Friday, October 31, 2008

Good marketing ... and free

When Larry and Sergey spent more than 1.6Billion Dollars on YouTube I was one of the Doubting Thomases

But as my awe for
YouTube grows I now think they got it just right.

Here is a prime example of a superb promotional video, by MC Yogi on a US Presidential candidate. Posted free to
YouTube (of course) and very probably a more powerful pro Obama video than any of the officially sanctioned, professional produced and of course ever so expensive Marketing campaigns.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Snow

After a night of tentative snowing on Thursday October 30th I declare the Lausanne winter 2008 started.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Let's see your 64 bit kernel then

Please don't quote me, but I really feel that a 64bit clean Operating System is going to be able to handle applications I need to run. If we review some history ..

CPM 8bits Max memory 64KB (x8 thereabouts with Bank Switching)

Cromemco Cromix 16bit 68000 16MB (But I've only ever seen 4MB irl)
MSDOS 16bits Max memory 1MB (640KB that should be enough for anybody right?)

Vista32 32bits: Max usable memory 3.5GB (thereabouts)

Vista64 64bits: Max usable memory 128GB+

OSX G5 (Power): 16GB

OSX (x86) 10.4 Tiger: 4GB (and more using 64 libSystem) but Kludgy

OSX (x86) 10.6 Snow Leopard: 16TB theoretical

Since January 2008, Windows Server 2008 and its cheaper cousin Vista64 have cleanly supported more than 4GB total memory without having to resort to the PAE (Physical Address Extension) to provide 36 bit adressibility.

My main server runs 16GB and will migrate to 64GB Ram when FB DIMM prices come down a little. The 4GB limit of Vista32 would not be enough (for example) to run my various Virtual Machines

Meanwhile in Mac-Land, OS-X 10.5 Leopard is still not a true 64bit clean kernel. We are all waiting for 10.6.

I came across a nice article explaining most of everything here MAC 64bit Kernel

And some more bedtime reading for a fuller understanding

MAC 64 bit Transition Guide

MACs that work with 64bit versions of Vista

Microsoft 64bit driver Guidelines

Microsoft Windows 2008 Articles and White Papers

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Too Cool to DO Drugs

From the New York Times (and others)

A company has recalled a batch of pencils after a fourth-grade student pointed out an embarrassing message that appeared after he sharpened his pencil.

The pencils carry the slogan ''Too Cool to Do Drugs.'' But the student noticed that when the pencils are sharpened and get shorter, the message becomes ''Cool to Do Drugs,'' then simply ''Do Drugs.''

Monday, October 27, 2008

The three stages of working

Last week was the first instance of the new Follow the Sun (FTS) model of technical support working. In this paradyne, out of hours overtime (and payment!) has been cancelled.

Instead, the currently awake staff at one of the three international Datacentres (Europe, America and Asia) are responsible for handling any problems in their local or other Datacentres. For example during the hours of 08:00-17:00 European workers are now responsible for problems in America and Asia who would have equivalent timezones of 01:00-08:00 and 17:00-01:00.

Which brought me to thinking.

Over the course of our working lives most of us move through three stages of working:

Stage 1: Fixed Hours
Typically you get these hours when you start school or college. Or in your first paid job where you work on a production line or the starting cog in a very big Enterprise.

Stage 2: Flexible Working
As your seniority rises you are able to vary the start and end times of each day by an hour or so so that can start within your more comfortable time band, put in a full days work and finish at the other end.

Stage 3: Very Flexible Working
Several years later and somewhat more senior you can take breaks from work to go Shopping, take clients or family out to an extended lunch, leave Friday afternoon for the airport mini break. Just get the job done and your team and coworkers will regard your activities as consistent with your position.

I can conclude therefore that over the course of the last 30+ years I have worked my way from Stage 1 to Stage 3. Now overnight I am back to Stage 1. It does not feel so good.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lausanne Marathon .. Ouch

This Sunday was the day of the Annual Lausanne Marathon so we felt obliged to enter. Marcus selected the full Marathon and Agata with her twitchy knee felt safer selecting the half.

Overall we both finished, but there were quite a few surprises.

Agata finished in less than 2 hours and Marcus in less than 4 hours. Agata had to get a train all the way from Lausanne to Vevey since her race started there 3.5 hours after mine. She broke her journey however at Cully to wave me on, and then magically appeared at the half way point at Vevey to cheer me on further. How fantastic was that!

Marcus's usual time conceals the disastrously unusual run. Up until to about Km 35 he was running fairly well at a 3:35 pace, then for some unexplained reason he just ran out of steam. No muscle pains, no exhaustion but the legs began to get stiff and the steps became shorter, pace dropped to an embarrassment. As I practically walked down the finishing straight I am sure I resembled some old doddery (and drunken pensioner ) slowly weaving about with a confused smile

So back to Ouch ..

For Lausanne the start and finish of the Marathon are in different places, even so our car was parked about 200m from the start (only in Lausanne!). But it was about 1km from the finish. So after the race I staggered the 1Km back to the car in a daze, showered at Belerive pool, then had to walk all the way back to meet Agata, then walk back to the car again with Agata. I did try to smile but every step really hurt, and, 3Km at a geriatric pace takes some time.

The further news is that now at about 21:00 we have no cuts, blisters, bruises and only minor muscle pain, just those joints still hurt like hell. I think my coworkers will be viewing my slow motion descent and ascents of the stairs on Monday.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


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Friday, October 24, 2008

All I did was ....

Yes, honest all I did was update my AVG Server edition anti virus. At the end of this update it asked me if it would be OK to reboot my PC. Yes of course I said.

That's when the misery started.

Of course I can laugh about it now because there is a happy ending but it's not been an easy ride.

So I rebooted the mammoth 8 processor, 10TB server PC and the first odd thing reported was

CMOS checksum error, enter SETUP?

Inside BIOS setup things looked pretty normal so I exited to boot. Mistake #1: Had I previously written down all the BIOS settings I had previously set? NO. So I didn't much notice the fact that the SATA AHCI mode was now set Disabled, when previously it was Enabled. Still Windows Server 2008x64 booted fine and I logged in.

Windows now saw all hard disks slightly differently and redefined each drive (since it was not accessing them thru AHCI). Then to my horror I noticed 2 out of 12 drives were missing!

After an orderly shutdown I rebooted into the BIOS and went thru all the settings again. Now I noticed that SATA AHCI should be Enabled. So I set it.

Reboot again and ... nothing. By this I mean BIOS completes OK, computer flicks DVD drive to see if it should boot from that, cursor goes to underline at top of screen and then just stays there

Wait 10 minutes, cursor still at top left of screen. It is not booting!

Here are some of the things that were weird:

  • With SATA AHCI enabled BIOS showed 6 drives, but no boot
  • With SATA Disabled, Hard disk boot worked and could logon to Windows. But only 4 of the 6 SATA motherboard ports worked, plus it's clearly using the less efficient interface
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Msahci
    was set correctly so the system was going to consider Disks from AHCI controllers
  • There was no DISK FAILURE or invalid boot media
  • There was no sign Windows start logo, no oscillating KIT strobe, in other words the system was not trying to boot from any hard disk
  • A motherboard BIOS reset did not improve matters
How was it fixed?

Mostly via a BIOS upgrade but even that was non trivial. The BIOS file for this machine is 2MB in size and the emergency USB floppy is 1.44MB. Here then is a step by step recovery walkthru (all attempts at creating a bootable USB key with a DOS operating system and BIOS upgrade files failed by the way)

  • First Connect the Boot drive and the OS Backup Disk. Set the SATA AHCI to Disabled (so that we can boot). Logon to Windows Server and make a complete OS backup. This is a paranoid step. If all is subsequently lost then perhaps an OS restore to a new disk might work.
  • Download a new BIOS for the SuperMicro X7DWA-N Bios 8048 from here
  • Goto a working computer with NERO armed with a blank CDROM
  • Choose new CD-ROM (Bootable)
  • Select 1.44MB emulation

  • Unzip the BIOS files and drag them to the root directory of that CDROM

  • Disconnect all Hard disks from computer and in BIOS select SATA AHCI disabled
  • Reboot and enter BIOS again and select your IDE CDROM in the boot list
  • Save and exit and boot from the CDROM to enter DR-DOS
  • Goto the D: drive and enter
flash 7DWA8048.rom

  • After over 1 minute of Phoenix flashing on the screen the BIOS was upgraded
  • Renter BIOS with all drives disconnected and reselect SATA AHCI enabled
  • Save and exit and power off and reconnect Boot drive.
  • Cross fingers
  • Power on, it boots! So the main problem is solved
  • Shutdown, power off ...Reconnect all other drives
  • Restart. All well except the Promise SATA300 TX4 (with 2 SATA devices) will no longer start.
  • Shutdown and renter BIOS. Goto PCI Configuration.

Disable all slots that are not being used so that the slot that has the Disk Controller can become a Bus Master.

So the learning points were:

  • Write down all the settings for your machine including the BIOS. Take some screenshots, that is probably easiest.
  • As always, don't rush it, you will make things worse
  • God help people who are not geeks and/or like getting a good nights sleep

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Radio OH 4

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin ....

There are not many factors that might force a return back to England.
But what might come closest would be an embargo on the ability to listen to BBC Radio 4 recognised by most thinking people as a welcome addition to ones life.

In the old days the BBC listen again facility was driven by a selective set of Realplayer links but these days everything has migrated to the BBC multimedia iPlayer

For alleged copyright reasons only people living in the UK have access to the full range of facilities, us ex pats abroad must make do with just the radio channels, which thankfully includes Radio4.

At work however we are not allowed to stream audio so what are the options

Option 1: Podcast

This is by far the easiest option.

Option 2: Stream Real Audio Stream to Disk, transcode and copy to MP3 player

Clearly only use this option when a Podcast is not available since it is not at all convenient! Although one could perhaps automate the process.

Here is the prep work (assumes a MS Windows platform and this has been tested under Windows Vista 32 Business, Windows Vista 64, Windows Server 2008 64 bit)

  • If you have Realplayer installed, uninstall it (the alternative software plays real audio files, however if for some masochistic reason you want to keep the Genuine Realplayer stop right now, this procedure wont work!)

  • Install instead The Real Alternative, this comes with Media Player classic, you are going to need that

  • Install the Open Source mplayer program

  • Install a program to convert a .WAV file to .MP3 (I use LAME with a graphical front end called Razorlame)

Okay now we are ready for an example

  • Select the show you want, in my example BBC Radio4 Sunday Worship

  • Get to the iPlayer screen and select at bottom Dial-up modem version: ON

  • Click on the R Realplayer logo to play this using Realplayer, thus starting Media Player classic

  • Pause the audio stream

  • Look at File, Properties, Clip Properties
  • Now figure out the real URL of the broadcast == location + begining of filename before the question mark i.e in the above example

  • Close Classic media player and from a Command line start mplayer and stream the audio to a .WAV file
mplayer -ao pcm:file=20081023.worship.wav rtsp://

  • Now take the WAV file and use RazorLame to convert it to an .mp3

  • Now add this .mp3 file to your Audio player for listening

See, that was easy wasn't it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting Desperate

I've been confidently assured that the National Lottery i.e. Euro Millions is actually a tax on the mathematically impaired. Of course I consulted some of my Mathematics texts to check. My previous study of Probability Generator Functions (page 47 et al) seemed to reveal nothing about the Euro Lottery.

So I produced a simple table. On the face of it the 1 in 76 million odds for a big win look pretty grim

But I'd counter by saying that our new found lottery fascination is part of a multi part strategy. As my current employment comes to an untimely end it seems that slipping back into retirement (for a second time) would be nicely cushioned by some serious capital. Especially in view of the credit crunch which has made small many of those safe investments.

Part 2 of the strategy is to look for another employer for Marcus in the Lausanne area or admit defeat and leave this beautiful Switzerland for pastures new.

So we are not proud to admit that we have dabbled with Mr Euro millions on at least 3 occasions in the last 4 months.

Unfortunately our winning convictions have been savagely swept aside and amazingly we have not won a single penny. If anybody can possible explain our fall from grace we would surely be most interested.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Expensive shopping

So when you are done visiting the Co-Op supermarket why not pick up a little something to drive the groceries home in.

No wonder even the food shopping costs a small fortune in this country.

Letter from England

I was just a few kilometres away from Wingfield House in Regents park this last Friday. However neither Susan Cooke nor the American ambassador had thought to invite me to celebrate the 100th anniversary party of one of my childhood heroes Alistair Cooke.

Instead our actual mission was to meet friends, sample the mood of the Credit Crunched Londoner on the street, and try to conduct a little business in town. Some parts when well .. others did not.

First a big thanks to some of our friends who managed to meet up with us at Centonove in Westbourne Park Road W2 . In particular Petros, Rob, Annemarie, Pierre and Krissy. We also had a surprise visit from several hundred km away from Angela. We were thrilled to meet up with all of you of course and just a little sad that the towns of London and Lausanne are not more accessible.

Our time was also spent in the East End where
we visited Kang and Lyan in Docklands. Although I had spent many an anxious or unhappy moment when I had lived in Docklands in the 1970's and 1980's I was ready to try and get sentimental about my old home, and the old WestFerry road which I used to traverse daily. But even since 2000 so much has changed and even passing my old apartment did not help. Glad to be somewhere else was the conclusion, like an overbearing parent you try to love but ultimately reject: Docklands will never be for me.

Meanwhile back in Central London we were reminded why driving a car even on the Congestion Charge free weekend is not a particularly good idea. Other motorists, were flagrantly blocking up OUR streets and the cost of parking is just ridiculous. Still we did get the chance to visit the main West end shopping district.

Apart from a potter into the Apple store on Regent street (where the new Apple MacBook Pro was being used by students and time wasters surfing the Internet as usual) we had some business shopping to attend to. And .. from the high people density I could be forgiven for thinking that the Credit Crunch had not come to John Lewis or any London department store. Many people it seems still have the money and the desire to spend it.

This weekend we chose to fly Swissair to London City airport (LCY) and we would report favourably. I used LCY in the 1980's whilst living in Docklands and then the intentional lack of a tube link made the airport a mere curiousity. Now, over 10 years of waiting later, the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) link makes the escape from LCY to central London relatively painless. There is a direct train to Bank and then Central Line into the West End. It only takes about 1 hour, but be warned on a Saturday or Sunday evening your are going to meet all the wrong sort of people, and judging by the squeeze this Sunday at such proximity the sweat from their angry brows could interface with you directly.

Still using Swissair from Geneva to LCY is to be recommended because
  • Prices of flights are favourable
  • Gatwick express to Victoria for 2 will cost you 66GBP, DLR will cost you 8GBP
  • LCY airport lounge is on a par with the first class or courtesy lounge in Gatwick
  • The airport is small and cosy
  • Bag scan took under 5 minutes and no queue

So it is now 02.00 and we are back in Lausanne. We have unpacked our smugglers bags, full of English chocolates, vitamins, and a few Vintage computer parts, now time for bed!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Borrowing your way out of a recession

Have you heard the latest? America's financial crisis has it's roots in China. This ridiculous argument is being agressively pedalled by some American economists. The theory goes like this
  • The Chinese have fed the desires of the American consumer and sold them all manner of consumer electronics and manufactured goods
  • Americans wanted to maintain and increase their standard of living but without actually earning it
  • So they needed to borrow money.
  • American Banks , governments and financial institutions were happy to write paper (i.e. debt) in exchange for Chinese, US dollars

So China's readyiness to lend to America has led to Americas financial meltdown and recession. It's not the greed or lazyiness of the average Joe then, it is China's fault!

I have heard some bullshit arguments in my time but to speak plainly, if you have lived the good life for decades consuming more than you produce, spending more than you earn, then logically there might just come a point when you might be asked to repay those debts.

And so to help the US goverment here is a economics 101 course

  • US Goverment debt now exceeds 10 trillion USD
  • You propose to borrow another 1 trillion USD and loan it to Business Institutions that lost investors capital the first time around

Who is going to be dumb enough to lend the US Gov any more money!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

M5 but not high five

It is not easy when I have spent many of my formative years not only talking about cars but dissasembling and repairing them not to have a keen fascination for motoring.

In part one of the reasons for leaving England and emigrating to the US was the sure knowldege that cars were more available, cheaper and simpler than their european counterparts.

And so now, in beautiful Lausanne I felt it might be time for another car. Not just any car but a BMW M5, you know a type E60, 5 litre V10, 5 seater, 4 door supercar. You can browse the UK brochure here. And the BMW E60 owners manual is here

So to answer the vital question, did you spend the necessary 100k CHF (50K GBP) and buy this 2007 car many people call refer to as the beast? Well .. not yet ....

After a test drive I gave it 7/10 and told the kindly salesman Ibo Sari at Roc Crissier that we did not wish to take it any further. Here are the main reasons:

The car comes with a 7 speed SMG gearbox. But compared to the DSG gearbox we are familiar with of our Audi TT, it is truely terrible. Every time the gear is changed, either via the manual steering wheel paddles, or via the currently selected program, the car lurches as it tries to speed match the engine speed to the transmission speed.

On paper the car is not too heavy at 1830Kg (cf 1338Kg NSX-94, BMW M3 E92 1655Kg, Ferrari 430 1430Kg, Mitsubishi Evo6 sprint 1215Kg ) but in real life it really is a super saloon and not a lightweight and nimble sports car. Around each bend each of those 1830Kg is felt and I would say the car was best in a straight line on an Ameican freeway for example.

So what were the good points? Well basically everything else! Here are just some:

  • The rear seats fold down to reveal a large load space - absolutely fantastic.
  • Configurable everything using BMW's iDrive computerised control system.
  • GPS with audible turn by turn instructions and voice input
  • Heads Up display projecting your speed and GPS instructions onto the windscreen
  • Amazing seats that have motorised lumbar supports that push you in the opposite direction as you move into a corner (eg. as you enter a right hand bend, centipedal force moved you to the left, so the left seat wing moves right to push you back and support you, it is somewhat uncanny!)
  • Room in the back for 3 adults
  • Usual luxury touches like: electric memory seats, mirrors that move down on reverse, electric sunroof and heated seats

And so to summarise, Agata breathed a sigh of relief that we not about to blow about 100,000 CHF on a car that we would rarely drive, even though she said it was quite manoeverable and good looking. Plus the folding rear seats would accomodate our bicycle transport needs and transportation of friends and family as the needs arise.

I sadly finished the test drive and resolved that although this car was attractively priced, had a lot of charming features it failed the ultimate test: that it was not very satisfying to drive. The as yet unnanounced Audi TT RS probably is the car for me, just that I have been waiting for it since 2006 now :-(

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Some computer speed rules of thumb

I always get a little depressed when cranky computer colleages seem to have little or no idea of what we used to call in Engineering

feeds and speeds

In plain terms what is possible and what is not with todays computer technology. The next time your lovable but dimwit friend claims their PC booted windows in 7 seconds and internet downloaded 1TB in 1 minute refer them here. We made some rudimentary timings from the Agata and Marcus household:

Apple iPhone 3G
iphone 3G startup - 36 seconds
iphone 3G shutdown - 3 seconds

Vintage 1986 Cromemco Cromix (UNIX) pesonal computer
RDOS 3.12 bios startup - 8 seconds
OS - 2048KB memory check - 19 seconds
Cromix 167 boot - 23 seconds (from ST506 50MB disk)
Cromix 167 Shutdown - 3 seconds

Guest Laptop (Mac G4 933 PowerPC)
Mac OS-X 10.4.11 startup to desktop (autologin) 91 seconds
Mac OS-X 10.4.11 shutdown 23 seconds

Home Laptop (HP nx8220 circa 2005)
Laptop BIOS - 10.8 seconds
Vista 32 startup - 40.2 seconds
Vista Desktop - 32 seconds
Vista 32 shutdown - 49.0 seconds
Backup over LAN to server (75GB) - 60 minutes.

Lounge Media Server (Shuttle SX48P2)
BIOS 12 seconds
To Vista 64 login 22 seconds
To Vista Desktop 9 seconds

Home Server (8 processor Xeon)
BIOS inlcuding 16GB memtest and SCSI SATA disk tests - 80 seconds!
Windows Server 2008x64 start from SSD - 90 seconds
Windows Server 2008x64 shutdown - 54 seconds
Disk to Disk transfer - 85 MB/sec sustained (non raid)
1 LAN Gigabit Interface - 60 MB/sec sustained
VMware guest BIOS - 12 seconds
VMware start Windows Server 2008x64 - 72 seconds
VMware Windows Server Desktop - 33 seconds
VMware Windows Server 2008x64 shutdown - 8 seconds

Home WAN / LAN
Download Ubuntu 8.04.1 (694MB) - 279 seconds
Home LAN Secure to DMZ transfer 694MB Ubuntu (via 3 firewalls + 2 scanners) - 42 seconds
Daily LAN transfers 10GB+

Corporate PC Laptop Workstation (Dell Laptop, 1.5GB memory)
Bios startup - 5 seconds
Windows 2000 Boot - 333 seconds
Logon to Desktop - 284 seconds

Corporate Work Servers
TSM Backup Server - 50,000 GB per night
SAP Database 10,000 GB backed up to tape in 19 hours
LAN Gigabit Interface - 88 MB/sec sustained

Our Corporate WAN / LAN Links
Geneva to Frankfurt dedicated link - 100 MB/sec (believe me that is incredible)
Local Underlake Link (40Km) 1GB/sec
Download 694MB Ubuntu - 777 seconds
PC to Local LAN server over Gigabit infrastructure - 5.2MB/sec

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The great Lausanne swim

Well it is certainly not The Great North Run but certainly for us the 24 heures de natation is a happy event in our sporting calendar

Every year our local Mon Repos swimmng pool hosts a 24 hour, non stop, and free Swimming event! You simply arrive, sign up, get your blue numbered hat and start swimming. Lausanne has further beguiled us, this charming event increases our respect for this our home town.

Our goal was to swim the 4Km necessary to qualify for the SuperDefi stamp in our Defi Sportif Lausanne

Marcus's initial plan was to get up at 03.00 and head over to Mon Repos however a 3am veto was enforced by Agata who was impossible to remove from her slumbers so the actual arrival time was about 05.30.

And so we set off swimming.

I pretty much believed that I could swim any distance, albeit slowly since I have an underwater swimming MP3 player (described here) that literally makes swimming any distance a pleasure.

You can listen to your favourite audiobook or in my case move to The Mash Up Mix Old Skool 2008 . Actually it is important to choose a tracklist that is volume leveled since in practice it's almost impossible to change the volume level of the iPod via the Otterbox case whilst underwater.

Whilst the swimming was a great pleasure, after 1 hour I desperately wanted to go to the toilet. Then after about 1.5 hours my head started getting cold. We had to wear thin swimhats with a race number and I was without mynormal and industrially strong / thick Speedo.

Agata calls this the granny hat. The pain was similar to what is known as Brain Freeze. So I decided to get out. Meanwhile Agata had no such problems and came out the pool beaming and smiling.

So we both finished and then it was back home to a nice well deserved and somewhat large breakfast.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


As someone who is really passionate about religion I must confess that I have been waiting over 1 year for the film Religulous to air. There has been quite a delay due to the US writers strike but from today, i.e. October 3, 2008 the wait is over.

There are tens if not thousands of reasons why all spiritual or religious people should go and watch this film. Religion can be a truely life changing experience, this film can show you how.

So please, I mean pretty please, book a ticket right now