Leading hotels of the world and AmEx Platinum free night

If you have an American Express platinum card, Leading Hotels are offering the third night free if you book two nights using the American Express concierge or travel service. More details here

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Five star hotel stay in Warsaw

I don’t know if this is a regular deal, but the Westin Warsaw is running some very cheap nights. As any other Westin, this earns you some very valuable Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points. If you are a gold, you will also receive the full benefits, including room upgrade and late checkout.
Here is an example for a weekend in January for 40 GBP per night. I found that this price level was available for almost any other date in 2014.
If you book via American Express travel, you are also eligible for double points.

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Whatever you do in your life, don’t rely on a NAS

I bought a 2TB Acer Easystore a few years ago, and I have been piling content on it ever since. I thought I was safe. “It’s got RAID” they told me. Until a disk failed.
This is where the fun begins. The raid decided to happily destroy all my data and empty the NAS completely. So me and my wife just lost about 10 years of photos, music, downloads and things we generally held very dear. Including some music I wrote.
Thank you Acer, I hope all the “engineers” that wrote the RAID management rot in the worst circle of hell.

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custom terminal types

I have had the need to use custom terminal types, and I haven’t found a good guide out there, so here it is.

Create a custom type
decompile an existing terminal type to use as an editing template:

$ infocmp [termtype] > newtermtype.tic

edit at will, and recompile into a custom directory:

$ tic newtermtype.tic -o [customdir]

add the following to your bashrc:

export TERMINFO=[customdir]
export TERMINFO_DIRS=[customdir]

and feel free to set $TERM to the new type (you can add that to your bashrc if you wish.

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Android Tools: Contact Merger

This weekend I found myself in a spot of bother after “upgrading” my Galaxy S to CyanogenMod 7. I had made a nand backup, but I didn’t know how to get my contacts back in there. Every time I tried to replace contacts2.db, it was deleted and replaced by the OS. It’s at this point that I decided to write Contact Merger, a tiny little app that will take any contacts2.db file and let you select which numbers to recover. I have a feeling I’m not the only person to have this problem, so I’m releasing this out, on the understanding that I take no responsibility for any use you may make of it. The code was written in one day, it currently only reads the phone number and puts it in “Home”. I might update it more in the future, depending on what requests I get and how much free time I have.
Download here.

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Privacy in 2010

After numerous considerations, I have decided to start using my knowledge (and infrastructure) for good. I am setting up a VPN service with various services to maintain anonimity, like a filtering proxy, filtering DNS, VPN routing, internal-only PBX, chat and email system, and safe encrypted storage.
I am currently in the process of setting all this up and will provide the service to tech-savvy users for a small fee (I’m just looking at being able to pay for the server and bandwidth, not to make a profit).
Please hit me up if you want to be an early tester (and maybe want to help write the documentation!).

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Are our brains going to scale fast enough?

These thoughts are all mostly speculation, but it seems to me that it becomes harder and harder to scale beyond what we have now in Computer Systems. I am noticing this in HPC, but also in Datacenters. The roadblock isn’t really technical, but more in the way humans think.

When you reach single clusters that size up to a quarter of a million machines, you have to start thinking of systems administration statistically. What do I mean by that? Let’s make an example:

I have 100.000 identical machines, and their MTBF is, say (including all types of failures that make the machine offline, so network cables, OS etc), 4 years. That means that on average you will have 25.000 failures a year.
That translates to a failure every: 86400*365 / 25000 = 1261.44 s. That’s just over 21 minutes!

If the MTTR can be assumed to be about 10 minutes (normally by reprovisioning (assuming diskless) or changing a component/cable) you can see that it is unsafe to assume that all the machines will be up at the same time. In fact there is a very low probability of that.
This assumption will affect several things, like capacity planning. You should always take count of the fact that whatever system it is, it will never be 100% online. I mean, it might be, but it definitely won’t be a regular thing.

With so many failures you need a fast failover system, a lot of redundancy, and a quick way of turning machines around. Let’s say that you have 10.000 MySQL frondends and 60.000 Apache servers in that cluster (we are including “traditional” hosting in the argument now!), and all of a sudden you have a surge in queries for whatever reason (memcached fails?). You need to respond to that quickly and rebalance the system on the fly, so you need to automate server provisioning and joining of the cluster (and load balancers). You also need to do this for failures. Well, that throws DNS round robin out the window!

Also, it cannot be just automated. It has to be quick. And I mean lightning fast. Hard provisioning might not be an option, you might end up using diskless nodes. You will need to scale the provisioning system as a cluster itself. And even add automation to that. So provision the provisioning.

Now piece all this together and what you are left with is a big datacenter that’s constantly evolving and changing, so you can no longer even think of a machine being part of one cluster or the other. It’s just a big blob of varying things. A moving target. A probabilistic, non-deterministic system.

That is where statistics come into play. They are very good with these types of models, and soon we will be seeing a big change in systems administration and planning, to match this. It’s already starting to happen.

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Google Wave.

I’ve seen quite a hype building up around Google Wave lately, and as all curious technology-related people, decided to give it a go. I found a friend with an invitation, and convinced him to give it to me.
After about a week, I finally got my invite, signed up with my google account, and decided to have a poke around. A good thing I noticed is that it automatically pulls up my gmail contact list and sees who already has Wave. The bad news is that only 3 people had an account. And here is where the real problem starts.
I gradually found more and more friends that had a Wave account, and we decided to start using it to communicate. We found all the features to be very cool and quite fun, for the first day or so. Then it got boring. Why? Because there is a lack of purpose. This thing doesn’t integrate with email, so you’re starting on a complete new platform. And you can’t just ditch email, so you end up having to accounts to look at, not one. With that addressed you would still have trouble using it properly, because most of the time there is no real need to have all those features in communication. And if I want to attach something to an email, I can still attach it.
It’s technically a very good leap forward, but it needs a use case and a user base. Which for now it’s lacking. And even then, we don’t know if that is exactly going to work.

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My first run after the flu

I did this run today, it wasn’t bad at all. I am still out of breath because I had a massive flu last week and it hasn’t completely worn off yet. Also because of it I haven’t been training for 10 days, so I’m quite happy with myself. The grounds around Guildford are very different, it was a hilly ride, which made it even harder. Anyway, here are the stats – it looks like I might be able to do the Robin Hood marathon next month in about 1h30:

Begin time 2009-08-05 19:29:37 +0100
Begin time 2009-08-05 20:45:51 +0100
End time 1:16:14 hh:mm:ss
Duration 6.5 miles
Average speed 5.79 mph
Average pace 10.36 min/mile

Don’t be too hard, I am still ill!

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About these elections

Personally, I’m not a great believer in protest voting. And I believe even less in not voting. I am surprised that so many people decided to not go to the ballots and express what is their opinion on who should be calling the shots. And I don’t mean the EU elections, personally I think that the EU is getting too much power, and we should try and limit it, since that was not the purpose why it was created. I’m talking about the local elections that came with it. How can you not want to have your say on who is deciding what to do with your council tax money, how much your council tax will be, and where the next Tesco will be.

On the other hand I am extremely glad that Labour has fallen so much. It proves that we, as a country, have the strength to fight back. We still have a voice, and we can still tell the government that we don’t trust their doing any more. The way things have been dealt with during this recession haven’t been very impressive. The way the expenses row is being addressed is appalling. And everyone is deserting the government. I stand with my party on calling on Mr Brown to call an election. It was never his moral right to be in office anyway. This man is taking the benefit of Blair’s votes. And if I recall, Blair has resigned time ago, mainly over yet another scandal. Finally the nation is saying, almost at unison, “We’ve had enough. We didn’t vote you and we’re not going to vote you now. Or support you at all” .

And we’re seeing a peculiar situation where Mr Brown’s own government and party is falling apart, and giving almost the same exact message. So why is he still here? Surely to be able to govern freely and effectively, he needs support from all his benches.I can understand that the recent cabinet reshuffle might be an attempt at regaining such support and strength, but far too little, far too late, is what I say. And the longer he puts this election off, the smaller the chance of him reasserting himself as a leader. All the better I say, I might actually get a shot at a seat by then, but in the meantime the country is buried in this major chaos, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

A

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