Patching up a monster of frankeinsteinian proportions

I’ve spent the first week of the year on vacation with some friends. The second week of the year has been mixed between going on with the jobs I should have gotten working already, fighting a bad case of cold, and getting insulted by a customer of mine for actually having gotten real vacation time for once in two years. More to the point: said customer doesn’t actually pay me overtime, or actually at all for the support.

Tonight I wanted to relax and think about my own needs. Not personal needs, alas, but at least needs for my work to become easier. Since I haven’t made any progress at all regarding RT I decided to look into a different need of mine: cataloguing customers’ computers.

I originally simply kept a file listing the computers I set up for customers — then I started getting more customers, and sometimes getting a computer back after many months since last time. And I started forgetting which computer was which. Nowadays I have 79 computers on my “database” (which is just a git repository with a bunch of HTML files as well as lshw dumps), without counting those that have been dismissed.

To recognise the computers, I started printing labels with a QR Code on them, which contains the URL of the computer’s HTML file on my website (password-protected). My original method required me to feed a multi-label A4 sheet into my laser printer and print one, two or three labels out on that… but it turned out to be a waste of time and of money in sheets, given that most of the time I ended up wasting half of it, as the printer refused to print aligned more than half the time. I’ve since bought a Dymo label printer, which is why you’ll find their drivers in Portage maintained by yours truly — the nice thing about Dymo’s label printers is that their drivers are fully GPL-2, while as far as I can tell both Zebra and Brother have binary blobs, that make them unsuitable for use on amd64-based systems.

As you can tell, there are a few things that I did in Gentoo that relate to this little “database” of mine: the lshw fixes to try getting it back into SysRescueCD (it’s still not there — and I lost the password for my account on their forums), the Dymo drivers noted above, and dev-ruby/barby which is a quite interesting library that allows you to generate almost any kind of barcode. And now it’s time of MongoDB Ruby libraries as I’m trying to write an actual web application to manage the “database” and make it a real database.

Today’s achievement is big: I finally got Rails (3.1) to play nice with MongoDB. Not using MongoMapper, the author of which, as I already talked about I would prefer not having much to discuss with. But thanks to Mauro I got pointed at Mongoid which is a much more well developed alternative.

Okay sure there are quite a few things to kink out in the packaging of Mongoid – for instance the fact that the gem packages a Rakefile that relies on a (missing) Gemfile, or the fact that two out of three rspec targets in said Rakefile fail, one of which by crashing the interpeter – but at least their unit-tests work, and the code works as intended when loaded it up. Which is more I can say about MongoMapper.

Oh and it doesn’t seem to require extra code to be added just to work correctly with Passenger.

The only problem I have now is fixing up one side issue: how do I print the labels once I load this into my webserver? I could download the PDF I use to print the label and then print that.. but it’s a bit of a time-waster. Of course both the server and Yamato (where the label printer is connected) are IPv6-enabled and .. well, the IPP protocol used by CUPS is fine to be used over the internet, as it can use SSL encryption. Which yes, means that I’ll be setting up a web application … that calls home to print a label, how crazy is that?

My only issue with this is that I’d rather not install cups on the webserver (especially since there is currently no way to just build the client side of it, which would be the only part of it I would need on the server — yeah I know, it’s funky), so I can’t just call lpr mylabel.pdf… and as far as I can tell, the only way to access IPP from Ruby is one of the many CUPS library bindings available as gems, which are all 0.0 versions, and do not inspire me the least. Since IPP is based off HTTP, I would have expected more implementations of it, to be honest.

Possibly, it should be possible to extend some HTTP Ruby library to send IPP requests as well; for what I’m concerned, I’d just need the “Print-Job” method to be implemented, which would allow me to send the PDF file to be printed with the default options. I guess I’ll resolve that bit once I’m done with the rest of my application, though.