End of July Misc post.

As usual I’m a bit behind in stuff but the excuse this time is that around 6 months
ago I started playing chess competitively again ( previously was when I was still at school) so
I’ve been spending a bit of time at it. Right now it involves going to
[the club](http://www.aucklandchesscentre.co.nz/webcontent/default.aspx) ( site being redone soon) one evening
a week, the odd tournament and some study and practice on [sites like this](http://chess.emrald.net/tProfile.php?TacID=21765) .

I’m now [ranked](http://www.poisonpawn.co.nz/nzcfratings.htm) 332nd= in the country but
I think with a bit of work I could be in the top 200 in a few months if I keep at it.

Other stuff that is happening is that a proposal for a [Sysadmin Miniconf](http://sysadmin.miniconf.org/) has been submitted
to [Linux.conf.au 2009 in Hobart](http://linux.conf.au/). More details to come.

Some links:

A good paper at Usenix 2008 on [Handling Flash Crowds from your Garage](http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix08/tech/full_papers/elson/elson_html/)
[PDF version with the diagrams](http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix08/tech/full_papers/elson/elson.pdf) .

…and an interesting article on [How long will we be trapped in this mobile hell hole?](http://www.smstextnews.com/2008/07/how_long_will_we_be_trapped_in_this_mobile_hell_hole.html)
panders to my dislike of mobile applications.

And finally a Watchmen Trailer / Heroes Mashup video:

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Barcamp Auckland 2008

On Saturday ( 11th July ) I went to [Barcamp Auckland 2](http://bca.geek.nz/)
over at Botany Downs. Like [last year](http://bca.ludwignz.com/) ( which I
seem not to have blogged about) it was a 1 day “web technology” orientated
unconference organised by [Ludwig Wendzich](http://ludwignz.com/) and a group of
helpers.

Once again the venue ( Botany Downs Secondary College ) was great although
this time around the weather was nasty so things were a bit cold. I also
had a headache and queasy stomach so most of the time I felt like [this](http://flickr.com/photos/talios/2663111543)
( although at one point I [felt like this](http://flickr.com/photos/zakhenry/2660119763) , I think the pills had just kicked in ). So
my concentration skills weren’t on their best.

So here is a list of stuff I went to, the programme doesn’t seem to be online
anywhere so things are a little spares wrt names, titles and the like. Most of
the talks were fairly informal with a lot of audience participation. I
have an idea for a website so I went along to a couple of the more commercial talks.

**Productivity**

A talk from [Ben Young](http://blog.bwagy.com/give-users-what-they-want/) followed by a bit of a round table about productivity. The usual
stuff like only checking your email now and then and otherwise trying to
avoid interruptions plus a few other ideas about.

Suggested Tools:
[GoTo Meeting](https://www.gotomeeting.com/) , [Kayako](http://www.kayako.com/) , [OTRS](http://otrs.org/)

**Advertising**

A great overview by Regan from [throng](http://www.throng.co.nz) ( NZ TV website) about their experiences
with advertising and making money from their site. He discussed the various
text ads, textlink ads, Video Ads ( recommended [Unruly Media](http://www.unrulymedia.com/) ) and affiliate programmes.

Good discussion from others in the room including one guy who is getting 20% clickthoughs on google ads(!). There
was also some discussion about getting New Zealand ads onto smaller sites. It sounds like some people
are talking about an ad network for independent publishers.

**Frontend Performance, Yslow etc**

I organised a little session ( with a 5 minute’s notice) about the [Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Web Site](http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html)
stuff that has been big for the last year or so and experiences people had had. I can’t say it
was a very good session. I didn’t prepare or know the topic backwards so I was pretty disorganised. There was some round table discussion about people’s
expediences but I can’t say I was very happy with how it went.

**Windows, IE**

One of the guys from Microsoft talked about the problem of getting people off IE6
and up to the latest XP service packs. Some 25% of the population are still on IE6
( another 25% Firefox and around 50% IE7). The idea is to get these people
upgraded to secure systems and using standards compliant browsers.

There was also a bit of talk about IE8 and how a good percentage of of sites with “IE hacks”
didn’t render nicely anymore because IE8 was now more standards compliant.

**SEO**

Another session from [Ben Young](http://blog.bwagy.com/give-users-what-they-want/) with some general
advice of Search Engine optimisation. Lots of good general advice on setting goals, monitoring progress and different areas
plus some special sauce on building links in a non-spammy way.

**iphone seller**

A talk from a guy from [Mob](http://www.mob.co.nz) about how:

1. Fly to the US
2. Buy 15 iphones
3. Attending technical conference
4. Fly back to NZ
5. Unlock and sell iphones
6. Profit!
7. Goto 1

Turned into a real business.

**Careers**

A session of 20 people giving [Ludwig Wendzich](http://ludwignz.com/) ( 17 year old main organiser)
career advice. More interesting than it sounds.

**Other**

There was a bunch of other stuff:

* Ran into the usual suspects and couple of people from back at Telecom
* Saw [Rock Band](http://www.rockband.com/) game.
* Didn’t see the 5 minute coding competition due to crowd
* Lunch plus two breaks worth of food served
* Cute little online app to synchronise stuff, book rooms and see what was happening
* Around 40 people didn’t show up when others got turned away 🙁

**Other Write ups**

* [Official Bebrief](http://ludwignz.com/index.php/site/journal_entry/barcamp_auckland_2_debrief/) from Ludwig Wendzich
* [Simon Gianoutsos](http://gianouts.blogspot.com/2008/07/barcamp-auckland-2-synopsis.html)
* [Ben Young](http://blog.bwagy.com/give-users-what-they-want/)
* [Some guy without his name on his blog](http://www.devour.co.nz/2008/07/13/barcamp-auckland-2008/)

END

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Kickstart

My current job involves a wider range of stuff than my previous position. So
while I didn’t really deal with hardware at all at Telecom my new job involves
everything from the server hardware on up.

As part of that I’m getting my head around some tools to help manage our installations
a little bit better with the goal of getting from bare-metal to a “in production”
server in around 15 minutes. Several people at the [LCA08 Sysadmin Miniconf](http://sysadmin.miniconf.org/programme08.html) were at that stage so it seems a good target especially since we have a pretty small team.

So today at home I was playing around with Kickstart a bit. It’s actually fairly easy
you just add a few lines of config to the dhcp.conf:

allow booting;
allow bootp;

group {
	next-server 10.1.1.22;
        host test4 {
	  hardware ethernet 00:0B:6A:33:B7:36;
          filename "pxelinux.0";
	  option host-name "test4";
	}
}

The IPs above is my DHCP/TFTPD server while I hardcoded the Mac address in the make sure other machines didn’t get in the way.

The TFTP Server was a simple install and I only ended up with a few files:

/memtest86
/pxelinux.0
/centos52
/pxelinux.cfg
/pxelinux.cfg/default
/centos52-initrd

I grabbed the pxelinux.cfg/default file from [here](http://egopoly.com/archives/2006/03/creating_a_kick_1.html)
while the pxelinux.0 came with the [SYSLINUX](http://syslinux.zytor.com/wiki/index.php/The_SYSLINUX_Project) download.

The memtest86 and centos52 files are just the standard ones that come with the distributions ( they are under /os/i386/images/ in centos ).

Those files enabled me to remote boot memtest86 no problems ( except for my
computer need a power cycle between boots in order to network boot correctly).

Next I grabbed a quick mirror of the centos 5.2 ( rsync://mirrors.kernel.org/centos/5.2/os/i386 to be exact )
and [this](http://fedoranews.org/tchung/minikick/ks.cfg) ks.cfg file and that was pretty much it.

I was actually surprised how easy it was. I’ve just done a test install and from
power on of an empty system to login prompt on the installed machine it takes just 8 minutes.

The whole process is:

1. Hardware Boot
2. Network Boot PXE Image
3. Boot Centos Kernel/initrd with Kickstart options
4. Kickstart Downloads packages and installs OS
5. Reboot
6. Normal Centos Boot.
7. Finished

Of course the system has a fairly minimal install since I just used a simple
kickstart config. My next stage will probably be to add a few lines
at the bottom of the kickstart config to install [puppet](http://reductivelabs.com/trac/puppet)
and from there install additional packages and configure everything.

I think 15 minutes seems a good goal, especially since the work network and machines are
faster than what I have at home.

Links:

* [Billo – Creating a kickstart install server for Fedora Core 4](http://egopoly.com/archives/2006/03/creating_a_kick_1.html)
* [The SYSLINUX Project](http://syslinux.zytor.com/wiki/index.php/The_SYSLINUX_Project)
* [Debian Docs – Preparing Files for TFTP Net Booting](http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/ch04s06.html.en)
* [Centos Wiki – PXE Setup](http://wiki.centos.org/HowTos/PXE/PXE_Setup)
* [KickStart for Ubuntu](https://help.ubuntu.com/community/KickstartCompatibility)
END

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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
about.

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](http://www.ambient-nights.org/) compilations
by “Alex Hephaestion” ( real name unknown ). Each of the fifty or so compilations ( The full
list is on [this page](http://www.ambient-nights.org/music.php) ) 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](http://www.ambient-nights.org/an13.php) and [Ambient Nights CD5](http://www.ambient-nights.org/an05.php) 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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halcyon_%28Orbital_song%29) 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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001:_A_Space_Odyssey_%28film%29) as
the background. It works pretty well.

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International Bandwidth Pricing

[An article](http://www.stuff.co.nz/4560779a28.html) 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](http://www.amazon.com/S3-AWS-home-page-Money/b/ref=sc_fe_l_2?ie=UTF8&node=16427261&no=3435361&me=A36L942TSJ2AJA) 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.

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Zombies and Solaris

I’ll be upfront and say I’m not a big fan of [Solaris](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Solaris) , sure
it was cool back in the 90s but with the exception of a couple of cute
features like [ZFS](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZFS) and perhaps [Solaris Services Manager](http://www.fujitsu.com/global/services/computing/server/sparcenterprise/products/software/solaris10/self-healing/ssm/) the
whole thing feels like a 1999 [Slackware](http://www.slackware.com) 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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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](http://lopsa.org/pipermail/tech/2007-September/001931.html) 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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Desktop_Environment) 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](http://www.slashfilm.com/2008/05/20/votd-i-love-sarah-jane-zombie-short-film/) if the youtube link doesn’t work.

END

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Wikipedia needs you.

One of the projects I am involved with is [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipdia.org) especially
[WikiProject New Zealand](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand) which is attempting
to improve New Zealand related articles.

With the [General election](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_general_election_2008) 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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Key) ( National Party Leader and potentially the Prime Minister after the election) doesn’t have a photo and neither does [Peter Dunne](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Dunne) and [Rodney Hide](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Hide) (and that is just the party leaders).

I’ve written to a few Political Parties as party of a [little subproject](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_New_Zealand/Content_task_force) 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](http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing#Acceptable_licenses)
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](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requesting_copyright_permission)
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 darkmere.gen.nz”.

END

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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
already.

I just spent a couple of hours looking at the [Sketch Pad](http://topics.nytimes.com/top/classifieds/realestate/columns/sketch_pad/index.html) 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](http://blogcabin.37signals.com/posts/) )

Also on the subject of housing there is the article [Want to Know When Housing Has Bottomed? Here’s How](http://www.oftwominds.com/blogapr08/RE-bottom4-08.html) 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](http://www.kitchensoap.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/web20expo-capacityplanning.pdf) (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](http://datacenterlinks.blogspot.com/2008/04/miichael-manos-keynote-at-data-center.html) ,
[Data Center knowledge](http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2008/Apr/01/microsoft_embraces_data_center_containers.html) and [James Hamilton’s blog](http://mvdirona.com/jrh/perspectives/2008/04/02/FirstContainerizedDataCenterAnnouncement.aspx) .

Last up [Barcamp Auckland 2](http://bca.geek.nz/) is happening on the 12th of July. I had
a great time last year and I’ll definitely be going again.
END

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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](http://simonwillison.net/) 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](http://www.djangoproject.com/) developer so he references that
project a bit.

*Next* [Greg Linden](http://glinden.blogspot.com/) has
[a post](http://glinden.blogspot.com/2008/03/designing-for-internet-scale.html) pointing
to and commenting on a [James Hamilton](http://research.microsoft.com/~jamesrh/)’s LISA
paper “On Designing and Deploying Internet-Scale Services” ( [PDF here](http://research.microsoft.com/~jamesrh/TalksAndPapers/JamesRH_Lisa.pdf) ).

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](http://research.microsoft.com/~jamesrh/) including
[this related presentation](http://research.microsoft.com/~jamesrh/TalksAndPapers/JamesRH_AmazonDev.pdf) and on Modular Data Center design. James’s
[Blog](http://perspectives.mvdirona.com) looks interesting as well.

*Finally* the Yahoo! [Exceptional Performance](http://developer.yahoo.com/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](http://www.alistapart.com/articles/sprites) look
especially interesting and a big potential win.

END

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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](http://nginx.net/)
webserver for possible serving static content. Especially the [Mirror on Demand](http://hostingfu.com/article/nginx-and-mirror-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](http://www.siliconimage.com/products/product.aspx?id=28)
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](http://www.freedos.org) 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](http://ssh-lroot.blogspot.com/2007/10/sil-3114-add-on-card-bios-update.html)
* [The BIOS Update Utility and IOS images](http://www.siliconimage.com/support/supportsearchresults.aspx?pid=28&cid=15&ctid=2&)
* [A good article on how to create the FreeDOS boot image with the utility on it](http://www.linuxinsight.com/how-to-flash-motherboard-bios-from-linux-no-dos-windows-no-floppy-drive.html)

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.
END

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