long time has passed.

And then the years pass. New devices and browsers appear. New technologies become available, and cruft builds up. In this case, a simple task of “I need to add a box to the site so that people will quit trying to use the comments for tech support and go to Github instead” became a full scale burn it down and start again redesign.

So, aside from the new design, what else has changed?

Incrementally Migrating from Apache to nginx

I am currently in the process of migrating a bunch of sites on this machine from Apache to nginx. Rather than take everything down and migrate it all at once, I wanted to do this incrementally. But that raises a question: how do you incrementally migrate site configs from one to the other on the same machine, since both servers will need to be running and listening on ports 80 and 443?

The solution I came up with was to move Apache to different ports (8080 and 4443) and to set the default nginx config to be a reverse proxy!

Just Take The Train

I love flying. Always have. Ever since my first flight as a kid, there was just something magical about getting into a giant metal bird and taking to the sky. I say was because it seems like, especially over the last decade or so, we have gone out of our way to make flying as miserable an experience as possible.

The “golden age” of air travel is long behind us and flying is now just a completely miserable experience. And it pains me to say that because I used to love flying. I loved airports, watching planes, feeling the potential of all the places you could go. But now, it is just an objectively awful experience.

Hierarchies: Finding Parents, Children and Descendents using Swift

It usually doesn’t take beginning macOS/iOS developers long to discover NotificationCenter and see it as the solution to every single problem of passing data around to different controllers. And NotificationCenter is great, but it has some downsides. Notably, it is very easy to introduce retain cycles (and memory leaks) unless you are very careful to track and free the listener when the object is released. This has bitten me on several occasions.

In general, excessive use of NotificationCenter ends up creating a difficult to maintain app where it is not entirely clear what is responding to what and where.