Really Fast Storage idea

WARNING: Ultra-geeky sysadmin nerdishness follows. Tune out now if the phrase “random sustained throughput” doesn’t seize your attention.

Texas Memory RamSan-440

I just came across the Texas Memory RamSan-440, and found it to be kinda silly. It’s a NAND (new-style flash) RAID array which will do “600,000 IOPS, 4,500MB/sec random sustained external throughput and latency under 15-microseconds” at a price of (USD) $150,000 for a 256GB model.

This seemed so ridiculous at first sight that I immediately wrote up and costed the problem of doing the same thing My Way. This is what I ended up with:

The ThorneSAN is a 4RU box, probably built in the chassis of some existing 12-slot RAID doohickey. It contains:

  •  A small RAIDed SATA disk array. Say 2x320GB disks in an R1 setup.
  • Some bleedingly fast NICs, probably Fibre Channel.
  • Lots of 4GB domestic-grade RAM modules. Say a hundred, for starters.
  • Some very very fast RAID/NAS smarts (Note: this could potentially just be a fastish PC).
  • An internal UPS. Maybe two, for redundancy. Should provide power for the device’s maximum load for long enough to write to every byte of the built-in hard drives and shut them down cleanly.

You put all that RAM into specially made banks of ten modules each, each of which goes in a drive-slot, so that you can pull them out to replace faulted modules. The RAM can be addressed at full speed through multiple conventional PC northbridge controllers. Because it’s domestic grade, you address it with its own internal RAID logic, to handle sporadic errors.

On boot, the device reads the contents of the RAID-1 disk pair into the huge memory RAID disk. Thereafter, all NAS operations are performed against this disk. The machine maintains its own table of ‘dirty’ blocks which have changed since they were written to the hard drives, and writes them back asynchronously. The async part is important: The hard drive is allowed to fall behind, including falling so far behind that the entire RAM disk is ‘dirty’. That’s what the UPS is for: in the event of a power failure, you should always have enough time to write all unsaved changes to HDD.

For argument’s sake, I’ve worked this out based on CPL’s price for 4GB DDR2 PC2-5300 modules: $105, and an estimate of $4500 for the controllers, chassis, and SATA disk pair. These memory modules should be able to comfortably sustain a read-write bandwidth of 2.5GB/s, so a ten-controller RAID array of them should make 20,000GB/s, with seek times under one microsecond (plus any interconnect overhead).

I’d expect this device to cost about $15,000.

…so in the end, I’m left puzzling: Where do Texas Memory piss away the other $135,000? And moreover, why NAND? What is flash memory gaining them here?

WarGames bogglement

This post could almost just be a link, to a Wired article I just read, but that would mean missing out on the chance to say how this film made me a geek, like no other single influence. I mean, I could blame/thank the Commodore 64, the Apple II (and the Victorian Department of Education’s love of it), or my old friend Lance. I could give due credit to the nuns at my primary school who put me in charge of the school’s computers because I knew how to plug them in, or to the IT geeks of Korner who inexorably bent my directionless generalism towards computer science during my first year at Monash. It would all be somewhat untrue though: WarGames was there first and and is still the definitive influence. WarGames told an awestruck, terrified kid that computers were going to run the whole world soon, if we didn’t nuke ourselves first.

Still, the Wired article was cool. The stand-out points for me:

  • The ‘Falken’ character in War Games was originally modelled on Stephen Hawking.
  • The commander of NORAD, and the NORAD command center under cheyenne mountain (which later so dominated Star Gate) was based on the actual NORAD command center and then Commander, who spoke to the writers when they were writing the screenplay.
  • The article points out that ‘Wardialing’, precursor to present-day ‘Wardriving’, was named so as a direct reference to that tactic’s appearance in War Games.
  • There’s some rather nifty commentary from Cap’n Crunch and Kevin Mitnick.
  • The tidbit that John Lennon, no less, was approached to play Falken, just before his murder.

A signal quote:

William Lord, Commander, Air Force Cyberspace Command: It was a great movie! A few years later, I was an executive officer with the Air Force Space Command stationed at Norad near Cheyenne Mountain. And I’m wondering, “Gee, where can we get such cool-looking displays?” It was a good forcing function. It required us to all of a sudden say, “If it really can look like this, why doesn’t it?”

Stark Raving Fanboy

Warning: The Following Blog Post May Contain Traces Of Hyperbole.

WatchmenFirst, if you haven’t read Watchmen, go, buy it, read it. It is one of the best things I’ve ever read, unquestionably the finest ‘comic book’ I’ve ever laid hands or eyes on.

Second, if you’re not familiar with the recent work of Zack Snyder, I recommend 300. Note that this is also a treatment of a ‘comic book’.

Third, and where I find myself descending repeatedly into cackling fits of demented fanboy anticipatory glee: Have you seen the trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen?

OMG! I find myself at a total loss to say anything coherent about it. No, wait, it’s a fabulous example of a movie trailer: It’s set to original music (not recycled O Fortuna or similar), they call it a teaser yet it introduces lots of central characters and some actual spoken lines. It manages to convey the scope in space and time of the plot, and it characterizes the mood and feel of the story fairly well.

But mostly, I keep watching it because it’s full of fan-food eye-candy. Visible proof that some difficult bullets have been bitten, just right.

Dr Manhattan
…now I just have to wait a year.


Alarming Clocks

For some time now, E has has three highly noteworthy alarm clocks (only two of which are currently in use)  purchased to circumvent the eternal problem of The
Snooze Button:

  • The Earth Shaker 116db pink loveheart.
    This alarming looking thing is the Alpha alarm-clock: It beats up other alarm clocks and steals their harems. It’s just impossibly loud, with a tunable alarm pitch so you can find the type of noise that best drills into your head. The bed-shaker is also disconcertingly effective. A traditional alarm-clock that goes up to 11, this thing only has two potential issues: 1. It doesn’t seem to keep terribly accurate time. 2. The brilliant technicolor glowing numerals may be too bright to sleep in front of for some.
  • The Helicopter.
    FlayAlarm Image from
    The alarm goes off, and the top of the (battery powered, screwed shut) alarm clock literally flies away. It is then impossible to snooze or stop the alarm until you find the top bit and put its keyed butt back into the clock… or unscrew the battery hatch and remove the power-source. The alarm tone itself is a nice trek-esque klaxon noise, but the sensation of something suddenly spinning shakily at many RPM not too far from your head is also a powerful inducement to wake up. Cons: 1. Battery life is actually really good, but a vital alarm which can go flat is still a minor irk. 2. The savagery which this alarm can induce is detrimental to the somewhat fragile rotor and key assembly. The rotor itself is replaceable, but the key mechanism can break too. 3. This clock turns out to be susceptible to autonomic snooze-button-slapping, provided one’s reflexes are fast enough to pre-empt lift-off.
  • The chimes.
    A gentle alarm. If you’re susceptible to quiet-but-attention-grabbing alarms, this is ideal, with its wind-chime-like tinkling.

But lately I have seen a truly silly number of novel alarm clocks on the various fora I frequent, and decided that it was time for my own round-up of these sado-masochistic toys/tools.

A Response to Doctorow’s ‘Outquisition’

This is all about a particular BoingBoing post which I found particularly irritating. I would have posted something in the comments, or on the site itself, but in either case:

  1. I don’t fancy debating this with some of the more extreme foam-lipped loons who seem to inhabit either forum.
  2. The sheer volume of commentary in either forum would drown me out (yeah, I’m a selfish egoist; this is my blog.) and I shake with fear at the thought of the tsunami of follow-on emails.


The Outquisition idea glosses over a lot of intractable real-world economic and social problems, and, as many, many commenters observed, is vastly arrogant in its assumptions about ‘knowing better’ than everyone else.

A more honest, somewhat less arrogant take would be to create a ‘technology evangelism movement’.
This leaves out the naive and pompous idea that new technology can solve everyone’s problems, or that blogging tech-groupies are somehow smarter than everyone else.

Instead, it focuses on the traditional role of the religious missionary: to take some dogma and shiny beads and go use the beads to spread the infectious memes, even (especially?) where they’re not currently wanted or needed. The engadget/BB-gadgets crowd already do this without really thinking about it.

Consider, if you will, a yuppie with a new iPhone, traveling out of his trendy urban home to visit his parents and their friends, trumpeting the virtues of his new toy from the rooftops at every opportunity. The yuppie can list a dozen reasons why an iPhone will change your life and solve all your problems, and he has the technological shiny-beads to dazzle his listeners with.

The dynamic is just the same: the new dogma brings with it a world of complication and ritual which ultimately costs the new converts more than it gives them, destroys their existing skill-sets, culture and traditions, and leaves the newcomers as second-class citizens in the promised land anyway. Those who refuse to adopt the new ways are abandoned, spurned.
The new community absorbs things like access to work and traditional support networks, leaving the outsiders to fend for themselves, often effectively driving them out of town.

To be fair, I would have to point out that I am a devout follower of the cult of tech. As a sysadmin I may even qualify as some kind of clergy. I draw the line, however, at gratuitous evangelism. I find the idea of missionary crusades downright offensive.

This kind of evangelism smacks of insecurity, a desperation to thrust ones own interests on the world and make them mainstream, thus avoiding the question of whether they have any merit.

Just because I’m into it doesn’t make it right.

The Brain Trade, A Technicolour Nightmare

Last night my sleep was weirdly disturbed, the kind of sleep where it seems like one never actually goes to sleep, with plenty of muzzy uncomfortable memories of cracking an eye open to see the alarm clock saying something disturbing. I must have slept somewhat, because I was quite chipper when I actually got up.

The problem wasn’t the seeming insomnia though, it was the recurring stop-start nightmare:

Brain Transplants (including a small amount of spinal cord and the eyeballs) are commonplace. The surgical technology to do such a transplant has become so widespread, and so simplified, that some very scantily qualified ‘surgeons’ can perform it.

After the surgery, the only way to tell a ‘transplant recipient’ from the body-donor is that their eyes may look different, and may be quite inflamed and sick-looking due to being an imperfect fit in the new body’s sockets. The skull incision is hidden almost immediately by a slick plastic surgery technique.

At the same time, it’s extremely simple to keep a removed brain ‘alive’ in a jar of special oxygenated brain-nutrient solution. The brain in these circumstances has no sensory connections but vision, and that only straight ahead. You can see out of the jar, and you can think, and that’s it.

So, want a new body? All you need to do is persuade someone to swap, or to sign a statement agreeing that they want to be placed in a jar.

This isn’t (for some reason) about longevity or eternal youth, as much as it’s about the ultimate identity theft, the ultimate voyeurism, the ultimate sibling rivalry…

For the full effect, I’ll re-cast it with you, as I saw it:

Your partner comes home acting strangely one day. Their mannerisms are all wrong, and they keep staring at you with a really odd expression. They seem a little uncoordinated.

Slowly the reason for this dawns on you. You don’t know who the new person is, but for a long time they refuse to admit their crime, laughing off questions about where your partner is, and what state they’re in;
“I’m right here!”

Then your sibling comes to visit. You’re quite sure that they’re still the same person they always were, but they’re acting strangely too: they keep trying to get you by yourself, and they won’t show you what they’ve got in their hand. Your memory lapses: one moment you’re walking down a corridor, your sibling behind you, the next you feel numb and cold. You can see a dirty little room which has been pressed into service as a ‘surgery’. Beyond the glass you can see yourself, looking back in, with bloodshot eyes, lips moving but no sound coming out, that you can hear. In fact, it’s perfectly silent.

After a while, the other you leaves, in the company of someone you don’t recognise. They turn off the light, leaving only dim sunlight seeping in through some curtains.

Hours pass.  Days.  Weeks.
All you can do is watch, and think. You can’t even sleep.

Eventually, person who has your body comes back. They’re with the person who has your partner’s body. They both look terribly sick, grey and wasted, their eyes rimmed with flakes of dried blood.

One of them laughs bitterly, then holds up a notepad, one hand-written page at a time, on which they explain to you: The ‘surgeons’ have a secret. When they take your money, they fail to mention that the anti-rejection drugs only work for a month or so, at best. Then rejection slowly kills the new brain and the ‘donor’ body, in a massively painful way, over the course of several days.

They have come here to die, and all you can do is watch.

This takes several days.

Your partner comes home acting strangely one day….

E was somewhat disturbed when I woke her up to ask if she was the real one.

Some other book memes

In response to Dave’s comment on my last post, I’m going to do something positive, rather than just bagging an out a fun-looking meme for being mythological in origin, like a grumpeh bastard.

1. JFS’s meme: (roughly) Take any one work from the ‘Big Read’ meme list, and either defend it or attack it.

Turns out it’s hard to take just one… I winnowed it down to a list of four, all in favour:

  • Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  • DUNE – Frank Herbert
  • Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  • The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy- Douglas Adams

But after much agonizing I decided to go with Hitch Hikers, since it likely has the least pre-existing readership of any of these.

42The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is a book which must still hold some twisted kind of record for being (if I can use the phrase without cringing) genre-defying. It’s surreal, arguably post-modern. It’s a gateway drug for those with an aversion to F&SF, despite also being an elaborate parody of the genre. This book is at least a third of the reason I did a major in the more self-absorbed parts of philosophy.

As Purplexity can attest, HHGTTG is a book you may even have read if you publicly proclaim that you don’t read science fiction books.

Suitable for a stunningly wide age spectrum. It was a (at least one, very strange and different) radio play before it was a book. Since becoming a book, it has also been an Infocom text adventure, another radio play, a BBC TV mini-series, a picture book, an online encyclopedia, some more computer games, some stage shows, a major movie, some comic books, an infinite number of cultural references, an online translation service, a radiohead song, an instant-messaging tool and a Google search result. It has been appreciated in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Spanish, Turkish and Ukrainian, among other languages.

It’s a wonderful book, it’s not very long, and it won’t try to sell you anything.

I’m trying to be positive here, so I didn’t choose to rubbish anything from the list, but I probably wouldn’t have anyway: There are works on that list which I don’t like at all, but none I feel I have anything like the authority to criticise.

2. What highly awarded F/SF novels have I read? (in bold)

  • Dune, by Frank Herbert (N65, H66)
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K Le Guin (N69, H70)
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven (N70, H71)
  • The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov (N72, H73)
  • Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C Clarke (N73, H74)
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K Le Guin (N74, H75)
  • The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman (N75, H76)
  • Gateway, by Frederik Pohl (N77, H78)
  • Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre (N78, H79)
  • The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C Clarke (N79, H80)
  • Startide Rising, by David Brin (N83, H84)
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson (N84, H85)
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (N85, H86)
  • Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card (N86, H87)
  • Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis (N92, H93)
  • Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman (N98, H98)
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (N02, H02)
  • Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold (N04, H04)

ZOMG! So many breathtaking, awesome books in that lot!

I keep meaning to read The Disposessed, getting about half a chapter in and getting distracted by something shiny…

I have to admit though that like Dave, I haven’t read any of the four listed as awarded by teh brits:

  • Take Back Plenty, by Colin Greenland (A91, B90)
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (A98, B97)
  • The Separation, by Christopher Priest (A03, B02)
  • Air, by Geoff Ryman (A06, B05)