Recent Blog Posts

Ansible playbook to upgrade all Ubuntu 12.04 LTS hosts to 14.04 (or 16.04)

Generally speaking, I'm against performing major OS upgrades on my Linux servers; there are often little things that get broken, or configurations gone awry, when you attempt an upgrade... and part of the point of automation (or striving towards a 12-factor app) is that you don't 'upgrade'—you destroy and rebuild with a newer version.

But, there are still cases where you have legacy servers running one little task that you haven't yet automated entirely, or that have data on them that is not yet stored in a way where you can tear down the server and build a new replacement. In these cases, assuming you've already done a canary upgrade on a similar but disposable server (to make sure there are no major gotchas), it may be the lesser of two evils to use something like Ubuntu's do-release-upgrade.

Changing a deeply-nested dict variable in an Ansible playbook

I recently had to build an Ansible playbook that takes in a massive inventory structure (read from a YAML file), modifies a specific key in that file, then dumps the file back to disk. There are some other ways that may be more efficient standalone (e.g. using a separate Python/PHP/Ruby/etc. script and a good YAML library), but since I had to do a number of other things in this Ansible playbook, I thought it would keep it simple if I could also modify the key inside the playbook.

I was scratching my head for a while, because while I knew that I could use the dict | combine() filter to merge two dicts together (this is a feature that was introduced in Ansible 2.0), I hadn't done so for a deeply-nested dict.

Fixing the blurry focus on some Raspberry Pi Camera v2 models

The original Raspberry Pi Camera model v1.3 came from the factory set to ∞ (infinity) focus, so when you used it out of the box for something like a landscape timelapse rig, or for security or monitoring purposes (where the Pi is at least 5 meters away from the subjects it's recording), everything would look crisp and sharp.

For many fixed-focus cameras and lower-end camera sensors, it makes sense to set them to infinity focus; closer objects are still recognizable, but slightly blurry. Most of these cameras don't need to focus on a person a meter away for a portrait, and they're also rarely used for FaceTime-like video chat.

Adding strings to an array in Ansible

From time to time, I need to dynamically build a list of strings (or a list of other things) using Ansible's set_fact module.

Since set_fact is a module like any other, you can use a with_items loop to loop over an existing list, and pull out a value from that list to add to another list.

For example, today I needed to retrieve a list of all the AWS EC2 security groups in a region, then loop through them, building a list of all the security group names. Here's the playbook I used:

Use an ARG in Dockerfile FROM for dynamic image specification

Dockerfiles have been able to use ARGs to allow passing in parameters during a docker build using the CLI argument --build-arg for some time. But until recently (Docker's 17.05 release, to be precise), you weren't able to use an ARG to specify all or part of your Dockerfile's mandatory FROM command.

But since the pull request Allow ARG in FROM was merged, you can now specify an image / repository to use at runtime. This is great for flexibility, and as a concrete example, I used this feature to allow me to pull from a private Docker registry when building a Dockerfile in production, or to build from a local Docker image that was created as part of a CI/testing process inside Travis CI.

To use an ARG in your Dockerfile's FROM:

Mount a Raspberry Pi SD card on a Mac (read-only) with osxfuse and ext4fuse

So you're telling me I can read files from a Raspberry Pi microSD card?

For my Raspberry Pi Time-Lapse App, I find myself having to either copy hundreds (or thousands!) of 3+ MB image files, or a 1-2 GB video file from a Raspberry Pi Zero W to my Mac.

Copying over the WiFi network works, but it's extremely slow (usually topping out around 5 Mbps... which means it could take a couple hours to copy). So I decided to finally try to mount the Raspberry Pi's drive directly on my MacBook Pro (running macOS Sierra 10.12). This is normally a bit tricky, because the Raspberry Pi uses the Linux ext4 filesystem—which is not compatible with either macOS or Windows!

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