Musical Interlude

I thought I’d post a little about some music for a change. I’m not really
a big music person, I’ve only been to a handful of live concerts in my life
and I find it very hard to concentrate with noise around so I don’t usually
have music playing in the background or wear a portable media player when I’m

However I find that I can listen to fairly “non complicated” music when I’m on
the computer at work without getting too distracted. The main music I listen
to is a [Ambient Nights]( compilations
by “Alex Hephaestion” ( real name unknown ). Each of the fifty or so compilations ( The full
list is on [this page]( ) is a CD worth
of about half a dozen tracks blended one after the other.

They are all free to download as high quality mp3s from the site and even come
with Cover Art etc. My favourites are [Life as it is]( and [Ambient Nights CD5]( but
I tend to keep a bunch on a USB key and just play them one after the other over my headphones at work ( to try on drown
out CNN which people like to leave running on a TV in the middle of
the office ). I really recommend giving them a go.

Another song I like is [Halcyon + on + on]( by
Orbital. I’ve heard it called “The Soundtrack of the Sunrise” . Here is a youtube
video of the music with the “Star Gate” sequence from the movie [2001: A Space Odyssey]( as
the background. It works pretty well.


International Bandwidth Pricing

[An article]( in the Dominion Post
has Southern Cross Cables claiming that a new cable doesn’t need to be built
since Southern Cross’ pricing is competitive.

They even say that they will sell a 155Mb/s circuit for just $US 500,000 per year down from
6 times that just 4 years ago. Of course half the problem is that their customers
are locked into multi-year contacts so some of them are still paying the old prices.

However even the new prices are still pretty high. The $500,000/year price works
out at around $US 268/Month per Mb/s ( 500000/155/12 = 268 ) or almost exactly $NZ1 per Gigabyte downloaded. In contrast
pricing to Hong Kong, China or Japan is perhaps a quarter of this ( less in bulk) and trans-Atlantic much less. Within the US
I can buy *retail* bandwidth from [Amazon]( for a 3rd of the quoted price.

That sort of huge margin means that New Zealand is going to be stuck with 30GB/month
domestic quotas for a while yet. Even those who use less than that suffer because
ISPs have too keep circuits full to save money so download speeds drop during peak times. It costs so much to host locally that almost all sites are
overseas and thus slower for domestic users.

It also means that newer applications (especially those involving streaming video, audio or other data) are
too expensive for most NZ users ( especially those on mid-range DSL accounts) to
regularly use. Things like downloading TV-shows or Movies via pay-services might cost
more in bandwidth than subscription (not to mention take forever to download).

In reality $5/month per customer is all ISPs can really afford to pay in International Bandwidth prices for
something like a $30/month account. As bandwidth prices drop quotas will go up and perhaps (when bandwidth is cheap enough) go away.

Right now Southern Cross isn’t under a lot of pressure to drops it’s pricing and
it would like to keep things that way. The additional bandwidth going into Australia
and the proposed Kordia cable will put a downward pressure on prices. A casual drop of 20% in bandwidth prices will pay return the governments investment in a year.

In reality to match other country’s cost, bandwidth prices need to drop by at least 75% and then continue dropping. Allowing them
to remain high to protect Sounthern Cross’ profits hurts New Zealand.


Zombies and Solaris

I’ll be upfront and say I’m not a big fan of [Solaris]( , sure
it was cool back in the 90s but with the exception of a couple of cute
features like [ZFS]( and perhaps [Solaris Services Manager]( the
whole thing feels like a 1999 [Slackware]( install
with a few random multi-gigabyte Java processes using up all the RAM.

The lack of decent package management, old versions of software ( “find -mmin -10” is something I *really* like to use), slow
booting, different device name for every version ( I don’t care what the hardware type is
if it moves packets then ethN is a good enough naming convention) and of course random multi-gigabyte Java processes really put me off.

Today my bit of fun was upgrading a Solaris 10 box that needed zfs but had an early
version of Solaris 10 that didn’t have it built in. So with Linux I’d just
put the box at a server somewhere and “apt-get update” or “yum update” or
something. However with Solaris I get to plug in a DVD, boot via it and go half way towards reinstalling the server before I get to the
“actually I just want to upgrade some packages” option. Unfortunately at this point I get
a little stuck because the installer seems to think that 4 Gigabytes spare on / and 3G spare on each of /var and /usr isn’t enough to upgrade 1G worth of packages. I’ll look at it tomorrow but I’m not impressed
with wasting several hours adding and deleting packages ( With a crappy close of [dselect]( ) in order to try and make it work.

I think Sun’s big problem is that the only people who buy their hardware are either
people with large storage requirements who [really need ZFS]( or large companies and government bodies
who have been running Sun Boxes for 20 years and like their support for 20 year old apps.

The first market buy the boxes *despite* the legacy junk that the second group insist on. So Solaris boxes tend to come in two flavours, either
they are “vendor shipped” with no Gnutools, no pretty editors and the [CDE]( desktop or they are heavily modified
with all of these thing to stop the Linux admins going insane for lack of bash. My last job was close
to the first with old Solaris 8 and 9 machines while the current job is closer to the second with Solaris 10 everywhere.

The problem Sun has is that as soon as the feature the first group is after matures enough in Linux then they will drop Sun like a shot and switch over the Linux. With the second group
well they aren’t going to Linux as fast but they are like newspaper readers, getting older and not being replaced as fast as they a dieing.

On to more conventional Zombies, here is (most of ) the Australian short film
“I love Sarah Jane”:

Also available [on slashfilm]( if the youtube link doesn’t work.



Wikipedia needs you.

One of the projects I am involved with is [Wikipedia]( especially
[WikiProject New Zealand]( which is attempting
to improve New Zealand related articles.

With the [General election]( later this
year one thing we would like to do is have photos of all MPs (both current and in the past) and
other political figures with articles. However there is still some way to go, for instance
the article on [John Key]( ( National Party Leader and potentially the Prime Minister after the election) doesn’t have a photo and neither does [Peter Dunne]( and [Rodney Hide]( (and that is just the party leaders).

I’ve written to a few Political Parties as party of a [little subproject]( but very little
luck so far except for the Greens who release their website photos under and open license already.

What is needed is for for the copyright holder of the photos to release them
under a license that can be used by Wikipedia and other projects. [This page](
has some details but the big things include:

* Republication and distribution must be allowed
* Publication of derivative work must be allowed
* Commercial use of the work must be allowed

The guidelines I’ve been following are [here](
but I’ve not had much luck. I’m a little stuck really, I thought that the political parties would be
happy to ensure their people’s articles were of good quality but they appear to have other priorities.

Other ideas I’ve had include directly contacting the politicians or just going along to their clinics and asking to take the photos. Both will probably take a while though
and will leave a lot of gaps especially with people who are no longer MPs.

Anyway ideas and offers welcome, I thought I’d post this so I could point people at something online detailing the problem at least. My contact
email address is “simon at”.



Housing and building

First up I should mention that with my new job my phone number has changed so
if you think my number is still 027 4xx xxxx then you might have problems
reaching me ( that phone is actually plugged in and in prepay mode but I don’t
carry it around). Email me if you’d like my new number and don’t know it

I just spent a couple of hours looking at the [Sketch Pad]( column
in the New York Times. The column ( publish about once a month, no obvious RSS feed though) “*focuses on an apartment, house, loft or shack now for sale that has unrealized potential. Each month, a different architect or designer is asked to create a vision of what the place might look like. There are no guarantees that the plans would be approved by co-op boards, municipal building departments or planning boards..*” . The
articles feature commentary, photographs and sometimes plans and sketches of the
designs. I particularly like once for small apartments although New York prices are very scary. ( via [Signal vs Noise]( )

Also on the subject of housing there is the article [Want to Know When Housing Has Bottomed? Here’s How]( by Charles Hugh Smith. He
roughly says housing is still priced way of it’s rental value and that estate investment pros
rules of thumb is that the fair value of a property if between 6 and 10 times the annual gross rent. In this part of the world
(where mortgage rates are over 10 percent ) I would guess the average multiplier is more like 20 ( One reason I rent). Of course knowing my luck that just means rentals are going to double over the next few years.

John Allspaw ( operations manager at Flickr ) has posted his slides from his [capacity planning talk to the Web 2.0 Expo]( (PDF) .

In an interesting move a couple of weeks ago Microsoft announced that one floor of their new Chicago
datacenter will be container based. Each 40 foot container will house 1,000 to 2,000 systems with between 150
and 220 containers on the first floor. See stories in [Data Center Links]( ,
[Data Center knowledge]( and [James Hamilton’s blog]( .

Last up [Barcamp Auckland 2]( is happening on the 12th of July. I had
a great time last year and I’ll definitely be going again.


3 articles on Building Internet Services

I’ve come across 3 great articles this week on best practice for building
Internet based Services.

*First* up [Simon Wilson]( gives a good overview
of what web orientated developers should be doing these days. As he says
“I tried to pull together all of the things I wish I’d been told before I
started building things on the Web”:

The slides are a good overview of the main areas of web engineering that have
changed in the last few years and what the current best practices are. Worth
a skim though and a subsequent Google if you find gaps in your knowledge. Simon
is a [Django]( developer so he references that
project a bit.

*Next* [Greg Linden]( has
[a post]( pointing
to and commenting on a [James Hamilton](’s LISA
paper “On Designing and Deploying Internet-Scale Services” ( [PDF here]( ).

I’d advise reading James’ paper first and then Greg’s comments, both are useful. I was
also looking at some other papers on [James’ site]( including
[this related presentation]( and on Modular Data Center design. James’s
[Blog]( looks interesting as well.

*Finally* the Yahoo! [Exceptional Performance]( people
have added another 20 rules to the existing 14 on how to speed up customer access
to you website:

NOTE: Slideshare seems to be allowing the document to be viewed but not
downloaded right now, I grabbed a copy previously ( 3 MB .ppt) if anyone wants a copy).

Currently I’m still looking at the original 14 rules for ideas, [CSS Sprites]( look
especially interesting and a big potential win.



New Disk

It’s been three weeks since my last blog entry ( I aim to do at least one per
week) so I thought I’d best post something.

The main news is that I have left Telecom ( after 3.5 years ) and have been at a new
job for the lat two weeks. The new job is part of a small team ( approx 5
people ) which look after the servers (and some other equipment) for one of
New Zealand’s top 10 websites.

Things have been pretty busy as I’ve had to get up to speed on the environment
fast since one of the other guys is on leave for 4 weeks but learning the
technology has been interesting. Things also move a *lot* quicker than they did
at Telecom.

Technology wise I’ve been playing around a little bit with the [nginx](
webserver for possible serving static content. Especially the [Mirror on Demand](
concept looks pretty cool for syncing multiple servers.

I also had a bit of fun today getting a new 750GB Hard drive working. Because
my old machine doesn’t have any SATA ports I’m using a [SiI3114 – PCI to 4 Port SATA Card](
to access the disks. However it didn’t recognise my new drive because it was too big.

A bit of googling around and found I had to flash the card’s bios to a new version
in order for it to recognise the drive. It took me a couple of goes since the
bios update programs only work for Windows or DOS so I have to boot into
[FreeDOS]( but all working now:

# df -H /media/disk1
Filesystem             Size   Used  Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdb1              739G   207M   739G   1% /media/disk1

Useful links:

* [George Pantazis explains the problem and suggests using FreeDOS](
* [The BIOS Update Utility and IOS images](
* [A good article on how to create the FreeDOS boot image with the utility on it](

Anyway time to head to bed. I have to get up at 7am these days to get into work
and my sleep patterns are still adjusting. The good news is that I’m actually starting
to get through my TODO list and I’m only a little behind in my email.


Catchup and EeeXubuntu

Yesterday I installed [EeeXubuntu](
on my [Asus Eee PC]( [Xubuntu]( is
a version of Ubuntu designed for low-specification computers while EeeXubuntu
is a slightly tweaked version of that that installs some drivers and such
for the Eee.

I was pretty impressed with EeeXubuntu ( probably pronounced “Easy-buntu” ), I
followed the instructions and burned the ISO image on a flash drive. Then it was
just a matter of pressing escape on boot up to make it boot from the drive instead
of the normal internal drive. The EeeXubuntu install is also a live boot disk
so I played around with it first to make sure I like it before I installed
it over the top of the Xandros install my Eee came with.

The default desktop now looks like this (click to go to larger image):

and is pretty similar to a normal desktop install. The Xfce desktop doesn’t
seem to be missing many features that I got with my normal Gnome desktop on
Ubuntu so I am pretty happy so far. All the hardware (except the camera which I have not tested) works
okay and both Suspend-to-RAM and Suspend-to-disk work. Boot times are a little
slower but I am happy otherwise.

I partitioned the 4G disk with 500MB of Swap (very low priority) and the
Operating System uses just over half of what is left. Even better I can use
the normal Ubuntu software repositories so new software is easy to install

On the subject of my Eee I haven’t posted before about my “Eee Kit” which I carry

The kit comes in thick plastic bag with a zip (not zip-lock) to seal it and
consists of the Eee power supply, a small mouse ($20) and a tin containing
some headphones and a 4G flash drive. It all seals up nicely and takes about
as much space in my bag as the Eee itself. About the only thing I miss would
be a short piece of cat5 cable.

Other Items.

+ I am currently reading [The discovery of France]( by Graham Robb
which is a fascinating book on how pre-WW1 “France was a land of ancient tribal divisions, prehistoric communication networks,
and pre-Christian beliefs. French itself was a minority language.”
+ A torrent of all 2008 talks and slides is available [here]( (12GB).
+ NZNOG 2008 has posted conference slides for [Wednesday]( and [Thursday/Friday]( along with [videos]( (still being updated).
+ The Sysadmin Miniconf slides are now up for [ 2008]( and [NZNOG 2008](
+ I recently got involved with the [Mailop]( group, which is a list for Email Administrators.
+ I’m currently working out my notice at my current job and going to start a new one in a weeks time. More details later.


Fight for Your Right – Friday at LCA 2008

The last real day of 2008 was [Friday]( I had
signed up to do a a [lightning talk]( in the last
session (see more below) so I ended up spending various breaks, writing and
rehearsing that rather than the other stuff.

The Keynote today was about Python and Python 3000 by [Anthony Baxter]( While
there have been a couple of complaints that the talk wasn’t good enough to be
a keynote I was very please with it. It was of medium but accessible technical
level about a major open source project which is used by many others. It was
by a local who is a senior person in the project and it was well presented. It
was also good to have something a bit more technical that the previous two
keynotes. Interesting thing I learnt about was the Low Level Virtual Machine or [LLVM](

The prize draw had a weird/stage/disturbing moment when the organisers took
back a prize from someone who had won it in the draw. I can see thinking but
I am not sure if the right result was achieved.

First session was one of those nice ones where there were four talks I would
like to have attended (I’ll download an watch later I guess) but I ended up
going to [Dave Airlie]( on Open Source Graphics
Drivers. I went to this last year and he is a pretty good speaker. This year
it was a pretty good survey of the current state of things and quite
interesting and to a good extent very positive.

One thing I’d really like to see would be a site with a nice summary of the
current support of various video cards in Linux. This might be good for
people looking to buy new cards so they could know which ones have closed drivers,
which open, which are shipping in distributions and how well they work.

Session two again had a few options but I went to see the talk on Suspend
to Disk, quite good again although a little over my head. The problem
really seems to be at the unsolved stage right now with kexec as a possible
option but that still only solves half the problem.

After lunch I went to [Keith Packard’s](
X driver talk. Once again it was a bit of a survey of current status (with a bit
about Intel releasing docs at the start) which is good for people like me
who aren’t seriously into this but like a survey of where things are currently up to.

The last main talk I saw was from [Luke Kanies]( about
[Puppet]( and resource abstract
in System management. Nice talk on an area I am especially interested in
these days although I guess I don’t need as much convincing as some people.

One thing I took back from this year’s LCA is that running servers like people did
15 years ago doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s not just the big boys but just about
everyone with more than half a dozen (and perhaps less) servers should be using config mngt
to administer them. No less than 3 speakers at the Sysadmin Miniconf said that
if they have a server to install or re-install they jump jumpstart it to a simple
install and use their Config Mngt programs (Puppet in 2 cases) to install the
reset of the software and config. 15 Minutes from bare metal is all it should take.

On the other hand where I work I’d be lucky to open the ticket to have a
box restored in 15 minutes. It could take hours (or more) for it to actually
happen. While Luke (and others) have done a lot of work convincing many that
this sort of thing is now “best practice” there are still many places prefer
to run things the way they always have. I suspect a few of those places are
going to have a lot of trouble competing with those that do keep up.

I can’t find the quote but (from memory) one of the speakers said that ten
percent of the total global IT spending in 2008 was going to be made by the
top 20 providers ( Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc) on Data centers and computers
to fill them. These companies, the people they sell to and their imitators
are the ones are going to deliver IT infrastructure so quickly and cheaply that
traditional IT depts (and companies that depend on them) won’t be able to keep

After the last of the talks there was a lightning talk session in the main hall.
This was quite well attended ( at least 350 people) and featured some pretty
good talks.

My talk was on a protocol that could be used by speech recognition programs to
talk to each other. It is about 32 minutes into [the video]( just
after the talk by Pia Waugh. Looking at it I didn’t do too bad but obviously wasn’t
anywhere near as good as some of the speakers.

It was a little disappointing to see that many of the Lightning talk speakers
were quite experienced speakers like Pia and Jeff Waugh, Rusty Russell etc rather
than people we don’t normally see. However some of the speakers were new and
also the regulars delivered some very good talks.

The evening event was the “Google Party” which was a BBQ and drinks in a
covered area of the University. Reasonable nice I guess although I found it
hard to mix and ended up going back to Trinity fairly early. Talking to people
there was good although the Sept 11th Conspiracy Theory guy was creepy and
got on my nerves. I really have no time for kooks and nutters and it is a shame
that even LCA has it’s share of them


Slow Ride – Thursday at LCA 2008

I started out [Thursday]( by going to
the keynote by [Stormy Peters]( It was a little
less crowded getting seated this time around. A good keynote overall on what
motivates people to participate in open source projects and how that
interacts with companies paying them.

First main talk I went to was about “Memory-Efficient and Fast Websites — Pick Two!” which
by Malcolm Tredinnick was a very interesting talk although I did know a good
percentage of what he said already. However I picked up some links to tools
I didn’t know about already and some good tips on best practice.

One big problem was that the talk was very crowded, part of the problem with
this was that LCA this year didn’t have enough large rooms to go around. So while
the main Copland theatre could hold 493 people the others maxed out at 100-150
each. This meant that it took less than 25 percent of the attendees to fill
up one of these rooms ( from just 5 streams ). I guess that the organisers
just have to go with what rooms they have but future organisers should probably
try to have at least 3 rooms holding 200-250 people for a 600 person conference (with
one of these holding 400 plus ).

The other part of the problem was that [Rusty]( got
the largest room and then spent 3 days scaring away as many attendees as
possible by telling them how much expertise was required. I suspect the organisers
had a “deer in headlights” moment or two with room allocations for this section
and decided that Rusty would probably be the most popular. However as I
stated above the big disparity in room sizes put them in this tough position.

The other thing I got slightly annoyed about in the talk was the couple who
re-arranged several other people in order to sit next to each other during
the talk. I really think that you could have survived being a couple of
metres apart from an hour or two ( especially since you didn’t talk or touch
during the talk except during the break ) rather than shuffling other
people ( not me ) around. You really should remember that you are ( I hope )
independent thinking entities not some creepy hive mind.

Anyway enough blog bitchiness. Next I went to a talk about Speech and Braille
computer outputs by Jason White. A pretty good talk with some interesting bits,
in a survey of the current state of the technology. I think many people
were surprised that a [Refreshable Braille display]( costs
some $8000 dollars. I think there are a couple of efforts starting to
happen to produce lower cost alternatives.

[Val Henson]( next did a talk on [chunkfs](
which I liked. Not too technical for me to follow ( Everything I know about
the Kernel is from the Linux Weekly News ) but it seemed to cover the details
in the serious Kernel people were interested in.

Afterwards I went to a talk about [netconf](
by [Martin Krafft]( . The netconf
project is intended to replace ifupdown with something more event driven
to handle the more dynamic environment systems (especially laptops) live in
these days with networks coming and going dynamically and everything being

While most people at the talk seemed to agree that something had to be done
there seemed to be many that felt that [NetworkManager](
might be a better tool rather than Debian developing one of their own. Personally
I said that creating a whole event-driven system seemed to be a duplication
of what [upstart]( is doing. Martin replied
that he didn’t think upstart was getting into Debian any time soon which I
assume is some heavy political issue since Martin maintains the package for Debian.

Last up was [David Jones]( talking about maintaining
the fedora kernel. Generally quite interesting and entertaining with minimal flashes
of nudity.

For dinner I went to the Professional Delegates Networking Session ( confusing
referred to as the [PDNS]( ) at the [Melbourne Museum](’s [CSIRAC]( exhibition.
We got buses there but it turned out that the Museum is right next to
[Lygon Street]( it it wasn’t really
that far away. The sessions was the usual sort of thing with nibble and drinks
( not much coke though ) and finished around 9:30 or 10 (forget which). There
was a bit of confusion with some people waiting for buses back ( there were none
but nobody had been told ) before everybody either walked back of to the
Google Student party. I ended up walking back ( ice cream on the way ) with
a couple of others