A cricket bat!
Twelve years, and four psychiatrists!
I kept biting them!
They said you weren't real.

Thursday, April 28



Some of you might remember, back about 15 months ago, when we were on the old old server, it used to take something like 30 seconds to leave a comment. That was before we moved to the new old server, and before we moved from Berkeley DB (boo hiss!) to MySQL (yay!)

Back then, I started work on a blogging program I called Minx. Minx was written in Python and used a database called Metakit, and it was really really fast, at least until you started getting a lot of posts and comments, whereupon it ate all your memory and died.

So much for Minx 0.1, which bit the dust around January 2004.

Minx 0.2 re-arranged the database a bit, and came along in April 2004. However, by that time we were on the new server and things were relatively speedy again, so there was much less urgency to Minx (and I had a lot of work to do with the migration, and a swarm of new MuNus who joined us around that time). And as it turned out, Minx 0.2 also, once you got past a certain point, ate all your memory and died.

Minx 0.3 came along in December, just before my brain got eaten by hackers and spammers, something that lasted through January and February. March I basically went to bed and played Final Fantasy X and Rumble Roses.* This month I dug out Minx and started playing with it. Minx 0.3 was the best yet, but after a certain point, it ate all your memory and died.

The problem in all three cases was the Metakit database, which is extremely fast and flexible, but has a nasty habit - if you push it too far - of eating all your memory and dying.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, I came up with this startling insight: Minx might work better if I didn't store all the data in Metakit.**

And so Minx 0.4 was born. And it's even faster and better than before, and it still works when you throw - What was it? Right. - when you throw 4000 blogs with a total of 4 million posts (and 20 million comments) at it. At that point, my home machine was starting to struggle a little, but certainly hadn't eaten its memory and died. Minx 0.4 uses Berkeley DB (boo - I mean yay!) only it uses it completely differently to Movable Type, so that it actually works.

Soon - maybe even very soon - the Minx Dev Blog and Ambient Irony will be making the Great Leap Sideways and switching to Minx. You'll know it's happened when trackbacks suddenly stop working. Well, unless they come back five minutes later, in which case it's just Fluffy the anti-spam watchdog at work.

Oh yes, there was a point to all this. Munuvians, if you're interested in the future of your blogging platform™, hop on over to the Minx Dev Blog and take a look around. If that makes your brain hurt, wait for the test release, coming soon to a server near you.

* I'm not a sexist pig, I just play one on TV. Um, literally. At least it's better than Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball.
** There's slightly more to it than that. It involved a full understanding of Metakits on-disk and in-memory data structures, and realising that there was no work-around for the problems I was encountering. No matter how I split up the data, as long as I stored it all in Metakit, it would eat up all my memory and die.

[Also posted at Munuviana]

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Where Was I?

Sill waiting for the video card for my new computer, which will be named, let's see... Naga. I could get an X800XT tomorrow, but that's more than I wanted to spend on a video card for a Linux box.

Oops, phone ringing... I can get an Abit X600XT by Friday. Sounds good to me.

Meanwhile, if you're in a geeky frame of mind, I've been posting over at the Minx dev blog. Minx is the new integrated blogging & forum system I'm developing for MuNu. The project was stalled for about a year, but recently got under way again and is now close to its first alpha release. It's blazingly fast, and should run even faster on an Athlon 64 3200+. Zoom zoom!

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Monday, April 25


Gone Psyco

Psyco is a compiler for Python. Once you've installed it (which consists of typing the command python setup.py install), you can use it by adding two lines to your Python program:
import psyco
How well does it work? Well, I'm currently working on Minx, an integrated blog/forum/wiki/coffee-and-donuts application, which happens just by chance to be written in Python.

Let's see how long it takes Minx to generate 10,000 pages of 20 posts, first with regular Python:

real 1m28.206s
user 1m27.694s
sys 0m0.116s

pages/second: 113

And now with new improved Psyco:
real 0m56.130s
user 0m55.713s
sys 0m0.162s

pages/second 178

Psyco chops more than a third off the time, giving almost 60% more pages per second. Not bad for a free compiler that requires no code changes! Particularly with this sort of application, which is mostly database accesses and text manipulation, things compilers generally can't help you with.

Note 1: These timings were run against Minx 0.4.03X, not the current 0.4.02A. My tests with Psyco uncovered a performance problem which I will have to fix in the main codebase, which was costing whole milliseconds for each page generated. Which isn't significant, but it would have got worse as the database size grew. Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward fix.

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Saturday, April 23


Law of Conservation of Blogging

It seems to me that for every good, smart, funny and/or sensible blogger, there is a mirror image, an alternate, shadow-world, goatee'd-Spock version, who takes on the same form but has the essence completely inverted.

I call this the Law of Conservation of Blogging: For every blogger, there is an equal and opposite anti-blogger.

Case in point: James Wolcott is the anti-James Lileks.

What blogger/anti-blogger pairings have you noticed? And what happens when they meet? Do you have an anti-blogger? Discuss. I'll be back Tuesday.

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Friday, April 22


Queue Jumpers

We all wonder from time to time which will be the next country we* have to send our troops into to straighten out. Syria? Iran? We have hopes of some sort of revolution in both those nations, which is probably why we're holding off for now. North Korea? Great humanitarian need, but a very touchy situation. Sudan, maybe.

But it looks like someone is growing impatient:

During a state visit to China, French Premier Raffarin threw support behind a law allowing China to attack Taiwan and continued to push for a lift of the EU arms embargo.

At the outset of a three-day visit to China, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he supported Beijing's "anti-secession" law on Taiwan, and vowed to keep pushing for an end to an EU arms embargo that could open the door for Paris to sell weapons to the Asian giant.

Hmm. Okay, if that's how you want to play it.

We'll pencil you in for the second week in August.

(via the Instadude)

* We = the axis of countries that don't suck.

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Wednesday, April 20


Never Said I Was A Conservative

Mark Noonan, via Captain's Quarters:
Now, what do we conservatives (many of whom are highly upset right now) want? We want taxes reduced massively;
And spending too.
we want the War on Terrorism won;
I'm willing to be patient, as long as we see solid progress.
we want Social Security privatised;
Not all in one go, perhaps, but over time it should be dismantled.
we want abortion at least highly restricted if not banned outright;
Banning abortion has historically been about as effective as banning alcohol, and with similar side-effects. Banning some current practices, I can agree with.
we want prayer back in public schools;
I don't want prayer in public schools. I don't not want prayer in public schools. But I certainly don't want to see prayer mandated in public schools.

If individual students want to pray, they should be allowed to. And that's as far as it should go.

we want tort reform;
Oh yeah.
we want regulatory reform;
Always, but that's a process that will last as long as there are regulations.
we want increased nuclear power and oil drilling;
Pretty much, yes.
we want our borders secured;
Such is the right of any nation.
we want illegal immigrants deported;
Yes. There are, if not two sides, then still one-and-a-bit sides to this.
we want government spending to be heavily cut;
we want conservative judges to be approved yesterday
Conservative? I'd settle for intelligent and honest.

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Friday, April 15


What Would Ross Gittins Do Without Monkeys?

Okay, the title is stolen from James Taranto, but what else is there to say?

Ross Gittins, economics writer for the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald, tells us:

With so many businesspeople, economists and politicians banging away, you would have to be pretty slow not to have got the message: what our economy desperately needs is a lowering of income tax rates, particularly the punishing top rate of 48.5 per cent.

The high tax rates we face are discouraging people from working as hard as they could. We need more incentive to try harder - to earn more, produce more and consume more.

But I've just been reading a new book - by an economics professor, no less - that argues the exact reverse: we need to keep tax rates high to discourage us from working so hard and, in the process, neglecting more important aspects of life, including leisure.

The prof is Richard Layard - Lord Layard, to you - of the London School of Economics. His book is Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, published in Britain by Allen Lane.


Okay, now that that's settled -

This guy is arguing that people working hard is the problem, and taking their money away is the solution? Niiiice.

Why on earth could so many of us - particularly those on the top tax rate - be working too hard and neglecting our leisure?
Because we like to get things done? Because we want the money? Because we enjoy our fancy toys? No:
At base, because our evolutionary make-up makes us highly rivalrous towards other people, to be always comparing ourselves with others and seeking higher status.
Mmmf. It's true enough that people seek status in various ways, including by the possession of material goods. But to argue that this is the only reason people work hard is as silly as, oh, I don't know, basing an entire economic theory on the levels of serotonin in monkeys.
The researchers manipulated the status of a male monkey by moving him from one group of monkeys to another. In each situation they measured the monkey's level of serotonin, a neuro-transmitter connected with feeling good. "The finding was striking," Layard says, "the higher the monkey's position in the hierarchy, the better the monkey feels.
I am not making this up.
Not convinced this has any implications for humans? Well, in a famous study of British civil servants, those of higher rank secreted lower average levels of stress-related cortisol - one reason people in the higher grades lived on average 4½ years longer than those in lower grades.
There are just sooo many things wrong with that paragraph, I hardly know where to start.

It's the tea, I tell you. The tea in the low-rank civil service cafeteria will kill you.

Meanwhile, back at the monkey farm:

Still not convinced we're obsessed by getting ahead of the Joneses? Consider this experiment where students at Harvard were asked to choose between living in two imaginary worlds. In World One, you get $50,000 a year while other people average $25,000. In World Two, you get $100,000 a year, while others average $250,000.

The majority of respondents preferred the first world. They were happy to be poorer in absolute terms, provided their RELATIVE position improved.

Now this is actually interesting. There's a leetle problem, of course, in that if everyone else makes 2½ times as much money as you, anything scarce will end up getting priced beyond your reach. So hey, you'll be able to afford twice as many ham and cheese sandwiches as in World One, but that nice house? That holiday in Tahiti? Forget it.
All this suggests that a major motivation for people in working so hard is to gain higher status directly from their position in their organisation or from the amount of money they earn and the homes, cars and other status symbols they are able to buy with that money.
Either that, or they have priorities other than ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Or, y'know, because we should never discount this possibility, they're just idiots.

Trouble is, what may make sense for the individual doesn't make sense for society. Status-seeking is a zero-sum game. I can advance myself in the pecking order only at the expense of those I pass. My gain is cancelled out by their loss.
Says who?

No, really, says who?

Status is what people decide it is. Status is only zero-sum if people decide it is.

Thus all the effort we expend trying to get ahead of the Joneses, or at least keep up with them, is like a perpetual arms race, which is socially wasteful. We'd be better off if we could somehow call a truce.
In this case, "calling a truce" means "stealing everyone's weapons".
"So most people are not rivalrous about their leisure," Layard says. "But they ARE rivalrous about income, and that rivalry is self-defeating. There is thus a tendency to sacrifice too much leisure in order to increase income."

Taxes are clearly performing some useful function beyond that of raising money to pay for public spending, he concludes. "They are holding us back from an even more fevered way of life."

Oh, thank you, milord. Wouldn't want to suffer from the horrible fever of actually getting to keep some part of the money I've earned.

When did they start making communists into peers?

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Thursday, April 14


Happy Birthday To Me!

This blog is two years old today.

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Monday, April 11


Least-Loved Bedtime Stories

Considering that this blog has been up and running for nearly two years, you'd think I'd have more than (counts on fingers) 33 blogs of the day. Well, I don't, and the reason is simple: I'm a lazy slug, and there's nothing I hate more than to have to do anything on a regular basis.

Having said that, there are lots of good blogs out there that you should be reading. Many of them actually get updated, unlike this one over the past month or two.

One such is Least-Loved Bedtime Stories (formerly Victory Soap, formerly Twisted Spinster, formerly, um, something else). It's the collected jottings of Andrea Harris, who also keeps Tim Blair's blog alive and, um, blogging.

If you're a fan of high-grade (and well-aimed) snark, Vic - uh, Least-Loved Bedtime Stories is the place for you. And if you're a reader of Tim Blair and have a few bucks sitting in your Paypal account, why not slip them to the lady who keeps him on the air? (I'm just glad I don't need progressive bifocals. $300 for lenses?)

Our very own Ilyka has something to say on the matter too.

Blog of the day, ladies and gentlemen: Least-Loved Bedtime Stories.

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Saturday, April 09


Put A Sock On It

I was out shopping for socks at lunchtime, because this morning I discovered that I had five clean socks, none of which matched. Anyway, I went to David Jones, which is having one of their "not a sale" sales (including 30% off socks) and bought another six pairs of the socks with little sheepies on them.

In the next aisle they had men's underwear, including some examples adorned with Mr Men characters. Or rather, one character in particular, since they were all identical. I'll let you guess which one.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 02:51 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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