“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”


Articles that don’t fit into any other category.

CrashPlan, Backblaze and IDrive

I am pretty paranoid about data loss. Locally, my Macs all use Time Machine, the servers all have RAID of some kind, and virtual machines are regularly backed up using Bacula. Local backup is not enough, though, so most of this is also backed up to the cloud. Unfortunately, the cloud service I’ve been using for the last few years has just been discontinued, so it’s time to pick something new.

Many Twelves

Well, you don’t see that every day.


The Avant Cellist

I stumbled upon the music of Zoë Keating (specifically, Tetrishead) some years ago in, of all places, an early Dawn and Drew podcast. The latter fell victim to my “unsubscribe from one thing every week” rule four or five years ago, but I come back to this hypnotic music again and again.

You should, of course, run out and buy all of her music directly from her web site in order to increase the likelihood that we’ll all have more to enjoy in the future. The thing that prompts this post, though, is a short documentary film. It was made by Intel as some kind of advertising ploy for a semiconductor product that they happen to manufacture, but thankfully that’s not too blatant and the film is well worth its six minutes. The soundtrack is superb, as you might expect.


Moving Experience

…and we’re back. After more than 22 years in one place, we’ve finally moved a whole third of a mile to a somewhat larger and generally much nicer flat.

In doing so, we’ve swapped a view of the Daintyland wool shop for a view that actually has a few trees and even a distant hill or two for those with good eyesight. Huddling round a candle flame in winter has been replaced by gas central heating. A bedroom full of boxes of books we had no room for has been swapped for a hall full of boxes of books we probably can now find room for.

This has been a pretty stressful process, but not nearly as bad as we originally feared. Lots of people deserve kudos for this, but as well as the buyer of our old property and the sellers of our new property (who have all been very accommodating), our solicitors, the removal company and my new ISP come particularly to mind.

Having said that, I don’t think we’ll be doing this again any time soon. It will probably take us a few years just to get all the boxes of books unpacked…


After more than two decades, we’re finally moving flat at the end of the week. We’re not moving far, so things like our phone numbers won’t change. If you need our new postal address for some reason (how quaint, unless you want to send chocolate) then contact me directly.

There is likely to be a significant break in connectivity to those parts of the iay.org.uk empire that are hosted from the home systems as, unfortunately, there is something peculiar (perhaps a DACS) causing trouble on our new phone line. I can’t even order broadband until this is resolved, apparently. And that’s ignoring the secondary problem caused by the telco forgetting about part of our order, the result of which at present is that we’d need to install our router in the bathtub.

This will mean badly degraded e-mail, and downtime for SSH, CVS and the iay.org.uk Shibboleth entities. Much of the rest, including this blog, is hosted in California and shouldn’t be affected.

Blast from the Past

This 1986 Promotional Video for Computer Science Dept, Edinburgh was made a few years after I graduated, so I don’t think any of the thin, bearded, bespectacled computer scientists in the film are actually me. I can recognise a fair number of my old friends and colleagues, though (djr, rwt, gdmr, gb), and of course many of my favourite toys are featured.

Two 300 mega byte hard disks, eh? What riches!

[Updated 20070409. The video has been made private, so you may find you can only access it by talking to the uploader directly. Sorry about that.]

Buy a Better Future

At the turn of the year, you may well be thinking about donating some of your hard-earned to one or more worthy causes. After you’ve thought about more conventional charitable giving, I’d like to suggest the following organisations as candidates for a few more of your local currency units. Such a donation may not have the direct effect that you’d associate with something like disaster relief, but it might just increase in some small way the prospects of a better future for everyone…

  • The Wikimedia Foundation asks you to “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”. If that sounds a bit grandiose, consider the number of times you use Wikipedia every day and how much you’re therefore saving because you don’t need to buy Encarta any more.

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation have been fighting to defend your rights in the digital world since before most people thought there might be rights in the digital world. If you join them, or send them a donation, there is more chance they will be around to defend your rights the next time they are threatened. And anyway, who wouldn’t want to support an organisation that sued Barney the dinosaur?

  • Our digital world is as vibrant as it is in large part because of the way that creative people build on the work of others. I love being a part — however small — of that creative universe; that’s why I use Creative Commons licenses to mark many of my own works as free for other people to use, under certain conditions. For example, my flickr photostream and (as of this week) this blog are marked as free for non-commercial use as long as you give me attribution. You can support this approach to creativity by donating to Creative Commons. Of course, licensing your own work where appropriate is like a donation to every creative person out there; doesn’t that make sense too?

Happy New Year!


Knife Sharpening

I’ve always had a respect for good tools, and taken a delight in a kitchen knife that cuts well. Cook Ting I am not, however, and when I have blunted my blade I go to my toolbox and take out the sharpening stone my father gave me.

A haphazard half hour later, I have usually managed to put a frighteningly sharp edge back on the knife, at least for a while. Until today, I had only the vaguest idea of what I was doing; this changed after reading Chad Ward’s Knife Maintenance and Sharpening tutorial. Now that I actually understand how sharpening works, I’m hoping I can be a little less haphazard about it.

[via Megnut by way of Boing Boing]



Dec 31 23:59:59 morbius kernel: Clock: inserting leap second 23:59:60 UTC

Happy New Year!


Virtual Vanity

Every so often I vanity-google my own name, just to see what happens. I’m sure you do the same; who can resist?

I’ve been the number three “Ian Young” (according to Google) for a while. At number four is a chap at Intel who also shares a middle name with me, although as he apparently has 34 patents and invented the insides of lots of cool things he really by rights ought to be higher. He gets top billing for “Ian Alexander Young”, though.

Judging by the logs, some people find it easier to google for “Ian Young” than they do to remember the URL for this site. When looking at the server logs for the last month, though, I discovered that a fair number of people look for “iay” too. I’ve been using that identifier to log into things since about 1979 and sometimes have difficulty remembering my “human name”, but I didn’t realise this applied to other people too. Of course, they may have been looking for The Institute for the Study of Antisocial Behaviour in Youth, which comes above me in that search. No, the picture of the antisocial youth on their web site isn’t of me.

This is all rather strange but to me the most bizarre thing of all is that my Second Life avatar gets two of the only six hits for “Alexander Daguerre” (with the quotes this time). I suppose if I had thought about it, I could have looked for a combination Google had no record of and had the results page all to myself. How long before people start choosing names for their children that way?

Five Nines

So here I am, another year older; five nines. Sometimes I think I can only achieve all of my goals by reaching the mythical five nines measure of uptime, but I do like a little extra snooze at the weekends.

Assuming that averages out to 60% uptime, the standard formula comes up with an availability of only 0.4 nines… must do better.


Quote in Context

The Carbon Trust, a worthy environmental body concerned with climate change, are running a TV advert in the UK centered around a famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer. The advert says:

One man has been where we all are today.
When he saw what he’d done he said:
‘I am become the destroyer of worlds.’
Now we all have to face up to what we’ve done.[…]

This particular quote has always sent shivers down my spine; however, this version is inaccurate. Here’s a more complete version in context:

We knew the world could not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: “I am became Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

Another, slightly different variation:

A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. There floated through my mind a line from the “Bhagavad-Gita” in which Krishna is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty: “I am become death: the destroyer of worlds.”

The shorter misquote is catchy and makes for great television. I am also generally in favour of the work of the Trust and similar organisations. In this case, though, I can’t help feeling that equating personal responsibility at the level of turning down the heating at the office with the moral burden shouldered by the people that saw nuclear weapons born into the world on that day in 1945 is insulting to them, and to us.

[If you want to dig deeper, verses 11.31 to 11.33 of this translation of the Bhagavad Gita may help. Particularly 11.33.]

Unaccustomed As I Am

I was conned into doing a formal presentation for about 80 people the other day. Normally, I’m quite happy with smaller team or client presentations to half a dozen or a dozen people; the sudden scaleup put me in a mental state where (at least to myself) I sounded like a crazed televangelist. Maybe it wasn’t that bad in reality; some people even laughed a little at the flying pig jokes and no mouldy fruit was thrown.

The good news was that almost all of the technology worked perfectly. For example, the normal experience of a tiny projector that sounds like a badly maintained lawnmower was replaced by a huge bright fixed back-projection screen that everyone could see clearly. No hunting around for books to prop the projector up was required. No “where’s the remote, Bob?” conversations because I brought my own (I hate just standing behind the lectern). The exception was the sound system: all the microphones seemed to be broken. I’m always a bit loud anyway, so this wasn’t a problem.

If you’re curious, you can download a PDF copy of the presentation.

[2018-07-09: added a link to a PDF of the presentation. Added “identity” tag.]

One Less Techno Toy

After a quarter of a century of flawless service, my HP-41C calculator has finally stopped working.

It would be an understatement to say that these machines were well made: they were in fact superb in every category, from the programmability through the excellent documentation to the best keyboard I’ve ever seen to this day. They also cost a huge amount of money: perhaps £600 in present day terms, or in other words much the same as two 40GB iPods.

Like many of HP’s current line and most of their calculators since 1972, the HP-41C used RPN (Reverse Polish Notation). As well as being more sensible than that silly algebraic system other calculators used, this meant you were pretty much guaranteed that no-one would borrow the machine from you for long. Maybe that’s why it lasted; I certainly wouldn’t expect this kind of longevity out of anything I bought today.

So farewell then, 1940A00696. Thank goodness my HP-16C is still in perfect working order.


Prominence and Influence

I have mentioned the IETF’s series of Internet Drafts before as a useful source of over-the-horizon technical information. Donald Eastlake’s How to Gain Prominence and Influence in Standards Organizations is a departure from this, but worth reading nevertheless if you’re involved in any way with standards work. Quiet common sense, well written.

[2018-02-14: updated to refer to RFC 4144.]


Delay Tolerant Networks

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
   — Douglas Adams, HHGTTG

One way to get an idea of what’s in store for the internet is to peek over the technical horizon by reading the Internet Drafts put out by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF).

One interesting current research area is that for Delay Tolerant Networks (DTNs); networks where the conventional TCP/IP assumptions of continuous connectivity and “low” delay are broken. One of the things this translates into is standards for an Interplanetary Internet, but it also has relevance for sensor networks, communications with submarines and web access for reindeer herders.

[2018-03-05: Updated with new URLs, some via the Wayback Machine. The reference to the main Internet-Draft has become a reference to the superseding RFC.]

Shirky: A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Clay Shirky writes about the Internet, as much as a social and cultural phenomenon as a technical one. His recent article A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy describes what happens when “social” software (Usenet, mail, instant messaging, weblogs, etc.) is used to support growing, long-lived user groups. In particular, he discusses patterns of failure in these groups and to a lesser extent what can be done to avoid group failures.