Garden (by )

Sarah was away today, and I was working hard, so for a treat Jean spent some time in the garden with my aunt (her great-aunt) Barbara, watching Barbara gardening.

Alas I was working inside, so have no cute pictures to post, but apparently a good time was had by all, with Jean learning to play peek-a-boo with her blanket (pulling it up over her eyes and down again) 🙂

Silly Globix! (by )

One of the companies I do work for hosts their equipment at Globix's Prospect House datacentre in New Oxford Street, London.

And it's become increasingly apparent over the past couple of years that Globix aren't doing a great job.

It all began to crumble on the day everything went down. Now, Globix pride themselves on the lovely backup power system. They have a giant generator, roomfulls of batteries, and all the usual stuff. They explained to us how they're better than many such places because they test their generator under a simulated load with a giant resistor on the roof.

However, still, the power to the entire floor went down for many hours. Apparently, the external power had gone down. The backup batteries had flawlessly switched in while the generator started, then the generator took over and started recharging the batteries. However, it turns out that the power switching system that connects generator, batteries, incoming power, and the load had a special cooling system, which was... connected to the external power feed. And so it wasn't running. The switch unit overheated, and shut itself down, killing the machine floor.

Whoever installed that cooling system was, therefore, somewhat incompetent.

But it gets worse. Power was restored to the floor. I went in to talk to the machines that didn't come back up cleanly, and couldn't help but notice that it was:

  1. Hot
  2. Dark

It became apparent that they were running on a reduced load, to keep their switch cool enough. To reduce the load, they'd killed the AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM. And the lights.

In order to reduce their on-paper downtime, they'd brought the computers back up without aircon, for about a day.

In the year or so since that happened, we've had a lot of hardware failures - which we'd not been plagued with before. It's pretty likely that the roasting the machines had didn't do them much good.

Then about six months ago, we were going to install a new machine. We followed the usual process; on the day, we emailled in to say we were bringing in a machine. However, unlike the zillion past times we'd brought in machines, we got an email back saying we had to wait until there was power available.


It turned out that they realised they were running short of power in the data centre. Now, they'd not told anyone this, perhaps because it's embarrassing. Instead, they waited until we tried to put a machine in, then revealed that they'd introduced new restrictions. Since we'd been planning this machine insertion for several weeks, had we known, we'd have gotten into the "power queue" sooner. Instead, we had to wait weeks until somebody else removed a machine, freeing up amps for ours.

We have space in our rack. We have spare IP addresses. We have spare sockets on the switch. Yet we are waiting on other customers to remove equipment before we can put our own in.

But it gets worse.

We receive an email telling us that our machines are in the rack the wrong way round. Apparently they want to line machines up so that alternate aisles are used to take air from, so the other aisles receive all the hot air for taking away. And they've just noticed that our machines don't fit their plan.

Now, the machines were initially installed long before my time at the company. Since I took over, I've just been putting machines in the same way as the original ones. And, in fact, putting them in the other way would be very hard, since Globix's power strips are down the mounting rails on the 'rear' of the rack. To put machines in facing the other way would involve rerouting the power supply to the rack.

Oh, they say, perhaps our engineers put the power strips down the wrong side of the rack when they set it up for you. Sorry. Please spend a day powering down all your machines, taking them out, moving the power strips, and putting them all back in. As soon as possible.

I understand your point of view. Globix had obviously placed the power strips in the wrong side of the cab leading your technicians to understandably put the kit the wrong way round. However in order to ensure that the data-centre is practicing best practice and ensure that all customers are having their cabs cooled on the correct side it is imperative that all customers are facing the right way round. We will offer you hands so all we really need is for someone to over see it but I'm afraid we have no other option other than to turn the kit around.


Grabbing things (by )

Jean's getting better at grabbing things.

She can now quite proficiently pick things up and feed them into her mouth; she's been doing so for a while, but now she manages to orient things correctly for insertion. Previously, she'd grab something in her fist, with the thing ending up poking out of the bottom of her fist, and then shove her fist in her mouth fruitlessly; now she'll rotate her fist to get the protruding morsel.

Also, since I change her in the bathroom (Sarah's father made us a most excellent changing table that sits on top of the bath, since we are short of bathroom space), I've been teaching her to pull the bathroom light switch cord. At first she'd just grab at it when I lifted her up to it and try to eat it, but with a bit of demonstration, she now manages to turn the light on or off without help about two thirds of the time. She now eagerly twists her head to find the pull cord whenever I pick her up from the changing table, looking forward to turning the light off as we leave.

Van! (by )

Well, last weekend we picked up our van from Sarah's parents, who have been looking after it, and I drove it home.

I like my van.

For a start, all three of us can sit in the front, with Jean in her baby car seat in the middle, Sarah on the left, and me in the driving seat. This makes it easier to entertain her and supply her with milk than when she's alone in the back of a car.

Also, the van has manual transmission, which I'm more accustomed to and generally find easier than the automatic transmission of the car. I'm not quite sure why, but I find it really hard to maintain a speed with automatic cars... the speed seems to creep up or down unless I'm watching it all the time. With a manual, I get it into the correct gear, then just listen to the tone of the engine to regulate the pressure on the accelerator, and it stays at the same speed.

The van is more fun than a car, since you're sitting very high up and can see far ahead. The road seems to be moving much slower beneath you since it's further away; everything seems to happen in slow motion compared to being down by the ground in a car; you can plan further ahead and think about things more carefully.

There's a big comfortable soft steering wheel, hooked up to a power assisted steering system with an impressively tight turning circle for such a large vehicle. You can almost drive it sideways; I can stop the van with the nose about one or two metres away from a wall in front, put it in full lock, drive on, and end up parallel to the wall without needing to reverse. You can tell the van was designed for delivery drivers in London!

I've yet to do a complete test, but it seems more fuel efficient than the car, which is a surprise considering that it's a large cuboid of a vehicle with a 2.5 litre engine compared to a small streamlined thing with a 1.3 litre engine.. The car uses about 16 pence worth of fuel to drive a mile. It was nearly empty when I put about £45 worth of fuel into it, and it's driven about 240 miles since - but the fuel gauge is showing about three eighths full. When I next fill it up and reset the odometer I'll know for sure, but it's looking something like 10 pence per mile.

And, needless to say, being a van, it has a 'boot' ('trunk' to you Americans) about the size of my bathroom, into which one can chuck things without having to go to great lengths packing them down.

The only main downside is that there's only room for two passengers, not the four that can squeeze into a car...

Updates! (by )

I'm being lambasted by distant friends for not updating the blog!

Truth is, I've been rather busy. A project (let's call it Project A, since I'm under NDA for most things I do) was delayed due to the required hardware being slow to arrive in the first place, not working, new hardware being obtained, Linux drivers being a pain, and so on. So it overran into time I was planning to spend relaxing, meaning I'm still somewhat worn out - and time I was meaning to spend on another project (let's call it Project B), and catch up on something I was doing nearly a year ago when Sarah started getting really ill in the pregnancy, and have shamefully kept the client waiting on for ages since all I get for finishing it is £500, and I've sadly had to invest my remaining time in struggling to rebuild our savings after the period of no work and expensive house-moving. Let's call that Project C.

In the meantime, I'm still being paid by the hour to look after Client D, who have a wide range of jobs on the go. TOO wide. Client D are a bit of a nightmare to work with due to the management being somewhat technically challenged, which causes all sorts of problems, but hourly working with a "to-do" list that grows faster than any one human being can do the work (I used to be full time with them, and have open todo items from years ago...) means that it's a reliable way to make some regular monthly money when I have time, and if I stay employed with them, I may yet get to vest my share options (which would come to a very tidy sum, if things continue as they are).

So there I am struggling to deal with projects overlapping each other when they shouldn't, while at the same time supporting Sarah and Jean; Sarah is still in a lot of pain so she needs me to help with physical stuff, including taking her to various medical appointments during the working day; and we've had to go to London a lot lately, which takes out who blocks of days at a time.

Still, I've now finished Project A. I'm now sorting out Project C and doing what I can on Project B, while somewhat coasting on Client D, just doing the things they really need me to do ASAP. This will cost me when I get paid next month, but I have some money from Project A now, so will survive.

And we'll go on holiday to Wales next week!

Of course, all clients want me to devote ALL my time to them, and get upset if they schedule a meeting with me and then find out I can't make it because I'm doing something else, and get upset I didn't tell them I was going on holiday. I need to find ways to gently remind some of them that I'm a freelance contractor, not an employee...

Anyway, having got that off my chest, I will now proceed to blog some fun stuff!

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