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July 30, 2007

Quest for Qwest

By Glenn Fleishman

I decided to swap my household from Speakeasy Networks DSL service to Qwest. This is not a decision I took lightly. I’ve been a Speakeasy customer for about five years, and been generally happy with them. We hooked up a second line at home using Speakeasy VoIP service, which is configured so that no bits actually pass over the Internet, making for a high-quality line.

But, in the end, we were paying too much, partly due to the monopoly control situation that telcos have. Speakeasy was charging us $90 per month for 1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps plus unlimited voice (including tax). I’ll get 3 Mbps/640 Kbps (and faster service as lines improve) for about $40 per month from Qwest. We never thought about killing our main Qwest line because we’ve had too many power outages: regular phone lines still work when there’s no power (most of the time), and our alarm circuit is tied into the regular line. Qwest gives me $5 per month off DSL for having a landline bundle.

I was curious how the transition would work, because I figured we’d lose or current service at least temporarily. Fortunately, I’m testing cell routers right now, and had one I could bring home to use in typical circumstances. A cell router typically has Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections for the local network, and backhauls data over a cellular data network, often Sprint Nextel or Verizon’s. The cell data connection in my house appears nearly as fast as my Speakeasy DSL was, partly because I had slow DSL and Sprint has upgraded its Seattle network to a faster flavor over the last few months.

So I had a stopgap in place this morning, since today was the likely switchover. At some point, the DSL from Speakeasy did stop working, and the new modem from Qwest arrived today.

It was a cinch to hook it up, and they included configuration software for Mac and Windows, despite stating in all their literature that they don’t support Macs per se (they don’t offer MSN software for Mac OS X, since it doesn’t exist, and that’s their services partner for email, etc.).

Of course, I’m always an edge case, and after easily getting a nice, fast connection going, the router stopped being responsive. Every time I went to check on it via its integral Web server, it rebooted. Gah. I called Qwest, and instantly got one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever spoken to in tech support anywhere. I didn’t have to do any nonsense. We went through a factory reset, and he reset the DSL port on the Qwest side. At one point, we were talking about using UV to trigger an EEPROM rewrite.

The router seemed to be okay, so I got off the call. Within minutes, it was exhibiting the same problem again. Another call, this time a 15-minute wait, and another of the most technically sophisticated tech support guys or gals I’ve ever spoken to. With a few minutes’ troubleshooting, he agreed it was a hardware fault, and is sending me a new modem.

Posted by Glennf at 11:09 PM | TrackBack

July 29, 2007

Outnumbered, Lynn Takes to Blogging; Power Outages

By Glenn Fleishman

Like a rock against which the ocean slams for eons, finally wearing it down to a nubbin, pebbles, and sand, so, too, has Lynn finally taken up blogging after years of me doing so. Lynn is a marvelous writer, which I say not just because I’m married to her (although her email to me in our early dating demonstrated her considerable store of wit, charm, and intelligence). With three Fleishmans in the house, if Lynn is ever going to get a word in edgewise, she  needs a forum.

In other news, power was fluctuating all over last night. At about 11.30 pm, when I had just managed to drop off, the power went out, silencing the “rain music” we use to help Rex sleep, turning off the A/C (which was mostly working as a fan), and turning off my CPAP. I got up and looked around through various windows, and it was our usual (infrequent) outage in which I can see lights at the top of the hill (Eastlake neighborhood’s ridge/South Capitol Hill) and across the water (Wallingford).

We worried Rex would wake up either from my walking around, the lack of white noise, or the lack of light. I  was also concerned Ben would wake up and it would be pitchblack in his room with his night light out and neighbors’ lights out. It was a full moon, though, and there was plenty of light leaking through the blinds.

Lynn suggested I pull out a battery system I got for camping and emergencies, that can deliver at least one night’s electricity to my CPAP (with the humidifier turned off). Of course, I had stored it nearly behind the baby’s crib. I did manage to get it out without making a massive amount of noise, hooked it up, and went back to sleep. At about 3 am, power came back on, fans and white noise powered back on, and we all went back to sleep again. The baby slept til 6.30, which is pretty unbelievable these days (5 to 5.30 am have been his usual range).

When I went to check email in the morning, I discovered that my database server had crashed overnight—it’s a pretty fast machine by standards three years ago that just handle database operations for my various sites and partners (,, and, to name a few). It’s hosted by digital forest, which has a very good track record on both their physical infrastructure and recovery from problems. I checked logs, and couldn’t find any clue as to why it restarted twice in the wee hours. It managed to mostly recover, meaning my sites weren’t down for long. Digital forest, when queried, said there was an anomaly with the rack on which the server lives, and they’re investigating.

Here’s the funny part: After the power outages and server downtime in San Francisco this last week, I was bragging to all and sundry that I had over 550 days of continuous uptime on this database server. Ah, well. Never tempt the gods of small particles and poetic justice.

Update: Digital forest discovered that another customer had used a power strip into which my database server was plugged. This is a big no-no. D.f., like all intelligent co-location facilities (“co-lo’s,” colloquially) has staff let customers into the co-lo and has cameras monitoring the facility, too. But that doesn’t mean that someone can’t do something stupid. This other customer’s server had problems and was power cycling. Power cycling can draw a lot of peak power at startup, as fans run at maximum, drives all fire up, and the processor runs at full blast. This tripped a circuit breaker (twice, apparently), and brought my server down with it. The problem has been rectified, although I don’t know what will happen to that other customer. (The correct procedure is to ask the on-site technical staff before plugging stuff in.)

Modern servers pull hundreds of watts of power each, if not more. This requires careful management to distribute power and avoid overheating and overloading. Digital forest just posted these photos of a new, still-in-stealth customer that is running 528 watt per square foot. A standard rack is 42U, where U is a unit equal to 1.75 inches. Looking at the photos, it’s likely that the rack is pulling several kilowatts (d.f. says they can feed 50 kW per rack). Tricky stuff. They note that the customer’s previous host made them divide their machines across four racks. Because we’re charged by the rack (or half-rack), that’s a rather expensive difference. Digital forest surcharges $20 per month per outlet, which is how they make up the electrical charge, however.

D.f. doesn’t list their rack prices, but I’m guessing that they charge about $1,200 per rack, which would mean $4,800 for four racks. I’m not sure what this heavy power user’s previous co-lo charged them per rack, but with the number of computers in the rack in the photo and the power surcharge, that would be more like $2,000 instead of $5,000.

That’s all to say that you don’t mess with plugging stuff in in a well-run co-lo. The co-lo does it or tells you where to.

Posted by Glennf at 8:56 AM | TrackBack

July 24, 2007

Dr. Who and Harry Potter

By Glenn Fleishman

Is it a particularly British idea that you can have an anti-hero who behaves heroically?

I’ve been watching the latest seasons of the revived Dr. Who with the quite marvelous Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, and the realization hit me that Dr. Who might have been so successful over the years not just for the previously terrible special effects and obscure plots that drew in sci-fi fans. Rather, that Dr. Who always does the right thing. Not that he doesn’t make mistakes. But when everyone is running away from the source of trouble, Dr. Who always runs towards it. He’s not always excited about it. He’s often, especially in the recent series, exasperated at always landing in the thick of things. (The current run’s plot device is that even when he’s trying to take a holiday, he arrives in the middle of incipient disaster a la Quantum Leap.)

The same could be said of Harry Potter. He doesn’t run. He hates having to be the Chosen One, the one who gets things done, the appointed enemy of Voldemort. (Do you know that the books are so effective, that I almost typed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?) Harry doesn’t want to be a hero, but he rarely shirks from his task. He faces it with grim determination. He explains to those who think it’s exciting how terrible it all is. He’s so frequently near death, that he has lost his fear of it but not his caution.

Dr. Who is the last of his kind in the current running series. His people, the Time Lords, were all killed in an effort to destroy the Daleks, whose goal is simply the destruction of all other life forms in the universe. Harry Potter is the last of his family (the Dursleys aside). Everyone but Petunia and Dudley who are related to him by blood are dead. He fights Voldemort, whose goal is the destruction of all non-wizards and the domination of the world. The Daleks and Voldemort are both the kind of pure evil that isn’t actually found outside fiction. (Most evil in our perception is perpetuated by people who have convinced themselves that are pursuing something good. That’s the problem with post-modernism, if you accept that no worldview is deluded, and all are equally valid. I can’t agree with that.)

I suppose that’s why I watch Dr. Who. The itself can be rather fun, but where else do you find an admirable hero who laughs in the face and death, and sacrifices himself again and again and again? Ditto, Potter. Potter in the last book (no spoilers here) engages in the same set of selfless behavior. Both of them are put in positions where they could make the choice to walk away. They sometimes think about it. They sometimes seem to. But they always come back because if not them, then who?

Posted by Glennf at 10:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

Beware of Toads

By Glenn Fleishman

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I am now contemplating naming my next business Toad Crossing after this German sign found in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Posted by Glennf at 9:41 PM | TrackBack

I Am Anathema: I Finished Deathly Hallows

By Glenn Fleishman

I am unclean, don’t speak to me! I’ve read the last of the Harry Potter books, and I dare not give away any of its secrets, even by glancing the wrong way when you talk to me.

More seriously, it was a rousing good story, and was satisfying to the end. This book felt much more edited than the last few. The writing was tighter, sometimes cinematically grand, without losing her touch. But there was less that was extraneous. In fact, it felt like a 1,200-page book that had been greatly trimmed. Given Rowling’s native abilities, I could truly believe that she worked with multiple trusted editors to get the thing into the right size. She must have been hard pressed to leave things out. There’s so much more.

This book had a lot more elements creep in that reminded me of Lord of the Rings than any of the others. The coincidence of a gray-bearded wizard who speaks in riddles and knows more than he ever says isn’t a strange one (although it was hilarious when you had Harry Potter and LotR movies released at the same time). This book is about war, although it’s a bit of The Scouring of the Shire (last part of the LotR), the war in Rohan and Gondor, and the trip into Mordor, all at once. Old J.R.R. was an epic writer, and so he separated his scenes widely, which helped make for good movies, too.

I wonder if she will write prequels now? Books of Harry’s father and mother? Books about the founding of Hogwarts? Or will she enjoy having written a set of books that will be read into the foreseeable future, and enjoy just being an exceedingly wealthy mum?

Posted by Glennf at 10:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


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