Aah lasagna's gone!

Saturday, October 18


And We're Back (Again)

Server move complete.  There was a problem with one of the database indexes, which is why it took rather longer than the expected 10-15 minutes.  Everything got transferred across just fine, the services came up, and the past month of posts was MIA.

Fixed now.

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Friday, October 17


Retina iMac

Retina iMac!

5120x2880 display.  

Mostly it's the same as last year's model, with the rest of the hardware getting minor upgrades - Thunderbolt 2, and up to the Core i7 4790K processor and Radeon R9 M295X graphics.  Which is the fastest 4-core desktop CPU you can get, and one of the fastest mobile graphics chips.*

So the new 14 megapixel display is the one standout feature.  Is it worth the price increase?

In a word, hell yeah.  Comparing equivalent models, retina and non-retina, the difference is only $300 - $2499 vs. $2199 in the US, or $2999 vs $2689 in Australia.

Given that Dell's 5K monitor is expected to sell for $2499 by itself, $2499 for a fairly well-configured** 5K iMac is a bargain.

Am I getting one here at PixyLab?  Yes.  No question, this is going to be my new primary computer.  I'm going to go for a system with a 1TB SSD, so my config will be a little more expensive, but I was planning to get a 4K display and some sort of Mac in any case.

Update: Just saw a review of the latest version of MacOS X 10.10.  Like iOS 7 and Windows 8 before it, it looks like a cheap cartoon version of itself.  You have 14 million pixels to work with and you give us this?!

* Faster than my desktop Radeon 7950.
** That includes a 3.5GHz quad-core CPU, Radeon R9 M290 graphics, a 1TB fusion drive, and 8GB of RAM.  That's a little light on the RAM, which is user-upgradeable and so not a problem, and probably also on the storage, which isn't.

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Tuesday, October 14



So, we had a big storm roll through Sydney yesterday.  Well, medium-sized storm, anyway.

And we had a blackout where I live in the northern suburbs.  Four hours after the storm had passed.  Don't know what the story was with that.

Anyway, 11:30 at night, I was in the shower, lights go off, water goes cold, kind of annoying.  I found my notebook (sitting by the bed) and opened the lid, which provided enough light to find some clothes and then my phone and my tablet, check Twitter (Hey, the power just went out!) and go to bed.

Around 2AM everything came back on and woke me up, and I checked my computers and got them rebooting before heading back to bed.

I was worried about the Linux box because it had a degraded RAID array that I hadn't got to fixing (though I do have a full backup).  So I checked on that this afternoon...  And it's no longer degraded.  It's working perfectly.


Also, server move next weekend.  Details to follow, expect 30 minutes or so of downtime.

Update: It's doing this.  It's not meant to do that.

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Friday, October 03


And We're Back

Sorry, Ebola.

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Friday, September 26



Ugh.  Another one?

We dodged Heartbleed because our SSL libraries were older than the bug, but this bug - dubbed Shellshock - is old enough to vote, and the affected program is Bash, the default shell on hundreds of millions of Linux and MacOS X systems all over the world.

Fortunately CPanel updated Bash to the patch release automatically, and Minx itself is designed not to use the shell, ever.  I went so far as to write my own file management library because the default Python library uses the shell to do its work.  I didn't know of this bug at the time, obviously, but passing data from the web to a shell script is fraught with fraughtness and I wanted no part in it.

I think we're safe.  But while this is quick and easy to patch, there are a huge number of potentially affected servers and some of them have reportedly already been hacked.  Be extra cautious for the next few days if anything looks out of place on the sites you visit.  Big names like Amazon are almost certainly safe; it's the little guys who don't have a full-time IT staff who need to scramble.

Well, and the IT guys themselves, which is why I'm up at 3AM.

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Tuesday, September 23


Did USB Just Kill Thunderbolt?

Not quite.

USB 3.0 is pretty neat.  If you're used to USB 2, the performance jump (from 480Mbps half-duplex to 5Gbps full-duplex) can be startling.  And it's cheap and if not ubiquitous, then at least widespread.

The connectors, though, are crap.  One end exists in a weird subspace with 720Ā° rotational symmetry; the other is just plain ugly.

USB Type C fixes that, with a single, simple, compact, reversible connector.  The cable is the same at both ends and works either way up.

Also, it supports USB 3.1, bumping the speed to 10Gbps.

And it supports up to 100W of power, up from 7.5W.

And now it supports DisplayPort.  You can have a 4K monitor at 60Hz plus USB 3.1 over a single USB cable.  Or you can have a 5K monitor at 60Hz, but only with USB 2.0, because it needs all the wires for video data.

There's just one fly in the ointment: At full speed, it's only specified to work over a 1 metre cable.  At half speed, you get 2 metres.  So perfect for docking your laptop or tablet (because you get 100W of power at the same time) but kind of iffy for the desktop.

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Saturday, September 20


Giveaway Bits

I have a few extra game keys to give away thanks to the generosity of Steam, Humble Bundle, and Kickstarter.

So if anyone would like free keys for any of the following, let me know in the comments or drop me an email.
  • Civilization V
  • Wasteland 2 (Steam or GOG) -> RickC
  • Torchlight
  • Batman Arkham Asylum -> Mauser
  • Batman Arkham City -> Wonderduck
  • Batman Arkham Origins -> Gothmog
  • Divine Divinity -> Hypozeuxis
  • Divinity 2
  • Beyond Divinity
  • Divinity: Dragon Commander
  • RPG Maker VX Ace -> Andrew G
  • Scribblenauts
  • Stacking
  • Stonehearth (not Hearthstone, which is a different thing).  This is still in alpha, but I have an alpha gift key. -> Avatar
  • Faerie Solitaire
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Dust: An Elysian Tale -> RickC
  • Ittle Dew
  • Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (couple of these)
Couple more I forgot about:
  • Shadowrun Returns (two of these)
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall (two of these too)
  • Cities in Motion 2 (one)
Mostly they're giftable Steam keys, so you'll need a Steam account.

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Monday, September 08



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Friday, September 05


Special K

I haven't bought a 4K monitor yet, and Dell just announced a 5K monitor.

The existence of 5K panels also suggests that Apple will release a retina iMac sooner rather than later.  Apple like to exactly double the display resolution for retina models, and this 27" 5K panel does just that.

5K doesn't sound like a lot more than 4K, but that's 5120x2880, up from 3840x2160, so about 70% more pixels.  To put it another way, it's exactly the same ration as the jump from 1920x1080 to 2560x1440.

One caveat: You'll need two DisplayPort 1.2 (or Thunderbolt) outputs to drive this thing at 60Hz.  DisplayPort 1.3 can't arrive too soon!

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Saturday, August 30


The Lane At The End Of The Ocean

Digital Ocean are a rather neat VPS provider.  The fatal flaw with VPSes has always been I/O performance: You can't virtualise IOPS.



To unpack that a little, an expensive top-of-the-line enterprise disk drive can deliver about 250 I/O operations per second (IOPS).  Any SSD can handle tens of thousands.*

So if you throw away the spinning rust and use nothing but SSDs, VPSes actually work.  And since all the complexity and expense came from trying to make the spinning rust work, rather than the VPSes themselves, this is actually a very cost-effective approach.

Case in point: A Digital Ocean "droplet" with one virtual CPU, 512MB of RAM, 20GB of storage, and 1TB of bandwidth costs just $5 per month.

My physical servers cost rather more than that - but then again, they have 32GB of RAM, 2TB of disk, and 240GB of SSD (all RAID-1) each.  If you need 32GB of RAM, 2TB of disk, and 240GB of SSD, a physical server from a mid-tier provider is still going to be cheaper than Digital Ocean.  But if you want to quickly pop a server into existence to try out, say, CentOS 7, a Digital Ocean droplet is hard to beat.  Not only is it set up to your specifications in under a minute, but you're billed by the hour, up to a monthly cap - so if you only need something for a few hours, you only need to pay a few cents.**

Except that they are not - at least yet - in Australia.  San Francisco, New York, London, Amsterdam, Singapore.  Singapore isn't a terrible location to reach from Sydney, but it's not great either.

If only there were a provider in Australia that offered similar SSD-based VPSes -


That were priced as low as -


That was run by someone I'm familiar with, like the people behind Mammoth - 


Binary Lane isn't as polished as Digital Ocean (yet), but they're a lot more flexible; you can select the number of CPUs, amount of memory, disk, and bandwidth all independently, and you can adjust them at will after the fact as well.  

The one downside is that this being Australia, bandwidth is STILL FUCKING NIGHTMARE EXPENSIVE with the basic $5 plan with 200GB of bundled bandwidth turning into an $85 monster if you want the 1TB that Digital Ocean offer.  Though it wasn't that long ago that I was paying that much for bandwidth out of a second-tier provider in the US.***

Oh, and they're in Brisbane, which means a 30ms ping instead of 15ms I got for my old Sydney-based VPS.

Edit: Vultr provide a similar service at a similar price with nodes in Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas (where we are currently located), Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, New Jersey (where our backup server lives), London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt (currently sold out), Tokyo, and Sydney.  (Yay!)  Their configurations aren't as flexible as Binary Lane, but their worldwide scope is a big plus.  Going to give them a try as well.

Update: I've now tried out Digital Ocean, Binary Lane, and Vultr.  Digital Ocean is the most polished; Binary Lane the most flexible; Vultr the fastest and the best for global distribution.  So far all of them have worked flawlessly, and they all offer amazing value for money.

Linode have also jumped into the SSD VPS market, with competitive pricing to the three mentioned above.

Then there's Amazon and Google, with page after page of pricing tables.  Meh.

* Sustained random write performance is a fraction of the burst speed, but over the past five years that's improved from "a small fraction" to "a substantial fraction" and is no longer a problem for 99% of users.

** Literally - their VPSes start at 0.7c per hour.

*** Never mind that, I can remember when bandwidth cost me $30 per gigabyte, which rather puts $100 per terabyte in perspective.  Come to think of it, excess bandwidth on my mobile phone still costs $30 per gigabyte.

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