Monday, January 31, 2011

UBB Metering

One of the scariest parts of UBB is that know one knows exactly how Bell intends to meter the traffic. Are they going to measure PPP or ATM packets? The overhead of the latter would inflate the numbers significantly. When asked about this, their response has effectively been, "Trust us." Sorry but that's just not good enough. So far attempts to get Measurement Canada involved have not been successful, but I don't see how they can avoid it once complaints start to roll in. And there will be disputes, of that I am absolutely certain.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

UBB Can Only Get Worse

Mamdatory usage based billing (UBB) starts on 1 March and it is even worse than what was originally proposed over a year ago. The usage cap dropped from 60GB to 25GB. The overage fees went up from $1.12/GB to $1.90/GB. Despite the best efforts of everyone to fight this, the CRTC basically ignored them all, and only listened to Bell's input.

The only concession was that the overage allowances that Bell offers its retail customers had to be made available to the wholesale ISP's customers as well. Of course, greedy Bell wanted this to cost the same as retail but the CRTC decided a 15% discount was enough. It's not. 15% percent gives the wholesale ISPs no wiggle room to be creative in their pricing. Which is probably the point.

These allowances are sold in 40GB blocks for $4.75. You can have a maximum of three blocks. If you need more than 145GB you can get a 275GB block for $55 which covers you to 300GB, the maximum allowance you can buy. After that you have to pay $1.90/GB which is a ridiculous amount for a retail level usage charge. How can retail cost more than wholesale usage fees?

It's all very complicated and completely inflexible. You can't just add and remove a block when ever you need since it's all tied to Bell's metering and billing cycle which is a calender month. Basically, every customer has to decide a month in advance what their usage is going be, which is totally impractical. On top of that, the wholesale ISP is liable for their customer's usage, so they will need to ensure that everything is covered when a user is getting close to their limit. Some ISPs could throttle or even cut people off.

In my case, my monthly usage is low now (~60GB) but once F1 and WRC season starts, it will climb well past 90GB, which is too close for the two block allowance (105GB) for my liking. I opted for the three block allowance for piece of mind. Effectively, I'm paying $46 for a paltry 2.5Mb/s connection. Basically giving Bell money for nothing. I've eliminated the services on my Bell land line to compensate, and I'm looking for ways to cut it even further. Unfortunately, DSL requires a land line so I can't ditch it completely.

I can guarantee that there will be disputes between Bell and the wholesale ISPs over differences in the overage amounts. Those fights will be ugly. UBB can only get worse before its get better. The reason it will eventually get better is because the CRTC introduced UBB in a way that effectively reduces competition, which completely goes against their mandate. The fight goes on.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu

Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) is easily one of my all time favourite scifi anime series. It has everything: a fantastic premise, a complex plot, great characters, and, you guessed it, time travel! The series was originally broadcast out of sequence which added to the impact of the story. When the creators decided to extend the series with an additional 14 episodes that would be interwoven with the original episodes, fans were ecstatic.

Unfortunately, the 2009 series was very disappointing, mainly due the Endless Eight arc, a series of repeating episodes in the style of Groundhog Day. This type of repeating story has to be carefully crafted otherwise it just gets, well, repetitious, but the creative team totally dropped the ball on Endless Eight.

With Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya), a theatrical movie released last year, the series creators have fully redeemed themselves. The story is richly detailed (at the cost of being a little slow moving), and finally confirms how Kyon, the male lead character, feels about all the crazy stuff that has happened since meeting Suzumiya, the female lead character. He is given the choice of living a normal life or restoring the crazy world in which time travellers, aliens, and espers are real. Which would you choose?

You must watch the 2009 series before the movie as it contains many references to the series, but you can safely skip most of the Endless Eight episodes, if you get bored. ^_^ However, I highly recommend that you first watch the original series in the out of sequence broadcast order to get the full impact of how creative the series was.

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Of Those Projects

It's one of those projects: set the deadline first then make all the other decisions.

Last week I was approached about some updates for an old Windows based shipping system, which supposedly is being retired later this year (but that's another story). A meeting a week ago sorted out the basic requirements. It's a small project so four weeks seemed like plenty of time. Yeah, right.

This week the customer (a well known window blinds manufacturer) was supposed to get financial approval for the project, and follow up with their customer (a well known home renovation chain), who was the actual trigger for these changes.

And how much progress was made this week? Nothing. Zilch. Bupkis. The big zero.

Suddenly four weeks (three, now) isn't very long. Of course this is fairly typical. I would have been very surprised if any progress had been made this week. Few businesses are that efficient.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

D&D Is Dangerous. Again.

Dungeons and Dragons has been labelled many things in its 35 year history, but this one really takes the cake. Apparently, playing D&D promotes gang activity, according an expert on gangs. This kind thinking makes me wonder if there is any intelligent life on this planet. I'm kind of surprised Wizards of the Coast didn't come forward to defend their game, since they are so very protective of its image.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bad Dentist Day

Visits to the dentist are definitely not fun but today's visit was particularly bad. I got confirmation of my first major cavity in 21 years. But that's not the bad part. It is impossible to work on the cavity as it is located under the attachment point for one of my dental bridges. The bridge will have to be cut, removed and replaced with a new one. My first thought was, Oh great! more visits to the dentist!, but of course the bigger problem is that I really, really, can't afford such expenses in the foreseeable future. Sometimes it really sucks to be me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Disk Failure. Or Not.

I switched on my workstation this morning and was greeted with a ton of errors from one of the disks. Thank goodness for RAID! The obvious, initial conclusion was that the drive had failed. However, further examination showed that one of the three RAID1 devices shared across the drives was still working. While this condition is possible I suppose (I'm not exactly sure how), it cast doubt on the obvious conclusion.

I spent the next two hours looking for other possible hardware problems. The only other suspicious possibility was that the SATA adapter was pulled out about 1-2 mm of the slot on the unsecured end of the card. Again it's not enough to be conclusive. I ran the SMART tests on the disk and they passed. Unfortunately only failing these tests is considered conclusive. The RAID devices rebuilt successfully. This is a lengthy process and accesses the entire drive, so it should have triggered any hard failures.

In the end, the safest thing to do is buy a spare drive. Just in case.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Car Insurance

I long for the good old days when car insurance seemed simple. I was reviewing the 10(!) pages of information that came with my insurance renewal today. This is called "being transparent". Yeah, about as transparent as lead.

The surprise was my premium only went up by 12 cents this year. I made some adjustments to the policy and cut about $200 from the cost. That tiny achievement will likely be wiped out next year. The insurance companies whined and pouted until the provincial government approved a rate increase.

The car insurance companies are always complaining about rising value of claims and the increasing problems with fraud, and yet none of them quit the business. Why? If it is such a tough business as they claim, why bother? Could it be, maybe, perhaps, it's not so bad after all? Nah, they would never dissemble about that just to get an increase, would they?

I wish I ran a business in which the law mandated that customers buy my services at prices fixed by the government. Seriously, with the free market effectively eliminated, how could you not be making oodles of money?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Low Priority Projects

I have a long standing IPv6 issue that I found some time to research again today. I use a free IPv6 tunnel service from Hurricane Electric which works great in most respects, except that I can't get sustained throughput for any lengthy data transfer. I've only tested it with NNTP and HTTP traffic but I assume it happens with other types as well. Since I don't depend on IPv6 for anything, solving the problem is a low priority, but I do work on it once in a while. Surprisingly, despite the slow pace, I am making progress.

Previous research has convinced me that it is an MTU issue. However, forcing the the MTU to a known value, had no effect at all. Today's research gave me a few new clues to the problem, but I just ran out of time to convert the new information into an experiment. While it was tempting to just keep hacking away at the problem, that could easily lead to several hours more work before you know it. It's always best to keep the low priority projects under control, otherwise the important stuff won't get done.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Not Going To Believe This

I must not be feeling well. You're not going to believe this but I actually started working on my taxes today! I have never, ever started in January. Honestly, I'm more a member of the "wait until April" club. The Netfile (on-line tax filing) system only opens in mid February so even if I finished now, I'd still have to wait. Hope I don't lose my procrastinator license over this. ^_^

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lesson For The Week

I finally got the rebuilt industrial PC shipped back to Seattle earlier this week but not without a small worry at the end. The PC has two digital I/O boards: one has 8 I/O; the other has 20 I/O. While testing the 20 I/O board, the inputs had a strange behaviour. The 20 inputs are read as sequence of three bytes and the lower nibble of each of those bytes were always zero.

After some head scratching, I finally went and checked my notes from the first rebuild project. And right there, plain as day, is a note that the new SBC has on board I/O which has a port conflict with the 20 I/O board. The solution is to disable the SBC's I/O in the BIOS.

So the lesson for the week is, if you make notes, why not use them? ^_^

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 4

The highlight of The Sarah Jane Adventures series 4 was undoubtedly the story Death of the Doctor. It featured the eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith of course, a darker side of UNIT, and former companion Jo Grant.

She left the Tardis because she was getting married, so she is naturally astounded that the Doctor allows married companions on the Tardis now. It's clear this story takes place after the events in the Doctor Who special, A Christmas Carol, since Amy and Rory are still on their honeymoon.

The other five stories are excellent as well, although there are times when they deliver the life lesson with a bludgeon. Thankfully this problem is specific to certain writers and isn't indicative of the overall production.

The younger characters, Clyde and Rani, were given much more story time in series 4 than in previous ones, which allowed for more character development. The super genius, Luke, has gone away to university which gave Clyde and Rani a chance to shine. They actually had one story, The Empty Planet, all to themselves, literally. In a couple of stories, the young assistants were the ones rescuing Sarah Jane, which was a nice turn about. I hope the trend continues in series 5.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I've developed a new problem with the Xvideo rendering system. The movie will jerk occasionally, usually during slow pans or tilts. The cause must at a low level as mplayer is not giving the usual, "Your system is too slow to play this," message.

I first noticed the problem with the final release of 2.6.37 but it exists in the -rc7 release as well, although the effect is a lot less frequent. I'm going to try the 2.6.36 kernel next. If the problem occurs there as well, I'll know that the cause is not the kernel, because 2.6.36 worked perfectly before.

Sigh. I'll be glad when the AMD graphics support stablizes a bit. It is improving but there are plenty of hiccups (literally, in this case) along the way.

PyGTA Meta

The subject of relocating the PyGTA meeting came up again. Changing circumstances at the Linuxcaffe means that our scheduled time may not be available consistently any more, so there is more incentive now. Still, none the options that were discussed had any direct contacts which could arrange a meeting space. So, even after the most thorough discussion we've had on the subject, no conclusion was reached. Perhaps something will come up in the next iteration.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dakar 2011: Conclusion

This year's Argentina-Chile Dakar rally lived up to its reputation as being the toughest race in the world. 407 competitors started and only 179 completed the gruelling 9600km route. It's probably not a record for attrition (I haven't checked) but it is was a back breaker, that's for sure.

Al-Attiyah and Sainz pushed each other hard in week two. Their spectacular (and somewhat insane) race to the finish on stage 9 demonstrated how just how hard they were fighting. (Damn! Can't find any on line video of the action! ASO issued a take down on YouTube.) With competition this intense, it was only a matter time before one of them succumbed to the pressure. Surprisingly, Sainz broke first as he started accumulating errors over the succeeding stages, which culminated in a broken suspension on stage 11. With team mate Miller's help, the damage was repaired and Sainz continued, but he had lost almost 2 hours: his rally was done. Al-Attiyah on the other hand, kept it together to claim his first Dakar victory.

The one problem with the Dakar is that the TV coverage mostly focuses on the leaders, but the real rally, the true spirit of the Dakar if you like, is the in the rest of the field. The hundreds of amateurs who are in the Dakar strictly for the adventure and who toil long hours, sometime deep into the night, to complete each stage. The organizers need to find a way to tell this story. I'm not sure how they could do it but they really should look for a way.

Next year it will be the Brazil-Peru-Paraguay Dakar! Until then, hasta luego!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tales Of The Abyss

Tales Of The Abyss is a fantasy anime that takes place on a world where everyone's life can be read from an artefact called the Score. Most people live their lives by consulting the Score for all major decisions. In essence, everyone has abandoned free will and accepts that the Score determines their fate.

Against this backdrop various individuals hatch plots and schemes. Some are merely using the Score to increase their personal power. Some wish to destroy the Score and restore free will. Some want to go even further and destroy the entire planet and replace it and the inhabitants with replicas. Yikes!

The source of the Score is the memory of the planet and all its inhabitants. As long as the memory exists, the extremists believe that everything is preordained anyway. People will make the same the choice whether or not they are able to consult the Score. In order to have free will, you need to destroy the memory and start over again. Well, I did call them extremists.

The story does have a few weaknesses. One is that it sometimes feels very rushed which is unusual for a two season series. Another is that, conversely, it sometimes drags, especially in the first third of the series where the main character, Luke, is a total brat. He straights up later though, and becomes a true hero. It's quite a transformation.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Iron Man

Japanese animation studios do occasionally adapt from foreign source material but from what I've heard, this usually flies like a lead balloon with Japanese viewers. This doesn't stop the studios from trying, however. The latest attempt is a series of collaborations with Marvel, including Iron Man, which I recently finished, Wolverine, and X-Men.

I enjoyed Iron Man. The action was good but to be honest the story was quite weak. The series is almost completely episodic, not the usual on going plot that is the typical format of good anime. Don't get me wrong, there is a plot, but it really isn't very complicated. It's as if the Marvel team had written this for the Saturday morning cartoon market. I'm beginning to understand why these types of adaptations don't go over well in Japan.

Despite what I just said, the series is worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of Iron Man. That part won't disappoint.

Friday, January 14, 2011

If Anything Can Go Wrong

The week started slow but ended up very busy after the power supply came in, as I had to dive back into a project that has been on hold since the beginning on December. The project is a rebuild of an industrial PC, and is the second of a pair of controllers that went into production way back in 2004. The first controller was rebuilt earlier in 2010.

This project is an example of how the unexpected can really derail things. The original problem was the NIC on the SBC; the power supply was fine. During an overnight test, the power supply's fan failed unexpectedly. The fan had been making a very slight noise but it wasn't the sound of something about to break. The power supply itself continued to work so initially I replaced only the fan. However, further testing soon proved that the power supply was definitely suffering from heat stroke. And so it was decided that a new power supply was needed...

...and then six weeks later, I get to resume work on the project!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wayward Power Supply

The wayward power supply that I mentioned last week, arrived yesterday. Apparently, it was shipped westward from California, instead of eastward. The package took about six weeks to almost circumnavigate the world. And this mistake was brought to you by... the U.S. Postal Service! 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Free Lunch

My new server has finally reached the point where I can use it for downloading. So what took so long?

Most of the software I'm using on my current server, which runs Debian "sid" for historical reasons, wasn't packaged for Debian "lenny", so I've had to back port several packages and their corresponding dependencies. The most important one was SABnzbd, which I got working today. The next important application will be rtorrent but I use torrents very little these days, so it is not as urgent.

Debian "squeeze", which is very close to being released, would have had all the software available, and I did consider waiting for the new release, but no one knows exactly when that might happen. I also considered using a pre-release "squeeze" but there may be "gotchas" and I'm in not a beta-tester mood. So I'm taking a fairly conservative approach, which unfortunately involves extra work of a different kind. The saying, "there's no free lunch," applies to projects as well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


At this month's GTALUG meeting we had a largely audience directed demonstration of the Sugar Customer Relations Management (SugarCRM) web application. This style of presentation works very well at GTALUG meetings. ^_^

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not This Year

Sadly, 2011 will not be the year a Canadian finishes the Dakar in a car. Team Chinook have reported that they dropped out due to a mechanical failure which could be fixed in time for tomorrow's start. As is the case for all the low budget teams, mechanical reliability was always going to be their Achilles Heel. Nevertheless, it was a magnificent effort for a first attempt at the Dakar.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hot Is Faster

Since Christmas Day, I had the feeling I'd caught a cold. The symptoms were very mild and they would come and go, so I wasn't sure. Well, today there was no more doubt. It's definitely a cold. I felt like crap all day. Runny nose. Cough. The usual.

By the way, the title refers to an old riddle: Which is faster? Hot or cold?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dakar 2011: First Week

Team Chinook had a hell of a first week in the Dakar.

They lost the alternator on stage 4 (January 5) but scrounged one from Robby Gordon's crew! (I assume this was after Gordon dropped out and didn't need the spare any more.) The Team Chinook race crew slept in the desert on stage 5, unable to to make it to the finish before it closed. They completed the stage the following morning and made the start of stage 6.

Near the end of the special stage, they lost the radiator! With a radiator to repair, a 100km of special stage to race, and another 200km of liaison section to complete, they were never going to make it before the finish closed, so they spent another night in the dunes. Because January 8 was a rest day, the stage 6 finish was open until the evening, and even then Team Chinook just made it. Phew!

The good news is they are still in it! The bad news is there's another week to go and it gets harder. This is the Dakar and it always gets tougher in week two. But, based on their performance in the first week, it will take a major mechanical failure to stop these guys. They were awesome!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Humour Tank

I've been busy with my personal projects but strangely, I don't feel like I've accomplished anything this week. On the work side it's been eerily quite. One of my projects is stalled while I wait for a special 1U sized power supply to come in from the U.S. The last I heard, the PSU was in... Austria! Well, according to the tracking number anyway. My customer said, "Damn! That's a lucky package. Wish it was me!" As I've mentioned many times before, it helps to have a sense of humour doing this kind of work. My humour tank is getting low, though.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Life With Debian Experimental

The BZFlag fest last weekend was the first time I had used the 3D capabilities on my AMD R600 based card continuously for an extended period (e.g. more than an hour). The good news it worked. The bad news I had several GPU lock ups. In most cases the kernel driver's watch dog timer detected the lock up and reset the GPU, but on two occasions this safety feature failed and I had to hit the big red button.

After the second hard lock up, I checked Debian experimental for updates to the various libraries I am using to get the R600 to work. Lo and behold! There were several! I did not have another lock up after installing the updates, but this may just have been a fluke. It is hard to tell if the updates actually had any effect at all, really.

I must remember to check for updates in experimental regularly as it is not handled automatically by the package management system. This is a small safety feature as experimental packages could easily trash your system. This is life with Debian experimental.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dakar 2011 Day 4

I've been looking forward to the Dakar for weeks and then. when the time comes, I forget. Sigh. It's annoying how the Dakar gets TV coverage everywhere else in the world (even in South Africa!), but nothing in Canada and the U.S. This is even more strange considering a well known U.S. driver like Robby Gordan is competing. Not that the lack of TV coverage is a problem for me, since I download it anyway. Love that Australian SBS HD coverage. ^_^

Another Canadian team is tackling the gruelling 14 day test. Perhaps they will be the first Canadians to finish in the Dakar in the car category. According to their Twitter page, they are in 111th place after stage 4 on day 5. Best of luck to them.

(Yes, yes, I know the title says day 4, but the TV coverage that I watch, is a day behind since I download it, remember? Sheesh!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Other Genealogy Software

Now that my brother and I are not no longer considering Gramps, what other options are there? Well, one benefit of free software is they often don't mind telling you about the competition. The Gramps wiki has a page conveniently entitled Other genealogy software. ^_^

Looking through the list, the one I'm going to try next is PhpGedView (screenshots). Yeah, yeah, it's PHP, but that's what a lot of web apps used in the old days. ^_^

At least this one explicitly says it works with PostgreSQL, which is important since I don't want to run two database servers. Strangely, PHP developers seem to prefer MySQL almost exclusively, even though database agnostic PHP libraries have existed for ages now. Maybe it's because LAMP sounds cooler than LAPP. ^_^

I didn't have time to install PhpGedView today. I'll report back once I get "a round toit".

Monday, January 3, 2011

That Was Odd

While talking to Marie, my sister in the UK, she casually mentioned that she thinks our family is "a bit odd", which I suppose is a lot better than being completely odd. ^_^

We may be odd (what's normal anyway?) but at least we are nice about it. We don't go around claiming our oddness is superior to anyone else's. Add the family still manages to get along, despite our oddness. Some "normal" families can't stand each other, as my sister Jean discovered when she told some co-workers that she enjoyed spending time with her family.

Anyway, I had a nice chat with Marie today, despite the odd comment here and there. Our soapboxes did get a bit high, though. ^_^

Sunday, January 2, 2011

BZFlag Bust! Again!

I ran the 2011 New Year's Day BZFlag game again. It was a bust! Again!

I invited more people by adding my nephews in the list and still only one person, my nephew Mark, decided to try it. I extended the time the server would be available to well over 48 hours, and it didn't help.

Mark and I only played against each other once because I forgot one valuable lesson: set a fixed game time. This helped in the 2010 game which did attract two people, although one of them played for less than half an hour. The game really needs a minimum of three players.

Anyway, it doesn't bother me that nobody has any time for the game. It's my personal New Year's Day tradition and it's just a bonus if family and friends join the fun. However, it would help if I was better organized.

I'm off to have a final bash before I shut down the server. ^_^

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Make It Count

I splurged in the last week of 2010, spending money on new hardware, and on a few domain names. Now I have to make those expenses count, otherwise it was just a waste of money, something I can ill afford.

The new hardware (a SATA card and drives) is for an old 2GHz P4 that will become my new mail and web server. However, the machines's primary function will be a media server, as it will have the most disk capacity of all my servers. The P4 is a power hog and isn't my first choice for a server system, but it's the only spare CPU box I've got lying around at the moment.

More on the domains later. ^_^