Monthly Archives: February 2008

#apache-helpdesk meet (silicon valley)

Having previously met one bunch of IRC colleagues in London, this evening I joined our Silicon Valley contingent of megaspaz and chipig for a beer and a bite to eat out here.  We also joined a couple of chipig’s old bloglines friends, including IRC’s AngryParsley.

Great to meet you folks, and to put faces to names!  That food and beer were both much more than I should’ve been having while my body clock was in the wee hours, but it was worth it.  And I’m much more adjusted to the timezone than I was for the previous evenings, so not too bad.

email hassles

So, I arrive in a hotel in forn parts, and read my email.  It’s in several places, for different incoming addresses.  But most of it is being forwarded to my ISP’s mailserver, where I can access it by imap.  So no problem there.

On the other hand, outgoing mail has been going nowhere.  That is to say, replies sent to mailing lists: my (shiny new) sun.com email is working just fine relaying outgoing stuff through sun’s mailserver.  I just got around to looking at the logs, and it appears the hotel’s IP address is blacklisted by spamhaus – hence my inability to send.

Now that’s mildly interesting, because my mac mail’s configuration shows this stuff as relaying through my ISP’s outgoing mailserver (with password access).  Evidently this is not happening, and I have to blame MacOS for being bloody confusing.

If anything’s important enough to merit it, I can always ssh in to webthing.com or apache.org and use pine from there.  But as for just attempting to help RandomBodOnnaMailinglist, that’s just not worth it so long as I’m here.

Tired and hungry

It’s 07:50 on my body clock, 23:50 here in silicon valley. And after no proper food all day, I find all the restaurants in this area closed at 9-10. Best I could find was a late-night corner shop of the kind you find in rundown suburbs of any city, where I was able to get a couple of tired-looking but nice pieces of fruit. I thought El Camino Real should translate to something like Royal Parade, but it turns out to be some dreary suburban main road full of parking lots and chip/grease shops.

And then there’s the sleep. Or rather, next door room’s telly making it a challenge. And the roar of next door’s aircond, which is probably why they’ve got the telly on so loud. Heh.

Update: tuesday morning, and I feel much better after hotel breakfast. This’ll probably bear a morning timestamp, as it seemed to get lost last night in the hotel’s intermittent wifi.

Murphy’s law (for travellers)

Prelude

  • Something – e.g. the washing machine – will bugger about, so you get to leave later than planned.

Travel

  • The bus will leave early if you aren’t early to catch it.
  • Being a Sunday morning, there are no taxis to be found. Even ‘phoning for one just gets voicemail.
  • The next bus fails to connect with the next train, even if it’s on-time.

Grrr …

Hearing the wildlife

On Tuesday night, staying in a guest house in Camberley, I got a taste of Surrey’s good side.  The guest house is situated in parkland, with some major sources of noise and pollution at a distance.  From my bedroom, I could hear the M3 and the Heathrow flight path, but both were no more than gentle background noises.  I could also hear an owl, and later the dawn chorus.

Tonight, too, I can hear an owl here in Tavistock.  I think my night in Camberley must have sensitised me to the sound.  But normally I just don’t notice it, as it’s very faint compared to some of the less pleasant human-generated noises.

It just goes to show, in terms of wellbeing, what matters most is the immediate surroundings.  It can be in-town or in the country, but if it’s sufficiently peaceful it’s nice, whereas if it’s exposed to too much pollution it’s stressful and nasty.

I guess that’s heavily reflected in house prices.  Maybe I can get somewhere quiet by paying £200/month more in rent.

Servant to a new master

I travelled up to Camberley on Tuesday evening, to spend yesterday at the UK head office of my new Lord and Master[1]. As a result of that, I now have a card, a VPN client for remote access to Sun networks, and a cryptographic security device to generate challenge-responses to access it is on order. I’ve also met some great folks, though not my own team, who are in California (including my manager) and in India.

Coincidentally, yesterday was also the day of a UK solaris meeting. I only heard about that when Chris Gerhard emailed me on Tuesday (I guess he’d just heard about my joining), but I was able to attend some of that event and meet the real geeks. I guess that by the time of the next such meeting, I should be sufficiently acquainted with the current state of Solaris to participate properly.

Anyway, I’m now employed to work on the OpenSolaris Web Stack, with particular emphasis on Apache. Or to continue hacking Apache but with an emphasis on the OpenSolaris platform. Or … you get the picture, more to come on the subject as and when. As soon as I have the new workstation with Solaris up and running, I’ll be scouring it for capabilities that can usefully be harnessed for Apache, and of course APR.

[1] aka employer

Why?

… is it that a Wetherspoons pub[1] can charge £1.59 for a pint of good beer, while other pubs charge more in the region of £2.59 for what is rarely as good and sometimes vastly inferior?

Their food may be a halfway-house between real food and fast food, but in any case I was too late to be eating it.  But that beer … well, tonight instead of either of my regulars there[2], I tried an unknown brew whose name I forget – dark and rich and delicious.  In comparison to other pubs, it would be good at twice the price.

[1] The one on Mutley Plain (Plymouth), being a good place to wait for my bus home.

[2]  Marstons Pedigree and Abbott.

Paradigm shift: Eliminating waste heat

In a comment on my recent blog entry, Mads points to water-cooled systems from Sun.  In another comment, John mentions a project he’s involved in that may or may not get the goahead to harness heat from a data centre.

Following Mads’s link, I see Sun claims its watercooled systems to 40% more efficient than some alternative – presumably one that would be equivalent in functional terms.  Whilst 40% may be better than nothing, it’s still a helluva lot of waste.  You could say you waste 50% more than you save.  What is missing from Sun’s pages is any suggestion of harnessing that energy and putting it to good use.

What Sun should produce, and what could make the decision much easier for John’s project, is systems in which capturing and re-using waste heat is integral.  A plumber should be able to able to plug them in to a normal heating system, just as they would another heat source like a boiler or immersion heater.  That is a paradigm shift in computer design, and it is indeed manufacturers such as Sun who are best-placed to take the lead in it.

On a smaller scale, manufacturers of desktop and home computers could perhaps do something similar.  A computer with builtin water cooling, that could be plugged in to the cold water supply feeding a domestic water tank.  So the computer’s waste heat goes into the household or office heating/hot water, and less energy is required from conventional sources.  The cooling system is plumbed in, but the computer’s innards need to be accessible so components can be changed whenever necessary.

In the case of desktop-replacements, that’ll work best where the water tank is within bluetooth range of the desk for connecting peripherals.  But if the idea takes off, we’ll soon see it incorporating longer-range options, such as a terminal that just plugs straight in to a wireless router (whose heat should really also be captured), or wired mini-boosters.  The principle is simple: concentrate energy use in the plumbed-in components, and minimise it elsewhere.

Waste heat

Just mentioned this on IRC … and it occurs to me that it’s something the chattering classes don’t seem to have noticed. Perhaps if I blog about it, someone might.

Heat exchange is a lot more efficient than generating heat. So we should be using heat exchangers to harness far more of the heat that we generate. Some slight efforts have been made in this direction with combined heat and power, and with harnessing industrial heat for heating living or working space.

On the other hand, all the heat from my computer goes to waste. That on its own is fairly negligible, but in a big data centre that’s a lot of heat. Surely it’s time for server, rack, and other infrastructure-manufacturers to incorporate water-cooling pipes, so that their waste heat can be pumped into an exchange? The industry should adopt a standard size and placement for cooling pipes, so that components can slot together and just work.

With Nature’s heat, it’s the same story. Geothermal heat is popular in some of the most obvious places, like volcanic Iceland where it’s abundant and cheap. But heat exchange works even where there isn’t that extra natural heat: for example, in the UK, it can drastically reduce the energy required to heat a building. Not something you can easily retrofit, but it’s a shame to see it being ignored in new buildings.

One thing I would like to retrofit, if I had a garden, is a heat-exchange with a compost heap. That should be relatively easy, and compost generates lots of heat. Should work well for heating water, or feeding into a heating system.

Sounds like a great class of technology project for sixth-formers or college students with practical abilities. Any students or teachers listening? What are you doing?

“Equal Opportunities”

My recent recruitment to $bigco was, as close as possible in the real world to a perfect case of no-possible-race-discrimination. That is to say, none of the folks who made the decision ever met me in person, and I never mentioned my skin colour to them. They know they’re employing an apache guru: we discussed that at length. But they don’t know my ethnicity.

Of course they can google, they can make a guess. So can I, and my manager’s name strongly suggests that he’s from a very different racial group to my own. So neither of us can be accused of favouring our own kind (unless one of us has made a wrong guess about the other).

Now part of the documentation they expect[1] from me is a racial monitoring form, so they can “prove” they … erm … don’t discriminate. It lets me choose from:

  • White
  • Black-Caribbean
  • Black-African
  • Black-Other
  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Chinese
  • Bangladeshi
  • Other (please specify)

Right. One category for white – the vast majority, encompassing warring catholic/protestant communities, and presumably other groups having significant tensions like jew and arab. Not to mention what the ‘merkins call “hispanic”. By contrast, no less than three different categories for black based on their history rather than their ethnicity, and three for south-asian based on country of origin. Seems to me offensive both to the white majority and to the minorities – both white and non-white.

I want the option to describe my race as “human”. But that’s not Politically Correct. Bah, Humbug.

[1] Or rather, that the Political Correctness Police expect of them.