A fun morning on twitter

I’ve had a John Carmack quote at the top of my CV pretty much since I started taking it seriously (which wasΒ actuallyΒ after I got my first job with Ephox who I still work for).

This morning, I mentioned it to him in response to a speech he gave recently:

And well… the stats on my tweetΒ tell most of the story, but a picture tells a thousand words:

john carmack retweet.png

Today is a good day.

Well, yes


yes I do. That draft was created just after I joined twitter, and in the details I had written that I had just passed 400 tweets. I’m now closing in on 13,000. I am, however, in the process of scaling back my twitter and Facebook usage – I identified last week that as I reduce my tweeting I might return to blogging for my creative output.

So. 15,500 hits and counting for my first real post in 3 years. That’s a pretty high bar to live up to πŸ˜‰

The Anonymous Army

The Brisbane flood of 2011 was big news all around the world, but for me it was entirely personal. Sitting here, now, a month after the flood as I settle into my new place, I think it’s time to talk about my flood experience.

If you watched enough of the news you’d recognize the suburb of Rosalie – it was a big talking point both during the floods and on the day after as cleanup began.

My place? It was right in the deepest point of Rosalie. So yeah, we got flooded.

Now while that sucks, we didn’t lose anything significant:

  • Two empty bookcases (one mine)
  • Tall white cabinet (mine)
  • Washing machine (mine, possibly salvageable but I had already planned to throw it out or sell it cheap)
  • Large fridge (mine, again possibly salvageable but I wanted to sell it)
  • Small bar fridge
  • Large cupboard with drawers
  • TV stand
  • Desk

I have Wivenhoe to thank for the comparatively small size of that list. Things could’ve been so much worse. Wivenhoe gave us the warning on Tuesday that a flood was coming the next day; this meant we could leave work early and spend the entire afternoon moving our gear upstairs. We had already been served notice to leave our rental property at the start of February (hence wanting to sell fridge/washing machine), so the bits of packing we’d done helped immensely to get everything we cared about upstairs long before the floods hit.

I left on Tuesday evening, but one brave flatmate stayed behind to see what the initial 3m flood looked like. He parked on a nearby hill and continued to move stuff we decided we didn’t care about, but would have been a little annoying to lose. Turns out 3m was just below our ground floor level thanks to building minimum height requirements, he stuck around moving the last few things until he was ankle deep in our downstairs floor on Tuesday morning (waist deep in the driveway). We both stayed about 23km away in Kuraby with friends.

My flatmate was told to go to work on Friday because they’re on the edge of the CBD, so I tried to work from our temporary accommodation. But there were so many volunteers on the news that my friends, and then finally Ephox, told me to take the afternoon off to clean up.

I turned up at about 2pm, saw a lot of cars (being kept out of Rosalie by police) but not a whole lot of people which had me a bit worried that I’d missed the cleanup crew. The high water line was over my head in the driveway; my key didn’t work in the front door. I eventually made it through the jungle that was our back yard and started recording as I walked in the front door:

What a mess! You can’t really see it (although I did try to show it near the end) but a lot of the walls are bulging. You can see most of the items I listed above, along with plates and stuff that we have since cleaned up and kept. Everything I mentioned was destroyed; the big white cabinet, for example, collapsed as soon as they tried to move it because the back was entirely chipboard.

After I took that video I was a little bit in shock. I shifted a few things around but wasn’t really sure what to do. I eventually walked out to the street and grabbed the first volunteer that walked past to help me shift the heavy stuff.

We moved a few small things but when it came time to tackle the fridges he wandered off to grab some more help; that’s when the whirlwind was unleashed. Word must’ve got out that there was someone in need of help, because an army descended on my home.

It’s all a bit of a blur. At a rough guess, I had as many as 10 people helping me but it could’ve easily been more.

I remember being in the driveway emptying our big fridge into a bin when someone said “I’ll do that” and sent me back inside after I made sure they would keep the pyrex containers. I remember having no idea how to unlock the electric roller door until someone finally found the release lever. I remember blindly walking into the garage as the volunteer behind me gingerly checked the area for snakes before following me.

I was debating whether to try keeping my fridge but I’d already told them to throw it, next time I went outside the massive dump truck had arrived and it was being loaded onto the back along with all the other rubbish piled up in the street.

We had someone in Army camo-type gear who turned out to be an ex-reservist and not actually in the Army anymore. I think one of the helpers might’ve even been a neighbor from our block of 3 units, I can’t really be sure. I was so busy directing people and responding to “should we keep this” questions that it was hard to keep track of it all.

Once everything had been taken outside they hosed out downstairs and asked me if I had any bleach. Most of it went on the floor for general disinfecting with another hosing, but some went into a bucket and was used to wipe the walls down for me – I never expected them to do that!

They even hosed out the garage for me, and asked nothing in return. One guy was eyeing off the miscellaneous beer and alcopops that had accumulated in the bar fridge, so I told him to take it. That’s all it cost me, and this is the result:

I don’t know any of their names – any I was told were forgotten in the madness – and they never asked mine, only learning it when I was looking for bleach and a neighbor (one I know I recognized) called up the stairs asking if we needed help. I was so blown away I didn’t think to take any photos – this is the only photo I have of them, the back of the guy who I gave the alcohol to:

I feel incredibly lucky to have survived as well as I have. My deepest thanks go to all those who volunteered for the cleanup, whether in Rosalie or elsewhere in Brisbane.

They were the Anonymous Army, and they will always be remembered.

The death of my first server

Six years ago, I built my first Linux server. It was my third year at uni and I had just bought a new computer; being a poor student I would usually have upgraded but a mate of mine gave me his old case for some reason I don’t remember.

At the time I was living on campus with plenty of geeks on the local irc channel to encourage me and get me started – my debian stable server was born. I named it rei, after the evangellion character (it was the first anime I ever watched, which happened around the same time).

The campus environment at uni was the ideal place to learn server administration. I had lots of people in the same building to get advice from, but each room was networked so if I messed up it only affected me (well, most of the time anyway πŸ˜‰ ).

And so it was that I learned how to set up a basic firewall, file server and eventually an IMAP server + fetchmail which I have been using ever since. In the years since it has run – in addition to the normal tasks – stuff like an irc server and a local network game server (can’t remember which game though). When I finished uni it became the house firewall (requiring a far more advanced ruleset).

After upgrading to debian testing almost immediately post-setup that little box has survived two motherboard failures, three case transplants, a lucky recovery from a storage drive failure and the incredibly lucky recovery from an accidental “rm -rf *” in the root directory (yay for reiserfsck!).

I did eventually wipe the machine last year, after getting sick of kernel compiles and various other things caused by the age of the install that meant the server took more administration time than I wanted it to. By then I had a mythtv server as well (running fedora core 3), to make life easier I put ubuntu on both. And life was good.

Then with the recent possibility of using a small low powered mythtv frontend instead of the combined front/backend I have now, it got me thinking about why I need two servers. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t. Rei’s firewall has been replaced by a decent modem/router that doesn’t need any maintenance; the file server has been mostly replaced by my flatmate who is such a hoarder that he decided to build his own server. The files it serves now can easily be moved to the mythtv box.

The only thing I have needed that server for recently is mail, and I’ve been less than happy with that since I had to punch a hole in the firewall to my imap server in order to check mail on my phone. Even though we have adsl2 at home it isn’t as fast as I’d like. Not to mention that the fans in the case are so old and noisy that they’ve been unplugged so the drives are running hot. I had been holding off switching to gmail, but really the only excuse left was because I didn’t want to lose my first server. With the migration now done, it’s time to pull the plug.

The server name will live on; I already have plans to replace the mythtv backend with my dual core desktop machine when I either buy a new gaming PC or the still-rumored mac mini upgrade (if it has a decent graphics card that can replace the PC). That will be quite an upgrade from the 8-year old CPU (Athlon 1200c) it has been using since the first mobo failure.

But rei is dead, long live rei πŸ™‚ (that’s a bit of a strange way to put it if you’ve seen the anime!)

And there we have it

So that was quick; the gmail migration is complete. 18400 emails (and that’s actual count, gmail reports 9400 conversations), a tad under 600mb. It turns out that gmail is quite happy to let OS X mail open a bunch of connections, so all I had to do was make a few temp labels and suddenly I’m copying six lots of 1000 messages instead of one. In fact, it would’ve been done sooner but my modem shut down in the middle of a move last night and OS X mail sat there with the copied mail counters rising far too fast. Needless to say that was quite disturbing.

Half an hour of concerned investigation later it turns out I that not only does gmail merge if you copy an email twice, Mail was actually caching the move. It attempted to complete the process after the internet returned, until I accidentally cancelled it (this was quite surprising, considering I was moving between IMAP accounts).

Oh well, it didn’t waste that much time.

The cool part is that I don’t need to worry about sending via gmail with my normal address. I found the easiest way to set up SMTP on my iPhone was gmail, so I have been using it to send email for a few months now and nobody has been the wiser. All it took was updating gmail to acknowledge I owned my home email address and setting that as the default.

My gmail account has looked a little strange (it had copies of every sent email since July, with none of the received) but it has all worked out in the end.

The great gmail migration

Migrating to gmail is hard when you’re a packrat. Especially one that spent years using Outlook Express πŸ™‚

I have basically every non-spam email sent to me in the last 8 years; I even have a few earlier than that. The oldest email I have is dated June 1999, from one of my first year uni subjects. I won’t know exactly how many emails I have until I finish moving it all to gmail, but rough estimates from the folder counts put the number around 12000. My Maildir folder is 620mb πŸ˜‰

I had a crazy number of folders on my IMAP server. My setup consisted of the usual collection of folders for sorting, but Outlook Express can get annoying with large folders so I wanted to keep the per-folder message count down. My solution, 8 years ago, was an “archive” folder which mirrored the major folders and I created a new set of them for every year. I’ve spent most of this evening combining them into 1000-mail chunks, I don’t want to babysit this process but I also don’t have enough confidence in the universe to try moving all emails in a single hit!

So why am I just now moving to gmail? That story will have to wait for another day. Don’t worry, the post is already written so I will actually follow up this time πŸ˜‰ but certain events are still in progress and I want to wait until they’re done before posting it.

I have to say though I’m not sure keeping all of this email was the best idea. I’ve glanced at a few old emails while sorting this evening and… well put it this way, would you want a detailed account of your uni years? πŸ™‚

I’m starting to wish for this new Mac Mini already

The rumor mill is swinging around again with Macworld in a few days, and this time the Mac Mini update is one of the rumors that refuses to die. Despite buying one two months ago, and predicting that this might happen, I’m actually looking forward to it.

Over the Christmas break I wound up with my Mac Mini downstairs in the aircon as a DVD player, and this was a good opportunity to see what life would be like if I used it as my primary TV frontend. Turns out life would be fantastic πŸ˜‰

Playing DVDs is (as expected) quite good, and thanks to Perian pretty much any format under the sun can be played in Front Row off of a mapped network drive symlinked into my movies folder. But the real score was FrontMyth – this was my big missing piece, a way to combine the cool media browser of Front Row with the ability to watch TV via MythFrontend. Of course having done all that, I’m now looking at Plex which already has MythTV support!

The only question left is which remote do I get. Apparently the Sony PS3 remote works quite well with the built-in bluetooth of the Mac, but I’m leaning more towards one of the Logitech Harmony remotes. They look like a decent universal remote, and can be programmed to work with the built-in Mac IR receiver (either manually using extra software, or if I use Plex there is now built-in support).


And of course once all that is set up, I’m going to combine my file server into the current TV box. To save power I want a single unit that runs MythBackend; I also want it somewhere I can’t hear while watching TV (the fans in the existing TV box are getting noisy after years of sitting on the floor collecting dust). And to cap it all off I will probably switch from running my own IMAP server to GMail at the same time.

The hobby projects never end, do they πŸ˜‰

My attention stats

I think that posting FeedDemon attention stats is a cool idea, and I hope it catches on. I’ve already subscribed to Hacker News thanks to Amit’s listing (and Nick’s mention of it in his comment) – it’s always interesting to know how other people get their news and in this case it gave me a great new feed to subscribe to πŸ™‚

As you can see, aside from a couple of games sites I get my news mostly from link blogs:

I gave up on aggregating my own news two years ago, that mentality has served me well and helped me to cope with information overload (even though I no longer subscribe to scoble’s link blog πŸ˜‰ ).

I don’t use FeedDemon at home any more, so this is purely my at-work attention list. You can fairly easily see what I spend my lunch hour reading; game news and comics. NG forums are at the top partly because I participate in them but also because that is the feed with the highest traffic on my list.

Sick of waiting

I’ve been waiting months for a Mac Mini update. I know that trying to predict when Apple will do anything is pointless, but there are always good reasons tempting you to do it.

For someone who is into all things new and shiny, using a three year old mac is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it never ceased to amaze me how much the old machine can do and still perform respectably. On the other, very few apps these days are optimised for use on 512mb of ram which makes using the machine absolutely unbearable more often than not 😦

I’ve nearly snapped a few times; all the way back in March was when it started, only this little rumor (and this one) made me think twice. After that, I remembered wanting 4gb of ram in my next desktop machine and the mac mini is too much of a pain to upgrade. Eventually my only reason was the price; the longer I waited the more this little box became stupidly overpriced with outdated specs. So I continued holding out a small sliver of hope that it would see a boost during one of the Apple events this year.

All this lasted about six months. Once October hit I decided that enough was enough and the laptop upgrade event was my tipping point. I had hit an unresolvable problem with the 30gb drive in the old mac – it’s impossible to fit your life into something that small these days! With 20gb of music + pictures I was constantly juggling the free space and running out almost daily.

I stuck to my word; despite a lack of upgrades at said event the next morning I ordered the faster model with 2gb ram. Interestingly they quoted a 3-5 day shipping time but I had it in my hands by the third business day (probably helps that I ordered on a Thursday). The way I figure it, even if it is updated sometime soon (although it could just as easily be discontinued) this box will be an awesome (and silent) front end for the big noisy MythTV machine currently sitting in the lounge room.

I’ve had it for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say it’s nice to have a fast primary machine again. Particularly the part about not needing to boot up the windows box just to watch a flash video πŸ˜‰

And so to celebrate, here’s the photo of the old laptop setup I promised back in February:

The poor thing only has two USB ports, but I have 6 or 7 USB devices plus the FireWire drive and VGA cable (hence the name frankenlaptop). The monitor is one USB hub, it hosts the iPhone and spare ports for the USB drive I carry around. The other hub sits below the monitor within easy reach and has the keyboard / mouse / soundcard plugged in. For that hub there’s an extra hub-to-pc cable so I can swap it between the mac and my windows box. Combined with a multi-input monitor this makes for a very effective cheap KVM, in fact it’s better than a KVM because it swaps the sound card too (I bought the USB soundcard for that exact purpose).

Also notable are the shameless plug of a squishy toy and copious amounts of dust, particularly on the laptop (yay for the iBook clamshell mode hack!)

I would post a photo of the new setup, but I’m sure everyone knows what a Mac Mini looks like (also my desk is currently covered in stuff πŸ˜‰ ). Picture the above only with less clutter; the mini has a much smaller footprint and I’ve moved the big FireWire drive off the desk (it’s pretty noisy and the setup looks better with it hidden).

There are posts coming, I swear

I normally try to get at least one post out per month, but the last month or so hasn’t exactly been normal. Things have been really, really busy at work – that list is from our release 2 weeks ago! While the end is vaguely in sight things are still a bit insane at the moment, so who knows when I’ll get to posting about cool stuff from what is now a two month old release 😦

Probably the biggest news in the last month is that we hired a new engineer (can’t believe nobody’s blogged that yet). Kristin is doing quite well so far – despite being the first female engineer we’ve had in about 5 or 6 years she has been gelling with the team with surprising speed. Even more surprisingly, she didn’t run screaming from some trial-by-fire bugfixing as we struggle to fit training into the current workload πŸ˜‰

It’s nice to know our hiring process still works really well. Somehow we always manage to pick the people who are a match for our culture πŸ™‚