Last Amy Video (for now)

Two more videos, then a couple of anecdotes (next post), then back to still pictures.

Amy climbing a chair Climbing a chair in the solarium at my mother’s apartment building in Michigan (from August). This is particularly interesting as a contrast to the video of her doing the same thing on her previous visit.
Amy reading her bedtime book Reading from her bedtime book. “Reading” is actually a bit of a misnomer, because what she’s really doing is reciting from memory. It’s amazing how much text from her books – lots of books – she has memorized. WARNING: this one’s a bit longer (~4MB) than most of the videos.


Just one video today; a few more this weekend, then back to catching up on still pictures. I’ve mentioned how Amy likes moss and lichen. Here’s how she responds to finding some at her grandparents’ house.

Another Platypus Cartoon

This is not the first time a platypus has appeared in off the mark. In fact, I think it’s the third.
If I ever decide that I really do want to commission some sort of platypus drawing from someone who can draw, I think Mark Parisi would be high on the list.

Virtual Hosting on Amazon

Just for fun, I decided to experiment a bit with hosting some of the files from here through Amazon’s S3, which I’ve talked about before. First, this meant I had to create an S3 “bucket” to hold the files. Then I had to create a subdomain that redirects requests to S3. I chose “” because “wombatypus” is the punchline (as it were) of a children’s book we have involving a wombat and a platypus. It has nothing to do with wombs. Then I just had to upload the files and set their permissions, and voila! Here are the three videos from my previous post, hosted through S3: Counting Ears, Magnet Book, and Caterpillar. One interesting twist is that the files are also available via BitTorrent, just by tacking “?torrent” on the end, like this: Counting Ears, Magnet Book, and Caterpillar. Neat, huh?

There’s an interesting tradeoff here. Right now I have a hosting plan at eMax that gives me a certain amount of bandwidth. I’ve been using about 60% of that, so the other 40% is effectively free for now. By contrast, I pay for exactly what I use on Amazon, so as long as I’m below my current hosting-account limit hitting the pages through Amazon actually costs me extra. It’s literally pennies, so don’t think you’re going to send me to the poor-house that way. On the other hand, let’s say my traffic doubled. If I wanted to host everything at eMax, that would mean moving up to the next service level. The cost of hosting some files through S3 is probably less than the delta between the old and new service levels, and it’s definitely less than the extra-bandwidth charges I’d incur at eMax by staying at my current service level even though my traffic was higher. The S3 cost is even lower if people download through BitTorrent. Lastly, although I’ve had no complaints with availability at eMax, I’d be willing to bet that Amazon’s servers are even more reliable.

The upshot is that cheap hosting accounts are so cheap that it probably makes sense for most small personal websites to stay with them. It doesn’t take long, though, before the S3 alternative starts to seem rather appealing. I’m not there yet, but it wouldn’t take much for me to be, and I’m not exactly a net celebrity. On the other hand, S3 can only serve static files, so for blogs and such that rely on server-side scripts and databases and such it’s not an option at all. That’s why you can see the videos through S3, but not this page. What I think we’re likely to start seeing is more web hosts providing some level of integration with S3, so that the web host provides the computational and database resources but (some or all) files live on S3. Then there’s the possibility that Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud will catch on, so that a new class of resellers will spring up to use Amazon’s virtualized services instead of traditional data centers’ physical ones. It makes me wonder whether the next logical step for Amazon would be to provide a virtualized database service, at which point all of the facilities currently provided by traditional web hosts could also be had virtually through Amazon. Just a thought.

Amy’s Birthday Video

Yeah, I know, almost three months late. I’m trying to catch up.

counting ears Showing off how she can count. Ummm … she’ll get better at it.
magnet book Playing with what she calls, to this day, the “maggot book”
big caterpillar Glee at getting a very large caterpillar toy as a present.

Amy at Niagara

Last batch from August.

Amy and flowers Amy and me outside a restaurant that had some nice flowers.
Amy on my shoulders Best seat in the house.
double rainbow A double rainbow over Niagara. The second one’s only faintly visible against the trees at about water level in the middle; it was more obvious in real life. I also think it’s cool the way the appearance of the water changes as you go from “inside” to “outside” the primary rainbow.
Maid of the Mist Maid of the Mist. There are actually several boats with that name, plus numbers, and often two or three out there simultaneously. I have no idea which one this was.
holding onto my ears The handles are there for your safety. Please hold onto them for the duration of the ride.
Cindy Cindy at Niagara Falls.

Backup Using Amazon’s S3

After reading Jeremy Zawodny’s analysis of backup-system costs, I decided to give Amazon’s Scalable Storage Service another look. Shortly after that, he posted a list of resources that was also very helpful. I immediately tried Carbonite and JungleDisk. (Yes, I know Carbonite might or might not be S3 based. Speculation abounds, but there doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence either way. In any case, it plays in the same space.) I found both pretty intolerably slow, each using less than one tenth of the bandwidth I know I have either at work or at home. Carbonite is also a for-pay service (with a free trial) so it’s a lot less interesting. JungleDisk, on the other hand, is free for now, but the author clearly means to profit from it some day. It’s also a little careless about things like leaving your Amazon “secret” key lying around in plaintext on your PC, and I don’t appreciate that kind of thing. I gave S3Drive a look, intrigued by the fact that it’s implemented as a true filesystem which works for all programs and not just as an Explorer-limited “web folder” or namespace extension, or (most limiting of all) as a separate standalone program. Unfortunately, even the author admits that it’s slow and uses a lot of memory, and doesn’t recommend storing more than 5MB. Sorry, but that’s not even enough for testing. I’ll pass for now; maybe I’ll come back and check it out again in a few more months. Currently I’m giving S3 Backup a try. It does suffer from being a standalone program, but it does seem to transfer data much faster and it’s more respectful of users’ privacy. Also, the pace of development seems high so there’s promise of it getting better.

The idea that really interests me, though, is of using S3 to back up this website. Yeah, the one you’re looking at right now. You see, I have decent bandwidth at home and at work, but it’s still nowhere near what either my web host or Amazon has. Why suck all that data through the thin pipe to do a backup when there’s a fat pipe between where the data reside now and a secure backup location? What if I need to change hosts yet again? Why bounce everything through my home connection instead of through S3? I think it would be far better to use the thin pipe only for control, to set up a “third party transfer” directly between the website and S3. That product space seems a lot more thinly populated, so instead of looking for programs I’ve been looking for libraries so I can write my own simple backup program. The language of interest here is PHP, for two reasons:

  • I sort of know PHP, and I don’t know Ruby (yet). I’m far more interested right now in getting things done and possibly learning something about S3 than in learning yet another language, thankyouverymuch.
  • A lot of other people who might find anything I produce useful are likely to have web hosts who support PHP but not Ruby.

Amazon has an example of using S3 from PHP, but it’s pretty basic. As far as I’ve been able to tell so far, the canonical PHP interface to S3 is neurofuzzy’s library so that’s probably where I’ll start. If nothing else, it should be a helpful guide to what the underlying S3 API looks like in real life and not just on paper.

One last thought, included here just for the sake of having a place to put it. If it turns out that S3 is too heavily optimized toward storing large objects (i.e. that performance is limited by number of object operations rather than number of bytes) then it seems like a one-to-one mapping of user files to S3 objects might not be a very good idea. The question, then, is how to aggregate user files into larger S3 objects without having to rewrite an entire large object whenever one small object within it changes. One approach I’ve been toying with is to use something like a log-structured or atomic-update filesystem, with S3 objects representing (an infinite supply of) disk slices instead of files. As you write, you actually write into a new slice. When it’s full, or at other “strategic” times, it gets linked into the overall filesystem hierarchy to supplant earlier versions. The ratio between user actions and S3 actions can therefore be extremely high without sacrificing data integrity. I don’t know yet whether such an approach is really a good idea, but maybe it’s something other filesystem geeks would like to chew on.

Amy in Michigan

These are still from back in August. Slowly, I’m catching up.

rabbit in the Arb A rabbit that we found in the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. I apologize for the poor color and light; the little guy was in shadow and I didn’t want to startle him by using the flash.
Amy and me in the Arb Same place, almost the same time, same hard-to-fix camera settings.
Amy by herself in the Arb Posing by herself.
Amy and Cindy in the Arb With Cindy.
Amy wearing a hat Trying on one of my mother’s hats.
Amy with Ruth Just hanging out with Grandma.
Amy with Kevin Reading with Uncle Kevin (my brother, for those who don’t know).

Amy from July/August

I’ve developed quite a backlog of pictures and video, so I’m just going to start posting a few a day until I catch up. These are from early August, some in Massachusetts and some from the start of our trip to Michigan.

Dunback Meadow On one of our walks in Dunback Meadow in Lexington. Believe it or not, that very tall plant behind me on the left is a kind of lettuce.
Amy at Granny and Grampy's Just sort of a generic Amy picture at Granny and Grampy’s. Note how the longer hair makes her look older, in contrast with the shorter look in some of the later (e.g. September) pictures.
Just sitting Sitting and Grandma’s (my mother’s) place. The stool is made from a single slice of a tree, with bark still on the legs.
Solarium In the Solarium. It’s interesting to compare this with some of the video from the same place last year. It will probably be even more interesting when I post this year’s video.
Stacking cups Stacking cups at Grandma’s. Notice the cat in the background.
Caterpillar A cool caterpillar we found at a playground in Ann Arbor.

Cognitive Dissonance

There’s a small church near where I’m staying in NYC this week. At the rather odd time of 1:45pm yesterday, my online toils were interrupted by the sound of church bells (I don’t think they’re real ones, either, just a recording played over the loudspeakers I see on top of the building) playing the “No Business Like Show Business” tune. It was a bit surreal, but then so is life nowadays. I liked it.