Checking In

I know I’ve been kind of absent lately. Part of it was traveling to Michigan to see my mother, brother, and cousin. Good times. We flew this time, and I was worried that it would be awful. Last time the three of us flew through DTW, Northworst took six hours there and four hours back for what should be a two-hour flight. That’s a lot of time in a plane on the tarmac trying to keep a three-year-old entertained with the few things you can carry on. The last time I went through DTW myself, I found that they’d scheduled a dozen flights at exactly 6am on a Sunday morning, leading to a huge security-theatre backup and to me missing my flight. I ended up getting routed through a very busy O’Hare – which I’d just left – before finally getting back to Boston. Considering all that, and that there was an “incident” there not too long ago, I thought it would be crazy, but in fact it all went smoothly.

The other reason I’ve been quiet here is that I’ve been busy doing actual work. I’ve been writing lots of actual code for my way-cool GlusterFS translator, for one. I’ve reached the point where I can run actual tests and see how well it works, which I’m pleased to say is very well. Now I just have to slog through all of the entry points I haven’t bothered with yet, figuring out the GlusterFS object-lifecycle rules so I can make sure there are no memory leaks, making sure I return consistent error codes, and then running some real functional tests like fsx, etc. More about that later, I’m sure.

The other thing I’ve been busy with is techno-evangelism. I’ve already mentioned the podcast, plus I gave a half-hour presentation about cloud storage at Red Hat’s Cloud Computing Forum yesterday. I’ll post a link to the archive when I get a public one myself (all I have is a private one that I’m not sure is usable by others); meanwhile you’ll have to read the The Register had to say about my talk and others.

OK, now back to that code.

Sanibel Pictures

The pictures from Sanibel Island, along with some explanatory text, are here.

Back from Sanibel

Just got back from a week-long vacation to Sanibel Island (southwest Florida) in time to see most of the Super Bowl. Revivio moved while I was gone, so I get to unpack twice today and then I have quite a bit of catching up to do on email, weblogs, etc. I’ll post pictures when I can.

Monotreme Day

Today is Monotreme Day. It’s not a recognized holiday, but it’s the anniversary of the day one year ago when Cindy and I saw our first monotremes in the wild on the way from Hobart to Strahan in Tasmania. We saw several echidnas (echidnae?) by the road, and a platypus at Lake St. Clair. That’s certainly an event worth celebrating.

Busy Times

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at Storage Networking World in Orlando. First, I just have to say that Orlando is a strange place. The hotel where we stayed was more like a little town than a hotel as you’d usually think of it, with a couple of dozen buildings spread over a large area. The trade-show hotel was similar, covering not quite as much area but built up higher. From the upper floors I could see all of these homogeneous mega-development islands, separated by a sea of green. It’s a little disconcerting, even though it’s really just an extreme form of a sprawly development style which has taken root everywhere.

The trade show itself was crazy. The atmosphere was, if anything, more intense than the first O’Reilly P2P conference a few years back (the previous record-holder for shows/conferences I had personally attended). Storage networking is really coming into its own, after years of mostly-deserved obscurity. The gear is more mature now, and people are finally thinking of ways to take advantage of storage networks in ways beyond basic no-added-value slicing and dicing and virtualization for its own sake. There’s a greater awareness of the potential for treating a SAN like a pipeline, where you can plug in multiple devices or appliances to provide specific functionality instead of dumping them everything into the hosts or disk arrays. If you want to add a function, you can now add it in a way that carries along the CPU cycles and buffer space and bandwidth that it needs instead of stealing them from hosts and disk arrays that need those resources to perform other tasks.

That, of course, brings me to my experience as a Revivio employee at the show. To put it simply, we were mobbed. Lines were forming at our booth. Everybody wanted to talk to Mike (our CTO) or Kirby (marketing VP) and be seen doing so. We were getting as much attention as anybody at the show, out of all proportion to our size or market presence. For someone who usually lives in the trenches, seeing things only from the perspective of solving hard technical problems, it’s quite an eye-opener to see how we’re perceived by the rest of the industry.

Nonetheless, I’m glad to be back, back to home and hearth and weekdays spent with those familiar technical problems. And no flamenco dancers on stilts.

More Australia Pictures

I finally went through all 304 pictures from the trip, picked the best 80, cropped and color-adjusted all over the place, and put everything into a web page with captions. Phew! Here are the results. The layout looks a tiny bit weird because it’s set up for printing as well as on-screen display and HTML isn’t as good as some people claim for doing both at once.

Australia: Miscellanea

Every electrical outlet in Australia has its own switch, and all the switches seem to look identical – small, down for on, and a dab of day-glo paint on the up side of the switch so you can easily tell it’s on.

To conserve water, most toilets have separate half- and full-flush buttons. It also seems like every toilet we saw was from the same manufacturer (Caroma). Then again, most toilets in the US come from one of a very few manufacturers; I guess it’s just an industry that lends itself to oligopolies.

On the same subject (which is important to a traveler), public toilets are refreshingly easy to find in Australia. I wish US cities and towns would recognize and do something about this common need.

If you want real fast food at lunchtime, one of your best bets is often to visit a bakery. There’s usually a warmer with a selection of pies, sausage rolls, etc. and the bakers themselves often include savory items in addition to sweet. One of the best lunches I had was a ham and cheese roll from a bakery in Halls Gap.

The best food I had in Australia – perhaps ever – was at the Kookaburra restaurant in Halls Gap – kangaroo (like a good cut of beef) in a delicious port/cream/mustard sauce, with good mashed spuds and nice crisp vegetables, and plenty of wine. Yum!

Australians aren’t too good at pizza or burgers. They are, however, very good at fish and chips.

Australian schools don’t seem to be teaching the proper difference between “its” and “it’s”; spurious apostrophes have reached the level of an epidemic.

Cryptic signs #1: TAFE stands for “Technical And Further Education” – adult ed to an American.

Cryptic signs #2: a “black spot project” is part of a nationwise program to improve conditions at intersections where accidents have previously occurred.

While in Hobart, we spotted an impressive US Army (yes, army – not Navy or Marines) transport catamaran called TSV-X1. Here’s her sister ship. I kind of wanted to take a picture, but wasn’t sure whether that would be appreciated. ;-)

Australia: People

Overall, the people in Australia seemed startlingly like Americans – much more so than Kiwis, Brits, or New Zealanders, just to name other places I’ve visited. In letters to the editor or overheard conversations in restaurants, their political concerns and attitudes seemed remarkably similar to those back home. While we were there, John Howard’s comments about the possibility of preemptive strikes were a hot issue, and the familiar old battle between jingoists and pacifists was playing out. Another hot issue was ethanol in gasoline, and the possibility of a federal standard; apparantly some vendors are selling gas that’s as much as 25% as ethanol, and people are (justifiably) concerned that it’s damaging their cars. There were at least a couple of stories about corporate scandals, which seem to have occurred about the same time as those in the US.

In fact, I’d say that in some ways the Australians adhere more closely to “American” ideals of independence, free markets, etc. even more than the US does. Here are some examples:

  • Relative to the states, the Australian federal government seems much smaller and weaker than is the case in the US. Many more functions seem to have been devolved to the states, and the state premiers have a higher national profile than US state governors generally do.
  • One of the major highways near Sydney is totally private, supported by tolls. Such a thing is all but unimaginable back home, where the only private roads seem to be driveways and logging roads.
  • Even in reasonably well populated areas, firefighting seems to be on a volunteer basis, with full-time firemen limited to the cores of the larger cities.

There were certainly more than these three things that contributed to my impressions of Australians as “more American than us” but my memory is already fading. :-(

One difference between Australians and Americans is manners. Even chance-met Australians, on vacation as much as we were, seemed more consistent about greetings and thankyous and such than Americans typically are. Making small talk seemed easier than usual, and the locals were very gracious about tourists’ different terminology or pronunciation or ways of doing little things. Australian drivers generally obey speed limits (which might have something to do with the omnipresent speed cameras) and stay left except when passing (“overtaking” to them). I was quite impressed.

There are, however, two blots on Australian’s otherwise excellent etiquette record:

  • About one in four Australians seems to have a celphone permanently grafted to their ear, and no qualms about shouting into it even in places like bookstores or botanical-garden paths. To be fair, other Australians seem to have recognized such behavior as a problem and are trying to do something about it. Good for them.
  • Australians are the worst pedestrians I’ve encountered. Part of the problem seems to be the aforementioned celphone addiction, but even those not so encumbered seem disinclined either to stay on one side of a sidewalk or indicate which way they’re going. Walking erratically while looking everywhere but where you’re going seems to considered almost a sport, enjoyed by all ages and classes in every Australian city (and even smaller towns) we visited. And yes, it is the Australians themselves I’m talking about; the foreign tourists were the well-behaved ones.

I don’t mean to condemn an entire country by referring to a couple of minor flaws. As I said, Australians in general seemed to have excellent manners, and that makes these flaws all the more remarkable.

Australia: Animals

I put some more comments about animals, and about a dozen pictures, on a separate page. You should be able to click on any of the pictures to get a larger version.

More Australia Updates

I’ve added a bunch of bird sounds from the trip, plus some semi-permanent links (on the left) to them and the pictures I posted earlier.