Game Over, Sun's ZFS Wins

The other day I had discussed how we would soon be storing more data than we can theoretically handle.  This, in turn, made me think about all the different technologies that we have to store and contain data, as well as their finite limitations.  As hard drives continue to grow, we will soon reach the end limits for some of our file system capacities.

Hitachi will be releasing their 1 TeraByte drive in the first quarter of 2007, and other manufacturers aren't far behind.  As it sits, most people using Windows XP are using a NTFS File System.  This is a pretty solid method, but there are some finite limitations which may pose a problem to some people in another 10 to 15 years.  Limits such as a maximum file size of 16 TeraBytes and a volume size of 256 TeraBytes, with date ranges from January 1, 1601 to May 28, 60056.

Now, people will likely say something like "Who is going to have files larger than 16 TB or require a single volume to be more than 256 TB?" or "Unless time travel becomes a reality and we go back in time with a Windows notebook, why worry about the date limitations?".  To these people I'm forced to ask "Was 640KB memory really enough?" (quoting the famous line by Bill Gates in the early 80s.

Corporate databases are huge.  Personal storage is just now reaching the point where most households have at least half a TeraByte of data.  In the next two decades, these numbers are poised to explode to numbers that are unimaginable by today's standards.  To that end, a better future-proofed file system may be in order.  And the people at Sun have that system.

I really like the ZettaByte File System (ZFS) that is found in Solaris 10 as nothing else today comes even close to what this platform offers.  Data corruption is non-existant thanks to a 64-bit checksum on all data, with silent background corrections.  File capacity is 16 quadrillion times that of any 32 or 64 bit file system (like NTFS, Ext3, ReiserFS, etc).  And if that's not enough, the file system is endian-neutral.  This means that if you were to change your servers from a SPARC sytem to an x86 system, no data migration would be necessary.  Plug and play.

I've used ZFS on my personal file servers for some time now, and still find the speed and reliability of this platform to be amazing.  Of course, I don't have massive databases or hundreds of TeraBytes to store (yet), but with everything I've seen so far with my data needs, this is the system of the future.  As more storage space is needed I can easily add another hard drive or six and expand the volume as required.

For anyone looking to build a great file server at work or home, Solaris 10 is the way to go.  No steep learning curve, and seemingly unlimited potential make this the platform of choice.

Why Nobody Takes Activists Seriously

In the past few years, the amount of activism in the Vancouver area has been steadily increasing.  People seem to protest everything from affordable housing, to poverty, to the olympics, to everything in between.  Since winning the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, it seems that this is the key focal reason for all the problems in British Columbia ... so many activists would have us believe.

The protests recently held by members of the Anti-Poverty Committee against the Olympic Clock and the Olympic Flag baffle me.

I understand the reason for using these symbols as rally locations.  Both are tourist draws, and both are in areas large enough to hold sizable groups of people.  At the same time, these appear as symbols denoting wealth and prosperity; two things that Canada's poor have none of.  While the city tries to keep these areas clear of protests, demonstrations and the homeless, there is only so much they can do.

What I don't get, though, is the methods these activists are using to make their statement.

On Thursday night, approximately 50 members of the Anti-Poverty Committee made their way from Victory Square to the Vancouver Eastside, wearing masks and destroying private property.  One protestor attacked a TV Cameraman, knocking their camera to the ground and trying to set it on fire with some crude accelerant.  Police were attacked, some throwing eggs at the officers, others throwing punches.  An officer was even swarmed by five losers, and it's a shame they got away.

Whatever subject they wanted to demonstrate against was nothing more than a trojan horse.  These people came to cause damage to anything and everything.

Carrying out peaceful demonstrations and protests are not illegal in Canada.  Heck, these can be powerful symbols when done properly (anyone remember how Mahatma Ghandi led demonstrations against the British Salt Tax?).  Causing undue destruction to private property and inciting violence against the police is a great way to get your message ignored and your ass in jail.  Who is going to listen to someone who thinks it's okay to destroy something that's not yours?

I am willing to bet a year's salary that many of the people who took part in this farce-demonstration are against the war in Iraq.  Tell me the difference between destroying a country and destroying private property?  The answer is "scale".  These small scale violent protests are no better than walking into another country and turning buildings into rubble.

Although there was no official referendum on the 2010 games (VANOC feared a large "No" vote would look bad for the city), unofficial polls showed that 64% of people in the Lower Mainland were for the games.  The games bring lots of jobs to the community and opportunity for all, while at the same time promoting the bounty of BC.  The 36% that don't want the games have lost their vote.  That's how democracy works.

If people are really not happy with the games coming to the Vancouver area, perhaps they should start doing something more intelligent with their time.  Throwing things at cops is a great way to get yourself labelled an idiot and your ideals ignored.

Why not get in to politics?  You can't win your battles with petty violence.  You can't win your battles in the space of a few days or weeks, either.  The system just doesn't work that way.  If you really want to make a difference for people who struggle with affordable housing, steady employment and readily available health care, put your head to work and start playing the game of politics.

There are dozens of things that infuriate me to no end (shark finning is one of them).  Rather than hold up a sign voicing my protest for this inhumane slaughter of magnificent creatures, I'm looking for logical and sustainable alternatives to the problem.  Once an answer is found, then it can be brought to the representatives in power.  If they cannot (or will not) do anything regarding the issue, then I could get into politics myself and begin to push my agendas.

Is this easy?  No.  But in order to win the battles that matter, we have to play the game.  It's not a perfect solution, but it's much better than what options people have in other parts of the world.

Another Blah Apple Product

AppleTV Set Top BoxApple is slated to release their AppleTV box any day now, and I'm curious to know what kind of fanfare this item will receive.

The TiVo has been out for years.  Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition has been available for years.  The incredibly versatile Cedia has been out for years.  What value will Apple bring to the table?

Personally, I don't think this will catch on as much as some media hype outlets want us to believe.  Apple is notorious for building closed systems, and not working with existing industry standards to make a truly superior product.  When the iPod was first released, it would only work on Macs.  A year later a Windows version of iTunes (the application) was released and the other 95% of all computer owners could go and buy a sleek little device for playing their digital music.  And then shortly afterwards the iTunes store was brought online, but you must have an iPod in order to make use of these services.  Heaven forbid someone owns some other music device and wants to give Apple some business on iTunes, because they won't be able to use any download.

Microsoft and Tivo have had years to get their foot into the living room.  Most of the people that have wanted to have some sort of digital device for their television have already picked up media computers and integrated them into the home networks.  These machines are customizable and run on standard equipment with easily replacable and upgradable components.  Should a video card or hard drive fail after a few years, most people could bring this in to the neighbourhood computer store or repair it themselves.  What will Apple offer?  More closed hardware that appears to be little more than an over-glorified mATX motherboard?

Apple had a hit with their iPod, I'll certainly admit that.  But their MacBook is nothing to write home about.  Their iPhone is nothing more than a Treo, CrackBerry or iPaq with a bigger video card, happier graphics and no thumb keyboard (which is the only thing I like about it).  AppleTV is just another "blah" product.

If this box is going to stand out from the rest, then it should have something truly powerful and worthwhile.  I could see this being far more desirable if it had some sort of home automation program like Lifeware.  It's built right into Media Center and can control your house lights, appliances, etc (when configured).

Unfortunately, Apple does not believe in the word "partners".  Everything they do, they do alone.  This is one of the reasons AppleTV will likely flop, and the iPhone will be exposed as a ridiculously expensive personal accessory that is not worth half it's weight in plastic.

Yawn.

A ZetaByte By Any Other Name Would Be Just As L33t

According to a study recently completed by research firm IDC, the amount of data stored by computers and media has reached 161 ExaBytes (161 billion GigaBytes, or 272,340,572,418 CDs).  According to this report, the world's data will soon surpass our storage capacity for the first time in history.  By the end of this year they expect 255 ExaBytes to exist despite our theoretical global capacity of 246 ExaBytes.

Words cannot describe how vast this amount of binary data is.

If that's not enough, we can expect the world's data to increase by a factor of six over the next three years.  As a software developer and database engineer, this is absolutely incredible.  I am curious to know just how much of this information is "unique data", though.

In the world of peer-to-peer downloading, a single 200 MegaByte episode of some TV program could be found on 50,000 computers.  That single file would be using 1,000,000 MegaBytes of storage across all the machines.  Of course some of these files could be stored on CD or DVD (or any number of other storage mediums), but it is still a massive amount of duplication.  Corporations make backups of their databases on a nightly (at the very least, I hope) basis, and these archives can easily reach tens of TeraBytes (1 million MegaBytes) of storage in the span of anywhere from a week to a year.

Of course this does raise a question ... how long until we stop being so wasteful with our storage?

Right now, storage is cheap.  I happened to see a 320 GigaByte hard drive on sale for $99 CDN at a local computer retailer, and recordable DVDs are also very inexpensive and superb for longer-term storage.  Personally I have almost 3 TeraBytes of storage on my network and archived DVDs.  Much of this data is stored in several other places on the planet.

So this makes me wonder about the potential of some centralized storage area that everyone has access to.  Of course, the word that comes to mind is "Google", but I really hope this is not the company to take over the world's data.  There are several constraints to having a central globalised data storage system, of course.  Bandwidth would certainly be a problem, as would copyright restrictions.  Lord knows that quite a bit of the 161 ExaBytes of data is pirated material.

For the moment, I don't think we'll see such a rise of global centralized storage, though.  But home network storage systems are starting to catch on, and this is a great tool for households and communities to share common data.  Transmitting something over a personal network is a heck of a lot better than downloading the same information to several computers.

By 2010, IDC expects the world's data to reach a ZetaByte.  I hope to reach 6 TeraBytes before then.

No Sleep Tonight ... Thanks National Geographic

Insects are fascinating.  These creatures are able to withstand abuses that would kill an ordinary human, and can adapt to circumstances faster than many species in other classes.  They've been on the Earth millions of years before the first humans emerged from the jungles of Africa, and will likely be on the Earth millions of years after we leave.

Vespa MandariniaTonight I decided to watch a documentary produced by National Geographic called "Insect Wars".  As the name suggests, the topic discussed was how different insect species around the world go to war for their various purposes.  One of the species covered made my skin crawl like no other ... the Vespa mandarinia (Asian Giant Hornet).

Normally I do not have a problem with insects.  Spiders the size of my thumb can be crawling on my leg and I'll calmly knock them away.  Bees can be probing my skin looking for some form of sucrose and I will not break a sweat.

Giant hornets, however, are a different matter.

Several years ago I had seen one of these while on a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.  Luckily, it was dead and in a glass box with several other sub-species of the Vespidae family.  These things were massive in comparison to any flying insect I had seen up until that time.  The closest thing Canada has to offer in this size category for "flying things" is a bird.  While Wiki says that these hornets top out at 45 mm (1.5 inches) in length, they looked twice that size in the glass case.

I was terrified enough as a youth to completely forget that these things thrive in Japan ... until National Geographic told me.  If that's not enough, roughly 40 people die each year from the stings these creatures can inflict.  Of course the people that do have a fatal reaction to the venom are highly allergic to all bee and hornet stings, but that's not the point ... it's the principle of the matter.

I hope to spend most of my adult life in Japan.  I'd love to travel all over the country and see everything with my own eyes.  It would also be incredibly satisfying to visit several of the mountain regions in China and Korea where these hornets command and conquer.  But after seeing what these things can do in high definition, I wonder if it would be better to stay in the more populated areas of these countries, or just remain in Canada.

Naturally, I say this in jest.  Avoiding a country just because of the local insect life is comical for a species that claims to be at the top of the food chain (and these bees are apparently made into a type of sashimi by some of the Japanese locals).  But that doesn't mean I'll do the same thing that this guy did.

I have great respect for all forms of life on this planet.  I'll just hope these hornets respect my personal space if we are ever in the same place at the same time.

Impressions of the D-Link DIR-625

After three days with this D-Link, I will never go back to Linksys.

I must admit that my impressions of D-Link's devices has been grossly out of line with reality.  I don't know when their quality improved to the point that it has, but it's a welcome sight after the month of horror with all those other routers.  This DIR-625 has been able to easily keep up with all the machines and user habits on my network, even during the most demanding of times.

The other day there were three people playing Rise of Nations via wireless connections against several opponents online while I was watching a rather large HDTV encoded documentary directly from the NAS.  There was never any hint of lag, or even a warning message in the system logs of the router.

I have never been able to claim this even when I was running the custom firmware on my initial WRT54G.

So far the people here have put this router to the test with excessive Torrents, intensive network gaming, streaming large videos from the NAS, and large data transfers to the very same network storage ... all at the same time.  We have not encountered one problem.  My previous devices would have been overloaded by this amount of simultaneous usage.

To anyone looking for a great wireless router with 802.11n capabilities, I strongly recommend this product.

<end sales pitch>  :wink: 

30 Countries!

Much respect to Davide Pozze and his Global Translator plugin.

With this handy little tool, this site is available in 10 languages through the Google Translation services.  While there have been a few hiccups over the last few months (includng Google's random temporary blocking of the feature), I must admit that it has helped me achieve the 30 country mark.  That is to say, that at 21:41 PST, a real user from Venezuela viewed my site.

I say a "real user" because if I were to include all the bots from the various countries around the world, I would be at 44 countries (anyone else know where Mauritius is?).

Considering how this site lacks any real focus and it's mainly just a collection of my random ideas (Dj Tiesto's latest CD, Elements of Life, is his best) and various bits of information, I never expected to have such a varied group of visitors.

I hope that I've been able to provide a little info or a slight diversion to everyone that's come, and I look forward to seeing what countries and peoples I can entertain in the coming years.

Less than Two Weeks to Shutdown Day

How many people are going to take part in "Shutdown Day" this year?

The idea behind this expiriment is to see how many of us can go without a computer for one day.  Many of us have become incredibly dependant on them, and most of us don't even realize just how much of our lives have changed because of the integrated circuit.

The site talks about just shutting our computers off for one day, and some people are taking it further.  In the forums there are participants from all over the world that will refrain from using electrical devices altogether.  Some will just stay away from computers and television.  And others say that they cannot go without their computers or electronic devices for various reasons.

Unfortunately, I'm in the latter group.

Shutdown Day is slated for March 24th, 2007.  Because this is a Saturday, many people can take part in this without their jobs interfering.  Heck, even I could get away from the computer for half the day without much trouble.  However (here comes my excuse), I use my computers for so many purposes that it would be almost impossible to go without for a single day.  In order to talk to Reiko I need my 100% computerized phone, or my 100% computer.  To read most of my books I require my HP iPaq (perhaps this is a good reason why digital books are not very popular).  To listen to music I require other electronics.  Heck, there's even a computer in my stove and fridge.

Many people have iPods, or cars manufactured with computer-controlled engines, PlayStations, Nintendo DS's, even talking teddy bears ... the list is seemingly endless.  In the last 50 years, we have successfully inserted computers into anything and everything.  So for many Westernized citizens, I don't think we could realistically go without our computers (be they PCs, or just computer-enhanced devices) for any real amount of time.

A day or two?  Sure.  Longer?  Probably not.

If Reiko and I were married and living together, then it wouldn't be as hard to go without touching my notebook (or any PC/Mac) for a whole weekend.  If we were on vacation somewhere, then I could even get a film-based camera and leave my trusty Canon A540 at home.  These would not be huge stretches.

But unfortunately, until that day comes, I need my computers.

Holding Out Hope for D-Link

Over the last few weeks I've written some posts about the troubles that I've been having with various Linksys routers, and today was the day that I officially removed all Linksys devices from my network.  Over the last few years I have sworn by this company, having had problems with some of the other competitors out there.  There have been print servers, NAS devices, wireless routers, firewalls, and repeaters on my home network since 1999, and I have aimed to ensure that everything was always manufactured by Linksys because of the quality and ease of use each hardware device had.  I know that there are better devices out there, but the consumer line of devices made by this company has typically been above the competition.

Until recently, that is.

In previous posts, I've ranted about problems with the WRT54GS (version 6) and the WRT300N (version 1).  I've been through two of the GS models and a 300N in the last 4 weeks.  The last solid device, a WRT54G (version 3) gave some very good performance with the factory firmware, followed by superb performance with Sveasoft's Alchemy.  Unfortunately, that device's LAN ports died, which prompted the replacement.

To summarize the failures of the Linksys devices, both the WRT54GS routers would consistently drop a network connection.  It did not matter if the computer was running wired or wireless, the connection would often drop every 20 minutes to an hour.  When running more than a single torrent, the router would often kick the offending computer offline.  At first, I had thought this was a network driver problem on my PC (my notebook has a known issue with older drivers and WinXP SP2), but this was not the case.  When running Slackware, WinXP Pro SP2, or Sun's Solaris, I could never remain on the network for more than a day.

To say this was infuriating would be an understatement.

The WRT300N was a little better, in that I could allocate DHCP addresses (which is pretty important to me).  This device gave superb wireless transmissions when it wanted to work, and would let me run up to four torrents simultaneously before succumbing to some dumb failure.  I did attempt to use the Sveasoft Talisman/Basic firmware to correct the matter, but unfortunately, this does not seem to be ready for full-time use.  The install went perfect, however, configurations would often be incredibly difficult to implement.  I would often be greeted with a blank screen after trying to make changes, and found that my requests would never be executed before the white screen.  To that end, I re-installed the factory firmware and prepped the device for a return to the store.

So, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to give D-Link a try again.  I have worked with these on several occasions in the past, but never on my own network.  In the past I had found the web UI to be very weak and lacking in functionality.  Luckily, the newer routers do not have these limitations.

I picked up a DIR-625 after exchanging the WRT300N, and quickly made my way back home.  Future-proofing is always a consideration when picking up new hardware, and judging from a few review sites, this router is pretty solid for everyone.  What I didn't understand, though, was why I was having so many troubles with it after getting the unit home.

Only my notebook was plugged into the LAN port of the router when it was first powered up.  The web UI was quick and easy to understand.  I had the unit configured with my standard SSID, WEP, DHCP allocations and port accesses within the space of five minutes.  Then I plugged my router in to the WAN port and tried to configure the device for internet access.  This is when I started running in to problems.

The router picked up the DSL modem (a D-Link, no less) and was assigned the standard "unrecognized MAC IP" that Telus provides when an unregistered MAC device connects to the modem.  This usually is not a problem as this means users are automatically forwarded to the registration page when they access the internet.  Unfortunately, this didn't happen for me, and the router decided to give me a "gateway is measuring your connectivity" messages, saying that I would be directed in a moment.

This never happened.

To add insult to injury, my wired connection was being reset by the router every 60 seconds while it measured.

At one point, I had let the router try and measure my connectivity (which was nil) for half an hour while on hold with D-Link tech support.  I feel sorry for the guy that answered my call.  I did maintain civility and discussed the matter with him as politely as possible, but it was clear to him that my frustration had reached a boiling point.  After another half-hour on the phone, the issue was not resolved and I decided that enough was enough, thanked the tech for his time and ripped the power cord and CAT5 cables from the router.  I'm sure that my neighbours heard my explicit shouts as I came to terms with yet another failure in my network.

I just expect things to work.  Just because I'm a programmer working with both software and hardware doesn't mean that I want to spend my weekends at home struggling to get simple consumer-grade equipment to work in some consistent and dependable manner.

It was at this point that I called Reiko and talked with her for a bit.  I'm really lucky to have met someone like her.  It seems that whenever I'm upset, she is calm and I can relax and return to normal.  Shortly after our chat, I reconnected the router and decided to try again.

It worked.

Perfectly.

The modem was plugged in to the router.  My notebook was plugged in to the router.  It was the exact same configuration that had been in place for the past three hours of frustration.  Only now, I could register the router (modifying it's reported MAC addy did nothing, as this was the first thing I tried).  Once this was done, the router went and talked to the D-Link servers to measure my connectivity and report back that a newer firmware was out for my model.

So it's my guess that the router was stuck in some repetitive loop because the modem said that it was connected to the internet, but Telus' MAC registration requirements were preventing the unit from talking to its home servers.  Fun?  Wow ....

Suffice to say, the unit is now up and running.  I'm able to get some great speeds from my torrents as well as the NAS.  The radio strength is superb.  And best of all, the router has some meaningful status pages.

Hopefully this unit will give me many years (at least 2, please) of solid use.

300 Lives Up to Expectations

Spartans.  Impossible odds.  Raw testosterone.  Unblocked naked breasts (female, of course).  What more could a guy want from a movie?

Since hearing about this movie, everyone has known that it would be 95% war and 5% back-story.  We were not disappointed.

Frank Miller's 5 issue graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Comics almost ten years ago, and I remember reading this shortly after moving into my first apartment.  The story line is pretty simple:  Persians approach Greece with plans of global conquest, and Sparta is but one of a few states that try and prevent it.  The movie barely strays from the original.

There's plenty of blood, dismembered body parts, CG animated enemies and sceneries, and even a few sex scenes.  While I wouldn't recommend this kind of movie for anyone that can't handle excessive death, blood and gore, this is a pretty enjoyable movie.

Rather than get into the details of the movie, I would suggest watching it.  To quote some of the reviews I've seen elsewhere; this is made of win.

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