Friday, March 25, 2005

Does anyone actually read this?

I'm toying (just toying, mind) with the idea of moving my blog inhouse, so to speak. is great, but I think I'd like to see better stats (referrers and the like), and the best way seems to be to do it myself (ain't that always the way?).

One thing that will help my decision would be knowing roughly how big the audience (that's you, gentle reader) is, and what they like. I like putting personal as well as technical stuff here, but do you enjoy reading it? Say now, or for ever hold your peace! (Feedback is always welcome via comments here, or plain text email; you know the address.)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bryan Cantrill's trip to Edmonton

On Tuesday night, Bryan Cantrill (DTrace guru and Solaris kernel hacker) arrived in Edmonton, ready to present a Solaris 10 talk the next day. I met with him and two other guys from Sun, and we went out for a burger together. I think we all (certainly three of us did) had these huge 10 Oz fat boy cheeseburgers, as recommended by the doorman at the Westin Hotel, where Bryan was staying. It was a great evening, talking about many things Sun related. We spoke about OpenSolaris, and stuff that I can't repeat due to our "friends NDA" (e.g., some of Sun's future hardware plans), and generally put the world to rights. Then we returned to the Westin for dessert and more talk.

The next day, I and several colleagues from $TELCO attended Bryans Solaris 10 presentation. We weren't the only people there. The room was packed: I'd say around 60 people from various companies were in attendance. Bryan gave an in-depth demo of DTrace, which I found very interesting. Sun also had a prize draw, where they gave away a Solaris logoed leather jacket, and a signed copy of my book. My colleague, Eappan, won the former, so congrats to him!

As seems usual for this type of event, it ended a bit late, so Bryan had to make a quick exit at the end so that he could get to his next commitment on time. He flew out to Calgary that evening, to give the same presentation there.

Many thanks for Bryan for putting his most entertaining talk together, and to Sun's Garry Rasko and Prem Domingo for pay for the whole shebang.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ron James

Last night I went to see Canadian comedian, Ron James, at Edmonton's Winspear Centre. The Winspear Cenre is just a hop and skip from where I'm staying, which is fortunate because is was bloody cold last night, and snowing. (Quite frankly, I've had enough of the bloody snow. It's late March--Spring!--for crying out loud! Back home in Kelowna, the grass is green and the crocuses are coming out. But here in Edmonton its colder than a winter's night on Pluto...)

Anyways, back to Ron James. I'd heard trailers for his show when he visited Kelowna (twice) a year or so ago. Given our financial dire straites (cue Mark Knopfler's gruff voice and excellent guitar playing), spending $35 ($70 for both of us) on a night's entertainment was out of the question. But now that I'm earning again, it wasn't so hard to justify.

I'm glad I went. Most of Ron's material is hilarious, although I didn't get some of the references to politicians from before we moved here (in January 1999). Next time he's playing in your town, check him out.

More fun and games tonight: I'm getting together with Bryan Cantrill and some other Sun bods for a social.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Treo 650 smartphone

For the longest time, I've been carrying around my trusty Motorola StarTAC cell phone. It has served me well over the years, but it has started playing up lately, and going through batteries like noone's business. When the occasion demnaded it, I also carted around my Palm V PDA; this I won at a draw at a meeting of the BC Internet Association (or something similar) a few years ago. Both useful tools, but a pain to carry both around.

So I started looking at my options for a smartphone, and it came down to a choice between one of the Blackberrys or PalmOne's new Treo 650. After a bit more investigation, it seemed clear to me that the Treo 650 was the one to get. However, when I started looking at this stuff, back in January, the Treo 650 (much to my irritation) wasn't available up here in Canada ("April, hopefully" said the helpful guy at my local Rogers dealer).

I was planning to send Rogers a shitogram about this situation last week, but when I went to the web site to do so, they had a banner proclaiming the real soon now availability of the '650 in Canada. On Friday (the day before yesterday), I wandered up to my friendly dealer to enquire (not "inquire" as my North American friends would have; an inquiry and an enquiry are two distinctly different concepts) as to their availability. "Any minute now," says he. I took this to be salesman speak for "any day now", but he meant it. Not 10 minutes later did he call me, saying that his allotment of 5 Treo 650s had arrived. I asked him to put one aside for me, and that I'd be there in 5 minutes.

Good job too. When I arrived, I was the 2nd person to have claimed their phone, the third was behind me, and the other two were spoken for. My initial reactions are good: I like the phone, and the builtin PDA is a bonus! My StarTAC and Palm V have been officially retired. Now all I need to do is get a decent belt clip for it. Right now, I using a temporary crappy generic one (better than just sticking the phone in my pocket though). The belt clip I was isn't yet available in Canada. For some fscking stupid reason, PalmOne won't ship stuff from their US store to Canada, and the Canadian store doesn't stock the one I want! Argh! I'll give 'em hell tomorrow and see if I can't get one. Worst case scenario: I'll have one shipped to one of my US-resident friends, and have them mail it to me. Those PalmOne bastards won't deprive me of my chosen belt clip!

Well, that's all for today, dear reader. There's only a couple of hours to go before Smallville and Star Trek Enterprise are on, and I want to finish (re)reading The Hobbit this weekend. I'm busy tomorrow and Tuesday nights (blog entries to come if I get a few minutes), Wednesday night is free so far, and then on Thursday I'm back to Kelowna for Easter--yippee!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Web Diva: going, going, gone

I heard on yesterday that our (as in the Sun/Solaris community's) very own Web Diva, Danese Cooper, has left Sun for greener pastures at Intel.

Although I've spoken to her a few times on the phone, I've only had the privilege of meeting her once, at ApacheCon last November. She, Andy Tucker, and a few other Sun bods were kind enough to introduce Jenny and I to the, err, "delights" of sushi.

I think Sun is worse off without Danese, but I guess a Diva's gotta do what she's gotta do. Good luck in your new position, Danese; we'll miss you...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Small ones are more juicy...

I was back home in Kelowna last weekend; it was great to see Jenny and Judge again. One of the things I wanted to do while there (and therefore had access to my tools) was to perform disk upgrade surgery on my Ferrari 3400.

The Acer Ferrari 3400 is a fine laptop, but it is hampered by its slow 4200 RPM disk (I guess Acer's marketing department figured that most people would think that bigger is better...). So I replaced it with an Hitachi E7K60: a 60 GB, 7200 RPM drive. I'm quite happy to trade off 20 GB for increased performance (hint to Acer's marketroids: it would have been nice to be able to pick this drive as a purchse option; it would have saved me some cash, no doubt).

The smaller drive draws more juice (power), hence the title of this entry, but how does the performance compare to the stock model? To answer this question, I ran two tests on each drive. For both tests the host OS was Express 2/05 (what else?!), and I rebooted the machine prior to each test to eliminate the effects of file caching. The first test was to run catman, and the second was to perform a recursive ls -l from the root directory. Both tests were run as root in multiuser mode, and the machine was otherwise quiescent throughout. (Incidentally, the extra power drain seems to have had negligible effect on battery life.)

With no further ado, here are the results. Take with as much salt as is deemed appropriate. :-)

Here are the times for the stock 4200 RPM drive:

root@orac3269# time catman
real 4m20.04s
user 0m29.85s
sys 0m03.41s
root@orac3270# time ls -lR > /tmp/foo
real 1m07.27s
user 0m01.35s
sys 0m03.12s

And here are the times for the new 7200 RPM drive:

root@orac3271# time catman
real 4m14.00s
user 0m29.82s
sys 0m03.39s
root@orac3272# time ls -lR > /tmp/foo
real 0m47.01s
user 0m01.32s
sys 0m03.03s

Essentially, the difference between the real time and the sum of the user and sys times is the time spent waiting for I/O (in this case, the disk). The catman test was only six seconds, but the recursive ls test was significantly faster: the 7200 RPM drive bested the 4200 RPM one by about 20 seconds!

A slightly less scientific observation: the Ferrari 3400 "feels" noticeably faster with the new drive in it. I'm glad I upgraded. Next on my Ferrari shopping list is a pair of 1 GB soDIMMs, so that I can max this baby out to 2 GB. To be honest, 2 GB in a laptop is kinda overkill in my case, but what the hell?! :-)

Oh, and a side note to fellow Brits: yes, the title of this entry is an allusion to the classic Spartan orange TV adverts of yesteryear. :-)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A visit to the Edmonton UNIX User Group

Last night I was able to go to the March meeting of the Edmonton UNIX User Group. I was primarily interested in listening to Sun Microsystems' Darren Schultz's presentation about storage technologies and what goodies Sun might be offering us in the future, but I was also interested in meeting some kindred spirits, and maybe making a new friend or two.

After helping myself to the obligatory doughnuts and drink, I introduced myself to Steve Sutphen, EUG's president. Once he knew who I was, he very kindly allowed me a few minutes to introduce myself. So that's what I did, plugging Solaris Systems Programming and the OpenSolaris pilot program. Much to my surprise, several people in the room had a copy of my book; it's a small world!

Darren's presentation was longer than planned (I think), but it was just about right in my opinion: enough technical content to whet one's appetite, but not so deep as to put all but maybe one or two people to sleep. Those who wanted to know all the technical details about ZFS were invited to Bryan Cantrill's upcoming Solaris 10 presentation.

One of the people I spoke with (hi Rainer!) is a regular reader (so he's the one!), so he was very keen to check out my Ferrari 3400. Fortunately, I anticipated someone might be interested in it and/or checking out Solaris 10, so I had it with me. The Ferrari is currently running build 7 of Nevada, AKA Solaris Express 2/05. Alas, I could demonstrate it for long, as it was already past chucking out time.

After the meeting, Darren and I went for a drink with another guy, also called Darren, in a gret little joint whose name escapes me a present. (This will come as no surprise to people who know me, as I have a terrible memory for names...)

All in all, a very pleasent evening. Not sure if I'll be able to go to subsequent meetings, but I'll try. If you're a UNIX user in the Edmonton, Alberta area, you should check out the Edmonton UNIX User Group. They meet at 19:00 on the second Wednesday of the month, in room 3-33 CSC at the University of ALberta. See you there!

Friday, March 04, 2005

I've got a Ferrari!

So I'm sitting at my desk, working on various things, killing time before I go to lunch and then home to Kelowna (BTW, this was last Friday, February the 25th). At 11:20, the phone call I'd anticipated all week came:

"Hi, is that Rich?"
"Your Ferrari is here."
"Great! I'll collect it later today."

After lunch, I wandered down to the dealer, feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Could I really justify the expense of such a desirable piece of hardware? Such doubts soon dissipated when I spied the bright, shiny, brilliant red (is there any other colour?!) Ferrari, with my name on it. I started it up, and was soon thrilling to the sound of a Ferrari V12 engine screaming away!

I suppose I should mention now that the Ferrari in question isn't one of Enzo Ferrari's supercars (not that I'd say no to one); I'm talking about my new Acer Ferrari 3400 laptop computer. My first dabble with x86 hardware (I'm a SPARC bigot, as most readers probably know), the Ferrari 3400 is an impressive machine: 2 GHz AMD Mobile Athalon64 CPU (yes, gentle reader, this baby does 64-bit), 512 MB of RAM, 80 GB of disk, and an ATI Radeon 9700 frame buffer (video card for PC people) with 128 MB of dedicated video RAM that's good for 1400x1050 @ 32-bits per pixel. It also has USB 2.0, FireWire, and a DVD reader/writer drive. Oh, and don't forget the strip of carbon fibre above the keyboard!

My initial impressions are very favourable (I'm typing this blog entry on it, while I'm waiting for a backup to finish at work), although the hard drive is a little slow (at 4200 RPM, that's hardly surprising). It was a trade off between power consumption and disk size, I guess. I intend to replace the hard drive with an Hitachi Travelstar 7K60: a 7200 RPM 60 GB drive, with 8 MB of cache (for my intended uses, even 60 GB is more than enough, so speed is more important to me than absolute disk space). Bit of a shame that a faster drive isn't an ordering option. Talking of upgrades, I intend to fully load this puppy with 2 GB of RAM, just because. :-)

My Ferrari is currently running the stock Windoze XP installation it came with, but I intend to make it dual-boot with Solaris 10 this weekend. Given how much I despise Windoze, it will come as no surprise that I'll dual boot this thing as little as possible. When I can do all I want (i.e., read email, surf the web using the built-in WIFi adaptor, watch DVDs, and listen to CDs) natively in Solaris, I'll probably delete the XP partition completely. I know that most, if not all, of what is required is being worked inside Sun's Solaris group, so it's only a matter of time. The fact that so many Solaris kernel engineers have Ferrari 3400 laptops was a huge factor in my decision to acquire one! :-)

Time permitting, I'll do a more full review of this thing, especially comparing the performance of the two hard drives, and especially when using Solaris 10.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

So good to be back home again!

This past weekend was the first chance I got to go home, having been working in Edmonton for three weeks. As regular followers of my (mis)adventures will know, I spent most of the last four years couped up in my basement, writing SSP, so going out into the world to work, especially away from home, came as a bit of a culture shock. The first two weeks were OK, but during the third week, I was really longing to go home to Kelowna.

Incidentally, the Friday before I went home, I went with a friend's mum to a local hotel that has an all you can eat chocolate buffet. Given that I'm a chocoholic, I couldn't resist. We were there from 17:40 until they closed the place down at 22:00; I've never eaten so much chocolate in one sitting as I did that night!

But I digress. Last Friday I took the afternoon off (having first picked up a new toy, about which I'll tell you later) and was back in sunny Kelowna by 16:30. Jenny picked me up from the airport and we picked up a pizza from our favourite pizza emporium, Sarpino's.

It was good to see Jenny and Judge again; Judge was also happy to see me (as was Jen!), but it wasn't long before he started giving me those "don't you ever go away again, you bastard" eyes. Dessert and treats put me back in his good books. :-)

Saturday was supposed to be a quiet day, but two hours before we were due to meet our friends Bruce and Donna for supper, the bloody inlet pipe to our hot water tank split, pissing water all over my E220R server! Needless to say, I was not amused. I turned off the water and powered down the 220R, ignorong the flashing wrench LED. I opened all the doors, took out the power supplies, tipped out about 100ml of water from the chassis, and left everything to dry out overnight.

The next day, to my great relief, the server was working normally. Hurrah for Sun build quality!

Sunday was relatively quiet: after watching Smallville and Enterprise, it was time to return to Edmonton... :-( My current plan is to go home every two weeks, more or less--three weeks is just to long. It's not cheap ($400 to $500 each trip), but what price do you put on family?