Reliable rake task execution

My News Sniffer project needs to regularly do some back-end stuff like checking a bunch of rss feeds and downloading web pages. I do this with some rake tasks, which I call using the cron daemon.  Recently I’ve been having problems where some tasks take a bit longer than usual to complete and end up running in parallel. This slows things down, which means more tasks end up running in parallel and then my little virtual machine eventually falls on it’s face under memory pressure.

I could implement some locking in my application, but it’s always good to avoid as much new code as possible so, in the good old *NIX fashion, I cobbled together a short bash script taking advantage of existing tools. What this does is executes the given rake task in the given rails root using the Debian/Ubuntu tool start-stop-daemon (provided by the dpkg package, which is therefore always installed). start-stop-daemon uses a pid file to keep track of the rake program for the given task, so it will never run a second concurrent instance of rake for this task. Cron just keeps trying to run it every 5 minutes or whatever, but it only runs once concurrently.
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