Lent Upon

So here we are again, at the start of Lent, and the focus is on renunciation of worldly desires – chocolate, caek, drink, meat – we give up something for a few short weeks and gain karma or self-awareness or … well something.

I have always found there to be something dubious about the concept of treating Lent as an exercise in self-discipline. Temptation abounds 365 days of the year, simply ringfencing a part of the calendar and adding some additional temptations seems more an affectation than an engagement with the numinous.

Fasting during Ramadan teaches awareness of the body and the tension between body and soul, giving up sweets during Lent just makes one tetchy.

So this Lent whilst I will be treating my own views with the disdain they richly deserve by giving up sweets and chocolate and those delicious lard butties I will also be tasking myself with posting something here each day. To focus my mind on Lent as a time of self-examination. 

And to take my mind off of those delicious lard sandwiches…

Castles in the Cloud

Let’s start with a simple question – I give you a pound to look after for me. How much would you spend of your own money on protecting that pound?

Less than a pound? A pound? More than a pound?

You have almost certainly gone for the first option. After all if you lose the pound then the most you will be out is one pound so why pay more?

Ok, but what if you are a bank? You expect to be looking after lots of money so you build vaults, employ guards and build processes. All of this costs significant sums of money but there has to be a chance, small though it may be, that at any moment in time you may just be protecting one pound with all this security and investment.

So what about cloud computing? I put a “pound’s” worth of data into the cloud. How much are you going to spend protecting my data?

People sometimes pitch to me that they are like “a bank for data based in the cloud”. And then I ask them what they do to prevent bank robberies…

So your data is in the cloud, and that is nice, it is accessible from anywhere, it is transparently backed up. Everything is wonderful, and then the bank goes out of business. What happens to your data then?

I once had someone telling me about their wonderful cloud based data bank service which lots of people had bought. I asked them what would happen if they went out of business. Oh, they said, no one has ever asked us that question before.

If your organization has a contract for cloud based data storage – back up, live use, whatever – I strongly suggest you find out the answer to that question if you do not already know!

So your data is in the cloud and you have proper governance arrangements in place in case the supplier goes bust. All is fine. Until suddenly someone mentions aggregation.

Aggregation is the principle that the more of something you have then the bigger a target it becomes and the greater the consequences are of loss.

Back to money again, if I put a million pounds in the bank vault then the Willy Sutton principle applies. If I leave my million pounds scattered in piles of one hundred then the risk to me is that I lose at most one hundred pounds, if the vault is raided then I lose all one million.

The same with data, finding data in most organizations is usually a matter of luck. It is hidden in emails, shared folders, private folders, EDRM systems, databases etc. Data loss or theft tends to be of individual documents and any sensible risk management policy segregates data access to minimise the threat of some one person having access to all the pieces.

But now we are putting them all into the cloud, all in one place. Ah, hello Mr Sutton.

Part of the problem is that our security model remains essentially medieval. We build a vault, we put our treasure in the vault, we post guards around it. We need a different model in the cloud age, one where security is embedded into the individual atoms of information.

And atoms of information is a good way of thinking about the potential implications of bringing some of these individually innocuous but collectively explosive nuggets of data. People may recall in the early days of chip and pin some tills would print out the last 4 digits of your debit card number, some would print out the first 4 digits, and some the middle digits. Individually, each piece was of little threat, collectively… Hello empty bank acount!!

You might just want to spend some time going through your last bank statement…

Hotter than heat

It is hot. 25C according to my thermometer, though it feels hotter than that to me as I have a fever at the moment. I pulled a muscle in my arm and my body has ramped up my metabolism to repair it, hence the fever.

I can think of at least one friend who will laugh at loud at the concept of 25C being hot!  To them 25C is barely warm.

We all respond to heat differently but we all live in the human heat range, which is between –40C and +40C. It may be slightly warmer or colder at times but the vast majority of our existence is spent in that 80 degree range.

The coldest possible temperature is Absolute Zero, –273.15C. or 0 degrees Kelvin. The hottest possible temperature under physical laws as we currently understand them is the Planck temperature or 1.41679 x 10^32 degrees Kelvin.

So we humans live at 273 degrees Kelvin +/- 40 degrees Kelvin. Or 0.000000000000000000000000000001% of the range between lowest and highest temperatures. And right down at the bottom, frozen end.

Which makes sense because we are made of matter and matter is just chilly energy :).

So given that we occupy such a small range of possible temperatures, right down at the cool end of the spectrum why am I so hot?!

“Le silence éternel des espaces infinis m’effraie”

The rain runs down the window, trying but failing to obscure the gaudy lights flickering like ignis fatui above the blackened heart of the brooding city outside.

As I reach for the coffee cup, my hand trembling slightly, I watch the small people on the screen. People speaking words I have spoken, adrift in the same deep dark waters that lap around me; lost souls in a city of lost hope.

And my head fills with thoughts of my mad wonderful genius friend and her amazing films and her excellent book. (Recommended by CNN :))

And then I put on my hat and go off in search of the occluded secrets of the Capitale de la Douleur

More Selective

I am a big fan of Last.fm. It has introduced me to music that I would not otherwise have come across and it has basically replaced all but Radio 3 in terms of music stations for me.

While listening to it the other day my eye was caught by two statistics which Last.fm gives you about artists – the number of listeners and the number of tracks played. So Pylon who are playing in the background at the moment have 117,314 plays from 10,673 listeners, giving a ratio of nearly 11 plays per listener. This got me wondering about how this compared to the wider world. 

Obviously the baseline is a  band which has just one play and one listener. Hmm, I think I might have seen them supporting Boots for Dancing. So the lowest you can go is 1.

Now you could have an obsessional fan who only plays ooh The Prats and does so day in, day out so you could get a very high ratio without it meaning anything so there should be a landscape where you want a high ratio but not too high, lots of plays and lots of listeners.

So what does my world look like?

Biosphere 17.96
Brian Eno 19.57
Ferenc 4.53
Lali Puna 15.31
Loscil 11.80
Pan American 10.54
Pylon 10.99
Talking Heads 18.89
Wire 17.82

So apart from Ferenc they all sit between 10 and 20.

But what about “popular” bands, what do they look like?

Well Coldplay have a ratio of 48.80, Girls Aloud 23.74 and The Killers 40.98. So does this mean that Mark does not like any music which scores over 20? Well Interpol hit 41.42 so nope.

So does this mean anything or is it just an exercise in stats? No idea, just a way to kickstart my brain this fine new year.

Oh and The Prats? 3.62.

Techno Tips Number 1

Well it’s Christmas and it’s Hanukkah so I suspect that lots of you got exciting new presents, techno presents. So to round things up here are some helpful hints and tips.

1. MacBook Touch Pads

The latest MacBook touch pads support multitouch so you can use more than one finger at a time. You can find find a helpful overview here.

But they also work with Google. You can raise the PageRank of a page on Google by using a thumbs up gesture, similarly thumbs down will lower the PageRank. This only works if you are logged into Google and using their new social search rank feature.

2. iPhone

The iPhone 3G has GPS and a tilt sensor. This means that it will automatically flip the screen direction when you cross the equator going from northern hemisphere to southern or vice versa. This only works if it is on when you cross the line so it will not work on planes.

3. Vista

Vista has a feature called SuperFetch. This speeds up the loading of frequently used programs over time by learning those applications you most commonly use. This is very handy but what if you don’t use the same applications day in and day out? Well you can then tell Vista to forget things sooner. Just create a text file in your ‘Documents” folder called <name>DohDohDoh.txt where <name> is your name, and in that file just put one line “ForgetItFaster=TRUE”

An Adventure of Keats and Chapman

I inflicted this on staff in my Department so now it’s your chance, oh Internet.

A virtual prize for the right answer and the first person to name the writer I have so poorly pastiched.

Keats and Chapman had travelled to the Lakes in search of peace and the possibility of artistic inspiration, at least that was Keats’ idea. However the weather had been terrible and the inn where they were staying was notable only for its leaking roof and the vileness of its beer.

The two friends had grown irritable and it seemed that the trip would produce nothing but bad feelings and ill temper. Then one morning the sun came out and the sky was cloudfree for the first time all week. Keats and Chapman set out into the morning for an early walk.

They walked to the nearest lake where they found a rowing boat in the care of a local child. Negotiating feverishly Keats managed to secure the hire of the boat and he and Chapman set out across the water. With only a single pair of oars Chapman found himself doing the rowing. Keats sat in the prow of the boat and watched his friend’s exertions with interest, calling out pieces of advice from time to time and making a range of comments on Chapman’s style of rowing.

‘Can you not row any faster?’ said Keats.

Chapman complained that the boat was heavy, indeed very heavy.

Keats began to look about the boat and rummaging in the bottom of the boat he found a large household brick. Looking around he picked it up and threw it into the lake where it instantly sank.

Chapman was still having trouble with the boat and it soon became apparent that water was leaking into the boat and weighing it down. The flow of water increased and it was with some desperation that the two friends tried to get the boat to shore. The flow of water was such that it was very hard to steer the boat and Chapman’s efforts at rowing seemed doomed to failure. But with one final effort they made land.

Standing on the shore, panting heavily. Keats looked down at the waterlogged boat and with a supreme effort said ‘As ye seep so shall ye row.’

The question is did the waterlevel of the lake go up, down or remain the same after Keats threw the brick in? And why?

Makes you think #1 – oh am I guided or is life for free?

There are two schools of thought – either we have free will or we don’t. Fine, but why do people argue that we do not have free will?

After all if they are correct then there is no point trying to convert the rest of us. We are all preprogrammed.

So by arguing that there is no such thing as free will they in fact reveal their implicit belief in free will. Therefore their argument collapses.

QE and indeed D

When my Mac stands next to my Mac

Having a spare moment and idle hands I decided to try and network my Macs. I have an old PPC Mac Mini and a new Intel iMac. The Mac Mini had been sitting in the cupboard for a while so I connected it to my TV and decided to see if I could use it as a simple disk sharer for my network with one or more external disks connected to it.

1. I connected the Mac Mini to my network via wireless, so 11Mbps. My iMac is connected via 85Mbps powerline IP.

2. I upgraded the Mac Mini to OSX 10.5 Leopard and connected a Western Digital My Book 500Gb external drive via Firewire. The Western Digital drive was straight out of the box and formatted FAT32. I used the Sharing tool in System Preferences to add the Mac Mini hard drive and the My Book to the shared disks list.

3. FIRST PROBLEM – No matter the settings whilst I could connect from the iMac to the Mac Mini and see the internal hard drive I could not see the external My Book. Googling revealed that the problem is that Leopard will only share OSX formatted external disks. So I used Disk Utility to reformat the My Book.

4. Success. I could now see and connect to the My Book.

5. SECOND PROBLEM. I could see and connect to the Mac Mini drive and the external drive but any time I tried to write to either drive I got an error message “The operation cannot be completed because you do not have sufficient privileges”. I checked the settings, my account had full rights, I even added “Everyone” to the list and gave them full rights. No joy.

I tried repairing access rights, no difference, I could see the drive but I could not write to it.

I pondered and then wondered. The Mac Mini used to be my default Mac so when I bought the iMac I had used the transfer tool to copy over my account. Perhaps there was a clash somewhere between the two accounts – one old and one new?

So I renamed my account on the Mac Mini from “John Doe” to “Johns” and then added my iMac account name to the user list under “share drives” with my iMac password.

I remapped the drive and success, it worked. So watch out for that if you have migrated accounts from one Mac to another and then want to access the drives on the old Mac.

Of course wireless networking has some significant performance issues –

XBench for Firewire 400 WD My Book 500Gb via wireless:

Disk Test 2.01

Sequential 1.23
Uncached Write 0.62 0.38 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 2.54 1.43 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 1.35 0.40 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 1.98 1.00 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Random 5.51
Uncached Write 3.31 0.35 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 4.76 1.53 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 56.76 0.40 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 5.10 0.95 MB/sec [256K blocks]

XBench for 1Tb WD My Book Essential connected via NSLU2 USB port on same 100Mbps switch as iMacDisk

Test 9.37

Sequential 5.96
Uncached Write 2.99 1.84 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 8.63 4.88 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 7.52 2.20 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 11.31 5.68 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Random 21.98
Uncached Write 18.46 1.95 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 16.05 5.14 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 60.80 0.43 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 20.37 3.78 MB/sec [256K blocks]

So next step is to powerline the Mac Mini but not until I have had several large drinks.


I connected the TV Mac directly to my HomeHub and retested using the Ethernet link between the machines:

Disk Test 2.64

Sequential 1.68
Uncached Write 0.94 0.58 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 2.89 1.64 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 1.62 0.48 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 2.80 1.41 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Random 6.19
Uncached Write 5.68 0.60 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 5.20 1.66 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 60.76 0.43 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 3.82 0.71 MB/sec [256K blocks]

When my fox stands next to your hedgehog

I was musing again on the joys of project management yesterday and was talking about project reports. Does anyone actually read project reports? Aside from when you are at a project board meeting and want to “contribute”?

Foxes are too busy leaping from shiny bauble to shiny bauble whilst hedgehogs read the report, ponder on it, check their assumptions and the evidence base, ponder some more and then wait for the right moment to contribute, by which time the project is long since gone. 🙂

That’s why I am now looking at blogging projects as a way of making them live, real and connected.

And yes Zara, I do read project reports!

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