Feb 26 2008

Truck Nuts?

This is nuts …

Feb 26 2008

Amazon S3/EC2/AWS outage take II

A few days ago I wrote about the Amazon outage of the popular S3/EC2/AWS services. Yesterday I received some more detailed information via Shahram that tried to explain what had happened. Those messages below were posted on an Amazon Bulletin Board where they kept track of the issues.

And for those of you who don’t want to read through all of the stuff: They had the nicest problem one can have: success disaster. Too many people using the service beyond it’s capacity. In this particular case it seemed that a cryptographic sub-system could not handle all the requests that were thrown at it.

First message from an Amazon employee:

Quick note to keep everyone up to date. The team continues to be heads down focused on getting to root cause on this morning’s problem. One of our three geographic locations for S3 was unreachable beginning at 4:31 a.m. PST and was back to near normal performance at 6:48 a.m. PST (a small number of customers experienced intermittent issues for a short period thereafter). Though we’re proud of our uptime track record over the past two years with this service, any amount of downtime is unacceptable and we won’t be satisfied until it’s perfect. We will be providing additional information on this thread as soon as we have it.

Second message from an Amazon employee:

Here’s some additional detail about the problem we experienced earlier today.

Early this morning, at 3:30am PST, we started seeing elevated levels of authenticated requests from multiple users in one of our locations. While we carefully monitor our overall request volumes and these remained within normal ranges, we had not been monitoring the proportion of authenticated requests. Importantly, these cryptographic requests consume more resources per call than other request types.

Shortly before 4:00am PST, we began to see several other users significantly increase their volume of authenticated calls. The last of these pushed the authentication service over its maximum capacity before we could complete putting new capacity in place. In addition to processing authenticated requests, the authentication service also performs account validation on every request Amazon S3 handles. This caused Amazon S3 to be unable to process any requests in that location, beginning at 4:31am PST. By 6:48am PST, we had moved enough capacity online to resolve the issue.

As we said earlier today, though we’re proud of our uptime track record over the past two years with this service, any amount of downtime is unacceptable. As part of the post mortem for this event, we have identified a set of short-term actions as well as longer term improvements. We are taking immediate action on the following: (a) improving our monitoring of the proportion of authenticated requests; (b) further increasing our authentication service capacity; and (c) adding additional defensive measures around the authenticated calls. Additionally, we’ve begun work on a service health dashboard, and expect to release that shortly.

And a non-Amazon party (company who uses the service) reported this:

What caused the problem however was a sudden unexpected surge in a particular type of usage (PUT’s and GET’s of private files which require cryptographic credentials, rather than GET’s of public files that require no credentials). As I understand what Kathrin said, the surge was caused by several large customers suddenly and unexpectedly increasing their usage. Perhaps they all decided to go live with a new service at around the same time, although this is not clear. What is clear however is that S3 was the momentary victim of its own success, but the problem was quickly rectified.

Feb 24 2008

Tasty planner

tasty plannerI have a tendency to go grocery shopping about 2-3 times a week. That’s way too often (in my opinion) and shows that I have no plan. I usually think 1-2 dinners ahead, but I’m certainly not in a position where I have the whole week planned. I need help! Instead of getting a personal chef, I decided to get things organized differently. Tasty Planner to the rescue!

Tasty planner seems to be pretty new (judging from the few blog entries). They already have a nice recipe collection, but by far not as many as other recipe-sites out there. What differentiates them is how easy they make it to generate a weekly plan and the accompanied shopping list. Browse recipes, assign them to days of the week and, voila, you get a shopping list with all the ingredients for the whole week. The one feature that really distinguishes them from the rest of the crowd: an iPhone interface for the shopping list. Whatever ingredients you selected for the week, the stuff is readily available on the iPhone while you are shopping. Including checking off items that just went into your shopping cart. Brilliant!

I’ll let you know how things are going once I used them for a while.

On the wishlist for the service are:

  • automatic sorting of grocery items (group all veggies, fruit, etc.)
  • nutritional information for recipes (wouldn’t it be great to actually have a service where you can provide a calorie count and it would select suitable recipes automatically?)

Overall, the site is pleasant on the eye and well-done.

Feb 24 2008

Footprints? Footprints!

What’s pictured above are some footprints right next to the stairs at the back of the house. The problem with those: they are fresh (max a few days old), they lead up the stairs and down again and they are not mine! I went on the terrace to clean Pia’s boots and while brushing them I noticed the prints in the mud/sand next to the stairs. I tried to recall whether I (or somebody else I know) could have been there. Looks like a size 10-11 to me and I’m much closer to a 13. I have to assume that somebody I don’t know was walking around in the back of the house.

You ask why this is worth mentioning? If you saw the gaping hole in a glass door of my neighbor’s home (unoccupied) you would have to agree that this is indeed worth posting. His house got broken into about 2 weeks ago. The thieves only took a few items, because there was not a lot to be had there.

I’m so happy that I work out of my home and that I’m in fact home most of the time. My dogs will also get some extra treats later on. And it’s time to extend my surveillance strategy: inside the house I have a few wireless cameras. Whenever I’m gone those cameras switch into motion detection mode and automatically email pictures to me when motion is detected. I think I got to extend that to work on the outside as well … sigh!

Feb 24 2008

No power and a missile range

Friday’s dinner at Santa Cafe was quite interesting. When we arrived there we were greeted with a candlelit bar – only candles and nothing else. The bar lady told us that a prior power outage had left parts of the restaurant without power, including the bar. Soon after we ordered our dinner, the power went out completely. As we had ordered our entrees already, we were assured that the kitchen would complete all placed orders, but no new orders were accepted. Now imagine a very busy and small kitchen operating without exhausts. All doors to the kitchen were opened and windows all over the restaurant were used to try to get the smoke out of the restaurant. It almost felt like having dinner on the patio, only the temperature was a bit lower than expected. Like the Ore House, quoted in the article above, I’m sure tons of other businesses in town lost a lot of money that evening.

Then yesterday afternoon I made the mistake of going on Guadalupe Street after doing some grocery shopping. I’m talking about the section between Cerrillos Road and Paseo de Peralta. I’m sure you heard about the dismal state of Guadalupe since the pavement had been stripped just before Christmas. If not, then just read those letters to the editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Things have gotten 10 times worse since then. Driving at 4-5 mph I was rocked like in a roller-coaster. The whole area feels like a missile test range with impact craters all over the place. If you love your car, don’t go on this road.

Won’t take long before the area around Agua Fria looks like this:


Feb 22 2008

NPR: Dissecting People’s ‘Predictably Irrational’ Behavior

NPR: Dissecting People’s ‘Predictably Irrational’ Behavior – this was making the rounds in the office earlier on today. Fascinating view into the way the human mind works when it comes to make economic decisions. I hope that not a lot of marketing people are listening to that program …

Feb 22 2008

andLinux: a new breed of Linux distribution

When people are asked why they haven’t tried out Linux yet, quite often you hear arguments like: “I don’t want to install another disk drive”, “I don’t want to mess with my Windows partition”, etc. To a certain extent those are valid arguments, especially if you are scared messing with your computers hardware or some of the more geeky aspects of the software environment.

While there was always the possibility to “get your feet wet” using virtualization software like VMWare, where the software simulates a virtual machine that is completely independent from the host operating system (think “computer inside a computer”), now there’s an even easier method.

Let me introduce andLinux. andLinux is based on the work that went into the “Cooperative Linux” project. Instead of relying on virtualization technologies, coLinux managed to compile the Linux kernel in a way that allows it to run side-by-side with the host OS. No virtualization required, no messing with your disk layout, no additional software required. andLinux installs just like any other Windows application. All you need is a nice chunk of disk space. Unlike coLinux, andLinux deals with some of the scary parts of the coLinux configuration. It will automatically configure network connections correctly and even share your windows filesystem with the Linux portion. The later allows you to access all your windows files from Linux.

I tried the KDE-version of andLinux the other day and just wanted to write a bit about my experience.

After downloading some 665MB I ended up with a single installer executable.

The installation process was painless and I quickly answered the few questions that came up during the installation: you tell it where to install it, you tell it how much memory you want to dedicate to your Linux “computer”, if and how you want to share the windows filesystem (I picked the easier coFS option) and off you go.
During the installation a new network driver was copied to the system (TAP-Win32), which required a restart once the installation completed. The network driver allows communication between the Windows OS and Linux OS as if those systems resided on a different network and were connected via Ethernet-cables.

desktop/taskbar icons

systrayThe installer left three desktop shortcuts on the desktop and two quickstart icons in the taskbar (pictured above, I dragged the two items from the taskbar [right-most] on the desktop).

After the restart I also found a new item in my system tray (pictured on the right). Those items in the systray-menu allow you to execute a bunch of the most often used applications directly from there. Once andLinux is running on your system, you right-click on the tray-icon, select the application and it will be run under Linux.

So I finally went ahead and started andLinux via the “Start andLinux” shortcut on the desktop. A new console window (labelled “andServer (CoLinux)”) opened and I saw messages scrolling by that documented the startup process (you’ll see that console window further down in this post).

From the startup messages you can see that I opted to reserve up to 384MB of my memory for andLinux. The documentation suggests that you should not use less than 256MB, however under certain circumstances you might even get away with 128MB (expect the performance to become sluggish at that value).

Linux’ root file system is in a single file called “base.drv”. Extra swap space is created in a separate file called “swap.drv”. During the startup process andLinux will attach to those files and treat the single file like a “disk”.

As you can see from the startup messages, andLinux also configures two network adapters (eth0 and eth1). The first one is used to “bridge” Linux networking with your real network adapter on Windows – this allows Linux to reach the Internet. The second one is used as a communication device between Windows and Linux and that’s the place where the above mentioned TAP-Win32 driver comes into play.

andLinux during startup

With the andLinux server running I clicked on the “KHomeFolder” shortcut and within a second I had KDE’s Konqueror window with root’s home folder on my screen.

KDE and Windows at the same time

I tried a number of other applications and the performance was very nice. Overall the applications felt very responsive and I did not get the impression that those were not native Windows applications.

Behind the scenes a special version of the X11-server, Xming is being used to accomplish that. Xming is launched when the andLinux server starts up. It creates an X11-screen that coexists with the Windows desktop. There’s no switching between virtual screens, everything looks like it’s part of your standard Windows installation.

After starting and closing a number of applications, I was curious what Linux’ memory consumption looked like. To my surprise I found the following:

andLinux - memory

I still had 280MB (from the total of 384MB) physical memory available – nice!

Network connectivity worked right after the start. Where I previously had to tweak/configure settings in coLinux, andLinux made that portion a snap and configured everything for you.

andLinux - ifconfig

Internet access from Linux applications worked as expected and my Windows file-system was automatically mounted (you can see it above in the Konquerer screenshot).

All in all a more than pleasant experience.

I guess there’s no more excuse now not to give Linux a try. The only thing that makes you scratch your head: why would you want to run a more stable operating system under a less stable one? But, I guess, that’ll be subject of another post.

Feb 22 2008

“Change you can Xerox.”

It’s funny to see how people behave when they are desperate. Poor Hillary …

Feb 21 2008

Convert those HD-DVDs to Blu-Ray

Now that Toshiba has officially announced the death of HD-DVD, what do you do with all those HD-DVD discs you bought already? Fear not! Venture out, get a Blu-Ray player and then use Wired’s (doom9-lifted) instructions to convert those movies over to Blu-Ray. And the discs can be used as decorative coasters 😉

Feb 20 2008

“To my mind Adobe is quickly passing Google in both the beauty and usefulness of its online apps.”

From Scott Fitzgerald Johnson’s blog – I’m taking off for the rest of the day (it’s time to pick up Pia anyway) 😉

Feb 20 2008

How again do you spell “Worst president ever”?

The National Economy

Feb 19 2008

You know you are living in 2008 when …

1. You accidentally enter your PIN on the microwave.

2. You haven’t played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.

4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don’t have e-mail addresses.

6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn’t even have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.

10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.

11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )

12. You ‘ re reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.

14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.

15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn’t a #9 on this list.

~~~~~~~~~~~AND FINALLY~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOW U R LAUGHING at yourself.

( this came in via Christina [thanks!] by email and was too good to be passed on just via email )

Feb 19 2008

If you want to know where this country is headed, take a look at the budget proposal

There’s an excellent analysis of the budget proposal at the Environment News Service. Please don’t read it before you go to sleep, because you will have nightmares.

Some highlights:

  • The White House budget request released Monday for Fiscal Year 2009 is historic as it is the first budget in U.S. history to crack the $3 trillion mark. It takes the United States deep into deficit spending – the deficit is predicted to be $407 billion in FY09. Even so, President George W. Bush requests less money for environmental measures and more for nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
  • The budget requests $10 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, RRW, program and $100 million to begin construction on a new plutonium pit facility. Plutonium pits are the cores of atomic weapons.
  • President Bush again has cut the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this time by $330 million to a total of $7.14 billion.
  • Natural resources agencies are being starved of funds by Bush’s FY2009 proposal, says Jamie Rappaport Clark. Currently executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, Clark served as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration.

    The $410 million budget cut for the Department of the Interior, as well as other cuts in the President’s 2009 budget will damage the country’s natural resources, she says.

    “The president’s final budget deals a huge blow to the agencies and programs charged with safeguarding our nation’s natural resources,” she said. “The next administration will be burdened with mending the damage caused by President Bush’s disastrous policies.”

  • The Water Resources Coalition today expressed “extreme disappointment” in President Bush’s budget proposal for the 2009 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program.

    The fiscal year 2009 proposed budget of $4.74 billion demonstrates “a failure to invest in the nation’s water resources infrastructure,” said the coalition of state and local governments, and representatives of conservation, engineering and construction, ports, waterways and transportation services organizations.

  • Clark, the former Fish and Wildlife Service director, says the Bush budget disregards the health of the planet. “This budget, which emphasizes continued pursuit of damaging, unsustainable energy sources, while failing to adequately address the needs of public lands and wildlife increasingly threatened by global warming, once again shows that this administration remains determined to neglect our children’s future and our nation’s natural heritage.”

Makes me want to have elections next week …

Feb 18 2008

Massive Tax Evasion Scandal in Germany: The Liechtenstein Connection – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Massive Tax Evasion Scandal in Germany: The Liechtenstein Connection – SPIEGEL ONLINE – Germany has it’s own massive financial scandal. The German secret service (BND) paid 5 million Euros to get access to a DVD with Liechtenstein bank account information. They may be able to turn those 5 million into 4 billion (!!!) worth of taxes that the rich tried to hide in Liechtenstein – now that’s what I call a good return on investment.

Feb 16 2008

Notes to self

  • next time when you wash pia’s pink jacket, make sure that you check the pockets for chap-stick! i mean the laundry smells nice, but the same smell on everything is beginning to get on my nerves!
  • try to find lyrics for pussycat dolls’ “don’t cha!” song! it’s hilarious that she sings to the song and bops her head, but her interpretation is way off as far as the words are concerned.
  • find some “lara croft” action figures to try to repair a barbie-polluted mind.
  • fix the bird-feeder on the porch and make sure that blue jays can’t knock it off the hook again. those birds are real bruisers!
  • get some more emergency water containers for the next time the water is gone.
  • see how many more virtual machines you can run in vmware at the same time (besides the three linux distributions, another copy of windows xp and the freenas server)