Since Christmas 2000, I've held an annual barbecue for the local open source hackers. In
2010 things were a little different: I had offered my PDP-11 to Alastair Boyanich, and we
took the pickup date as a reason to start an expedition from New South Wales
to Dereel. As a result, we spread it over
three days. Amusingly, Alastair couldn't make it, so I still have the PDP-11. The
following is (initially) an extract from my diary, but may grow.
The weekend of the Hackers Barbecue started early with the arrival of Sue Blake in Ballarat
at about 9:30. Had the sudden realization that we would have 10 people for breakfast, so in
to pick her up and get some “ordinary” breakfast food. What do people eat for
breakfast? It's one of those national secrets, and it's been so long since I've had
Australian-style breakfast that I didn't know what to buy. Sue was no help: she's a
vegetarian and currently not very well, so she can't even eat the things she likes. Ended
up buying some plain bread for fussy kids and a few more eggs for Peter Jeremy's cakes, then
off to look for ghee, which has become very
expensive. Some discussion about whether there's a difference in taste between traditional
ghee and the clarified butter that you can buy in the supermarkets, and which they now label
Back home, started cooking some food for tonight. Not only is Sue a vegetarian, but the
other two guests for the night, Jashank and Peter Jeremy, are Friday vegetarians, so we
decided on Indian food, despite reservations: Peter's wife Usha is Indian, and they eat a
lot of Indian food, probably better than what I could serve. Ended up making Alu Masala, Kali dal and spiced green beans, and also started making some
Masala Vada and Alu Tikka for tomorrow.
That was enough work in itself, more than I remember (this always happens to me). In the
middle, Peter and Jashank showed up, having been through
the Great Ocean Road in record
time, so decided to postpone tomorrow's stuff to tomorrow morning. Fortunately the weather
has picked up—the highest temperature we have had all week was 17.6°, but today we had
26.3°, and it was quite pleasant on the verandah:
The food seems to have done the trick too: on our way back from Ballarat Sue had said
something to the effect that she may not eat anything all weekend, but in fact she really
got stuck into the Kali Dal. The others also seemed to like it, though I wasn't completely
satisfied myself, but I suspect that we could have done with more rice.
And so to the day of the barbecue, the biggest we have ever held:
Things started off with fun. Jashank had pointed out to me that the display on the internal
unit of my WH-1081—something I never
look at—was indicating “battery low” on the external unit. Out before
breakfast to change the batteries, which are conveniently jammed in so that you need a
screwdriver to get them out. Things worked fine, but the “low battery”
indication continued. Then it occurred to me: I had put in some brand new rechargeables,
which are nominally uncharged. Back out again, put in some others—and I got no
response from the unit. 20 minutes of debugging: was it the battery? The outside unit?
The cabling? Things were helped by the fact that I had a second inside unit that I could
take outside with me. Put in a second outside unit with the same result, and finally
discovered that you (normally) have to reset the inside unit when you change the batteries
in the outside unit. I wonder if the thing generates a random code, and the inside unit
latches on to the first one it finds. That would be a more honourable explanation of the
lack of a channel setting.
That proved the validity of my approach to data storage, though: I had a whole lot of
outside temperatures of -0.1°, and I was able to set them to NULL with a couple of
SQL statements. Now if I could find a way to convince Wunderground to change the stored data.
As expected, of course, the numbers gradually dwindled: Sam Lawrance chickened out at the
last minute, and Edwin Groothuis came alone, and did not intend to spend the night—our
10 people for breakfast tomorrow have dwindled to 6, for whom we bought 2 loaves of bread.
We had planned three tables for the main barbecue, including a quarter of the old conference
table from the Kreditanstalt für
I had left some of the cooking until this morning, and Peter also had a couple of cakes to
bake. Ended up doing my stuff on the “dining room” table:
Callum had also obligingly stepped forward as Grillmeister, though we weren't able to
satisfy his request for tasteless aprons with fake breasts on them. I thought bushfire
protection overalls more appropriate, anyway:
Our worries about feeding and seating everybody were unfounded: Callum's children preferred
to stay indoors (little Owen was afraid of the bees outside, but I saw him carrying a very
patient Piccola around inside), so we ended up with “only” 15 people outside,
and even had a couple of seats empty. Others who showed up were Juha Kupiainen, Lawrance
Stewart (a bloke from Melbourne who is currently working on TCP congestion control) with
Warren, a friend of his whose surname I forget, and Peter Ross, a German whom I knew from
some mailing lists, but I didn't know that he has been in Australia for 8 years, and is
currently in Melbourne. He came by bike from Ballarat.
People have been talking about my flaky satellite connection for years, and IPStar didn't disappoint them:
Start time End time Duration (seconds) from to
1271467723 1271468277 554 # 17 April 2010 11:28:43 17 April 2010 11:37:57
1271468470 1271468661 191 # 17 April 2010 11:41:10 17 April 2010 11:44:21
Date Outages Duration Availability Date
1271426400 2 745 99.14% # 17 April 2010
Any improvement I had in the middle of last month seems to be over: the average availability
since I've had the service is 99.12%. And my ISP has sold its satellite operations, so I
fear I'm in for more bad service.
The beer went down well, of course, and Callum finished a keg. We went and looked at the
old hardware—originally the reason for the barbecue was so that Alastair Boyanich
could pick up the PDP-11 (under the antenna in the first photo), but Callum thought that he
should take the Control Data Cyber 910 as well (second photo):
Interesting box—it's a network accelerator, as near as I can put it. Edwin
demonstrated the operation, and sure enough, it worked as expected, accelerating the
download of an MP3 from 30 kB/s to about 3 MB/s—by caching. That in itself is nothing
world-shattering—Squid can do that. The difference here is that the appliance (can't they find a
better term?) recognizes common data wherever it turns up, and then saves it to disk. That
sounds very much like what Alan Kennington and I were talking about years ago:
At the time I had told him that it was crazy to put a disk in a network stream.
The real issue is how difficult it is to demonstrate something like that. You need to show
speedups in situations where current software can't cope. And from my point of view, I'm
interested to hear the implementation details, whether it works like rsync or like blocklets.
People were interested in the beer as well, of course. I'm not brewing anything at the
moment, but I showed the ingredients I had. And Jenny looked up to the ceiling and found it
infested with Indianmeal moth pupae. Off with a can of fly spray to hopefully kill
them. They're pretty well wrapped, and I should remove and crush them:
Most people left round dusk, and in the end we were the same group as last night with the
addition of Juha, who had been offered a bed at Chris' place, but he decided he'd rather
sleep on the floor here than find his way over there late at night. But then he remembered
his cat allergy and ended up sleeping in his car.
Before that, however, we spent some time playing around with cameras on the verandah:
Tried to connect up my Mecablitz 40 CT to Juha's camera. Problem: he doesn't know the
maximum flash trigger voltage for his camera, so I decided to do it with my radio-controlled
remote trigger. That doesn't work properly either: it has enough effect on the flash that
the charge light goes out, but apparently not enough to fire it. I wonder what's wrong
It looks like Catmint, but it doesn't
have the scent, and the flowers have long since faded. Peter tells me that the orange spots
are Harlequin beetles, though that term seems to be applied to many and varied beetles.
None of the ones I've found look like these.
Spent the rest of the afternoon processing photos—with the help of Jashank, Juha and
Peter I have the largest collection I've ever had for a weekend, a total of 335 images (not
including the components of HDR images), and nearly 6 GB of data:
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypa) ~/Photos 753 -> for i in 2010041; do ls -1 $i/*.jpeg | wc -l; done 13
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypa) ~/Photos 754 -> du -smc 2010041 525 20100416
Processing the “Mongolian Hordes” panorama was fun, and not completely
The cannas growing out of Juha's
head reminded Yvonne of
a Botticelli painting, though she's
not sure which. But I wonder how to manually frob the individual images to get rid of that
kind of artefact.
Uploading photos wasn't made any easier by extreme network congestion and more satellite
Start time End time Duration (seconds) from to
1271547788 1271547876 88 # 18 April 2010 09:43:08 18 April 2010 09:44:36
1271550444 1271550481 37 # 18 April 2010 10:27:24 18 April 2010 10:28:01
1271590286 1271590390 104 # 18 April 2010 21:31:26 18 April 2010 21:33:10
Date Outages Duration Availability Date
1271512800 3 229 99.73% # 18 April 2010
I didn't get everything uploaded until nearly 18:00.
We still have lots of leftovers, of course. Called the Yeardleys over for dinner and
finished the marinated meat and some leftover cold sausages. We still have a number of beef
and vegetable skewers and far too many sausages (about 25). But things could be worse.