Auto-scaling your cloud services - benefits and risks

Read George Reese on Why I Don't Like Auto-Scaling in the Cloud first.
It's a good story about some of the risks of cloud-computing.

However, Rob La Guesse makes a valid point.

I guess the key phrase here is Everything in Moderation.

A personal example -- on a really small scale -- follows

I pay fastmail to manage my mailbox with numerous features for a fixed fee a year.
I get a bandwidth allowance tied to the size of my mailbox - at 1GB per month. Since first signing up I got 2GB of spare bandwidth - which I haven't ever needed yet, but I could buy more spare capacity in advance if I ever expect to need more.

This example illustrates what the customer and the provider expect: predictable service in an unpredictable world.

The prepaid spare capacity allows the service to pick up any peak load, and allows the customer to put a cap on any expense.

If additional load would translate directly into additional revenue, you have the time to decide to divert some of that revenue back into more capacity and availability.



Free Multipage Icon Editor found

I downloaded the greenfish icon editor and was able to create a new icon for uwin/sh in minutes, combining it with the original 16x16 into a single file. On the desktop and in explorer uwin/ksh now shows the 32x32 icon, while the title bar still displayes the smaller one.

Mission accomplished

The files have been updated.


A new little icon for the UWIN ksh console

I've been using the korn shell for over twenty years now. Not only on solaris/opensolaris, but I also use it on windows, through the Uwin project, a port of the ast toolkit - a portable set of all standard unix tools, including the shell, but also nawk and the usual cat,sed,tr, list of tools.

Today, I finally created an icon for the UWIN shell console - the original icon, with the letters UWIN in bright colours is not displayed on the console window title bar. It is too large, and the title bar reverts to the standard C:\ icon.

I never paid much attention to it, but tonight I figured out the issue - the title bar icon should be no larger than 16x16 pixels. Once I realised that, a new fitting icon was created quickly, and here it is:

Yes, it's tiny. It's also just what I want for the shell window in my windows quick launch toolbar.

Here's a bigger view of the design. Getting the dollar sign sharp at three pixels wide was a bit of a challenge, but I was quite satisfied.

There's a zip here with the icon as a windows .ico, plus the .png above, and the development version with an odd colour in the background, which can easily be turned transparant when you save with Irfanview.

I've modeled the icon after the 16x16 Windows CMD icon. That is, I've used the measurements of the frame, although the pixels are mine.

Author: Henk Langeveld, shell icon, Oct 2008: zip
Copyleft: This is a free work, you can copy, distribute, and modify it under the terms of the Free Art License http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/

In addition, the files can be distributed under the Common Public License

Windows actually uses multi-page ICO files. For the title bar and toolbars it'll look for a 16x16 bitmap or substitute another icon of that size. For the desktop it will use the largest icon available. Does anyone know of a simple method of combining icons in a single file? Free tools preferred. I did see a method using Photoshop, which seems a bit of overkill...


Chimps, elephants, and now magpies...

Last year I attended the Tinbergen Lecture in Leiden, where prof Frans de Waal told us about his research on animal behaviour. He is well known for his work with chimps, but he also reported how they were finally able to demonstrate Mirror Self Recognition behaviour with Elephants. Previous attemps had failed, apparently because testers had been using small mirrors, which would not have large enough for an elephant to even see a significant portion of itself.

Now the same test has been performed with birds - magpies to be precise - not by de Waal, but he comments on it at PloS: doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060201.
He explains the significance of the test: It's not about intelligence or about the concept of self-identity as such, but a side-effect of the species developing stronger social skills. Primates, elephants and magpies all have complex social lives and that requires them to be be able to distinguish each other and put oneself in another's position to understand them.

And who knows what they think about each other...
And that's what Dave Kellet thought as well.


The trouble with /var in unix systems

Mike Gerdts suggests using /var/share for sharing data between boot environments in his March 2008 post Future of OpenSolaris Boot Environment management.

The trouble with unix /var is that it is a grabbag, in that it is used both for storing system data (i.e., identity), as for storing application data.

/var/ is intended for variable data that should persist through a reboot: short lived temp files, spool directories for transient files (printing,mail), and whatever data applications might wish to store (/var/opt).

However, as said above, it also contains data about a systems 'identity', specific settings like cronjobs, printer settings, network configuration, definitions of services that altogether make up what the box 'is'. This also includes the list of installed software in /var/sadm. At some point these all moved into /var from /usr or /etc in ancient unix past.

Root was supposed to be small then, and did not contain a lot that could change, limiting the risk of a long fsck if there were a lot of modified files in the root fs. With just enough stuff to allow the system to boot, if you lost any other filesystem, if you had at least a running system you could attempt to repair or restore whatever was broken.

Mike's suggestion is very sound, as it does what is required. System identity is kept in the root fs (/), while application data, whether it's persistent or transient, goes into /var/share, keeping /var as part of the root fs, even though the 'share' name may be a bit of an unlucky choice - it's used in /usr/share and other places for architecture-neutral data that can be shared with other systems (nfs clients).


lplist - show solaris "lp-lite" queues matching pattern

This is something I've been using for years in various variations. "lp lite" was introduced as an alternative for the complexity of the sysv lpsched printer daemon. Instead of directories with printer filters and interface scripts, the assumption was that you'd be talking to a remote BSD print spooler.
For that, you needed the printer address and printer name, nothing more. Paper is typically A4 or Letter, depending on geography. What we print is typically postscript, or plain text. All of those are assumed to be preset on the other end.

This little script will scan your printers.conf (using lpget list) and dump all printer definitions matching your supplied regular expression pattern one line at a time, giving the queue name first, followed by all 'lpset -a' keyword=value settings for that queue.

By putting the queue name first in the output, this makes it easy input for the next script in a pipe, as you can simply say
lplist hp | while read hpq more; do ...; done
to process all print queues with "hp" in their name.

The empty pattern will just dump all queue names.

#!/bin/ksh -p
# usage: lplist [pattern]

lpget list |
nawk -F: -v pattern=$1 '\
/:/ {
if (!pattern || q~pattern) {
print q, def
!pattern || q ~ pattern {
def=def" -a "$0
END { if (def) print q,def }'

Exercise for the reader: Rewrite in pure awk. That is, drop the shell.


Publishing and author's rights

Scott Kurz of pvponline blogs about author's rights in the comic industry. The traditional American comic used to be funded through syndication. You got a deal with the syndicate and from then on you get paid and they own what you create. Forever. The music industry works pretty much the same way, except you cut a deal for a certain period or a certain number of albums, and they retain an awful lot of influence over what you actually create for them. Scott is one of those, who has been able to find a different way.

Scott Kurtz:

I am shocked at how many cartoonists I’ve talked to who think that a creator’s rights automatically revert back to the creator if something goes tits up. Unless that’s specified that is NOT the case. And even if that is specified in a contract, those rights can be tied up in negotiations or legal battles for years.

Ownership of your work is the single greatest asset you have as a creator. Never willingly sign that ownership away. I can never say that enough. Write that in a notepad 10 times every day and then show me that notepad at an upcoming convention so I know you’re paying attention.


The problem as I* see it is with copyright law and the so-called work for hire. Publishers will make sure that they word any contract as a piece of work they contract out to you. You don't hire them to publish your work, they they hire you to create theirs. This is a standard deal, and unless you make any other provision, you will only get paid once, and never anything more. Modern copyright law requires that a writer/artist can get their moral rights asserted, but that does not change the business arrangement.

Let me get it straight: I have friends in the publishing industry and the life of a publisher isn't easy. A small publisher (of games/comics) with tiny print runs cannot afford any risk. I remember at least one that required you to sign a waiver before you where even allowed to send them a manuscript. It said in so many words: "We may or may not be working on products with content similar to your submission. If we don't accept your work, you may still see a product like it published by us in the future, and will not pay you.
By submitting your manuscript you agree that we can do this and you will not ever have any legitimate claim."

And you know what? It is the only way for a small publisher to survive. If you want a different deal, make sure you have already made a name for yourself. Then you can call the shots. Until then, don't make any assumptions.

*I am not a lawyer, find one yourself if you need legal advise, etc., etc.


oracle on t2000

Since the issue came up I checked out some references on the performance of oracle (10g) on t1000/t2000. Here is some wisdom found via google.

Basic oracle stuff:
* oltp scales well on niagara - no floating point, typically i/o bound
* a bit of tuning to exploit maximal parallelism may be necessary
* lots of parallel queries change the profile from i/o bound to cpu bound

* an obscure oracle jvm trap could hang the installation procedure
* don't copy/clone an existing sparc deployment onto a t1/t2
* do you want oracle apps running on the same h/w?

* the t2k does well in the space/watts/performance arena


Bletchley Park short on funding...

Bletchley Park, now a museum about its own role during WW2 is lacking funds to continue for more than another couple of years.

The estate used to house the team dealing with intercepting and deciphering German communications during the war, and it was here that the enigma code was broken.

Update 30/5: Bruce Schneier is looking into organising some relief...
Maybe he read it in the Reg...

July 6 Update: The Heritage Lottery appears to consider adopting the park...


Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke is no more. I read Childhood's End around 1976, and it must have been among the first English books that I read, together with Asimov and Herbert.


Kitty Squid Crocheting

Bruce Schneier's blog is about Security, except on fridays, when it's about squid.
(Although I suspect his friday squid blogs don't get posted until saturday)

Chronicles of a Yarn Obsession: Kitty Squid

This looks like a great toy for our LaPerms.
I never learned crocheting, but I may get Karin
to make this.