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Amtrak, B-Movies, Web Development, and other nonsense

Apache, Passenger, and the environment

This is a quick note on building an Apache+Passenger+Ruby 2.4 environment on RHEL7, with an explanation of some odd path issues with libraries and how to resolve them for both regular users and system users.

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Catapulting rocks

Last summer I did a series of posts in conjunction with a talk I gave at WPCampus on Lafayette’s WordPress deployment methodology. At the time the missing piece was a truly automated deployment. We implemented that at the end of August, but I never got around to writing it up until now. We retained our Capistrano methodology, but had GitLab execute the deployment from a container.

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Deploying MediaWiki with Capistrano

I’ve written at length about how we deploy WordPress with Composer and Capistrano. This week I’m going to write about how I adapted that workflow for our MediaWiki environments.

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ImageMagick’s convert command handles image-to-PDF just fine, but by default can spit out a very small image–almost as though it’s “zoomed in.” To get around that, set the density flag when invoking it: convert -density 100% foo.jpg foo.pdf. You may have to play with it a little to get a usable result.

No, that’s not it

This is a story of how a log file that got too large degraded a production system for a couple days. It illustrates what happens if you dive into a problem without stepping back and asking basic questions.

We use Redmine as an issue tracking/project management platform. It has the capability to ingest emails from standard input. Late last week, we realized that this feature had stopped working. What followed was a lot of time in the weeds which could have been avoided if I’d just stopped to work the problem.

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Running Moodle CI tests in GitLab

I maintain about a dozen plugins in the Moodle plugins repository. I use Moodlerooms’ moodle-plugin-ci project to test all of them on Travis CI. It’s a fantastic tool and rely heavily on it.

This fall I’ve been working on a plugin which, because of various hooks into Lafayette’s internal infrastructure, I’m not releasing publicly. I’d still like to test it in the usual way, so I decided to run the tests on our internal GitLab infrastructure.

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Implementing a course archiving strategy in Moodle

A course archiving strategy is the white whale of higher education. I can remember being part of discussions a decade ago about how to keep a Moodle instance at a manageable size while preserving information. There were two challenges: come up with a policy that faculty could support, and execute a reasonable technical implementation of that policy. In this post I’ll discuss the tools we built to implement our chosen policy.

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Measuring activity in Moodle

It’s a simple question with a complex answer: in a given academic term, what percentage of our Moodle courses are “active” (used by a faculty member in the teaching of their course). We have to start by figuring out what counts as a “course” in a term, and then come up with an inclusive measurement of activity.

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Pick a date, any date

Moodle 3.2 introduced the concept of end dates for courses. Moodle 3.3 added a new Course Overview block which uses end dates to determinate whether a course is in progress, in the past, or in the future. This is pretty great, unless you’re in the following situation:

  • Your school has five years worth of courses
  • Those courses don’t have end dates

Congratulations—you now have five years of courses in progress. Your faculty will have five pages worth of past courses on the Course Overview block! That’s probably undesirable. To avoid it, I’m writing a plugin that lets an administrator set course start and end dates at the category level. While working on it, I ran an interesting edge case with Behat acceptance tests, reminding me that you’d best treat Behat like it’s a real user.

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WordPress and partial content

Eighteen months ago we had an anomalous problem where video playback didn’t work on some, but not all, of our WordPress multisites. Videos wouldn’t play, or would play but wouldn’t seek. The problem was confined to local uploads embedded in a page. Videos from YouTube played fine; if you viewed the video directly playback worked as expected.

The problem turned out to be long-standing issue with how ms-files.php served up files from pre-WordPress 3.5 multisites. Solutions had floated around for years. Our problem was describing the problem with enough specificity to actually find the right solution.

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