Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seriously what's the point?

Guy Building A Working (Yes, Working) Computer Inside A Video Game | Techdirt

I know I'm not a gamer, which could be why I don't get the point of this, but seriously, what is the point?

Wouldn't it be better to build a real one from discrete components?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Naive Navitaire: Virgin on the Ridiculous part two

Following my 30 or so hour delay on a 90 minute trip, I've been investigating this failure a little bit. I guess I am still unsure how a single server failure could take out a major Australian airline for a day. Then there are the questions about why they don't have better backup and manual systems in place.

There is a bit more information around since my earlier post, Virgin Blue updated its press release on Monday afternoon says:
"We are advised by Navitaire that while they were able to isolate the point of failure to the device in question relatively quickly, an initial decision to seek to repair the device proved less than fruitful and also contributed to the delay in initiating a cutover to a contingency hardware platform."
and Virgin Blue and The Register reports that the failure was in a Solid State storage array.

So basically, the SAN array died, Navitaire guys thought that they could fix it that didn't work and it took them 21 hours to get the backup system working in its place (or to get the hardware replaced and the data restored I'm not sure which). I am flabbergasted that a service provider that at services every Australian Airline and another 70 or so airlines around the world could have such a terrible response to the failure.

From what I can gather around the net the New Skies System is based on .NET and I presume some sort of SQL back-end. This sort of setup lends itself very well to redundancy via data mirroring and load balancing across a group of servers. So why wasn't there a redundant data server sitting there ready? Early quotes (that I can't seem to put my hands on now) indicate that Virgin Blue have a "cheaper" back up solution than Qantas, that should have kicked in within three hours. Obviously 21 hours is a lot longer than 3.
A Virgin Blue spokesperson told iTWire that Navitaire was supposed to have a parallel system in place and in case of disaster this would go live within three hours. However, it did not actually come into play until almost a full day after the first incident.
But why? I guess we'll possibly never know. There is however one thing that I know, if Navitaire did have that backup system working within 3 hours then while I would have probably been delayed it certainly wouldn't have taken more than 30 hours for me to get home.

So for that I say screw you Navitaire! Where is my compensation?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reverting & Arguing with already merged revisions in SVN

So for the last few days I've been merging a crap shoot of a collection of features that have intermingled revisions and a whole bunch of interdependencies.

This lead me to the point yesterday that I had to revert to an earlier version of the branch I've been working (and in the process lose an afternoon of work) so that I could merge another feature that had lots of changes I needed.

After eventually remembering how to go back to a previous version (Merge 2 different trees and select the From Revision as the latest revision on the branch and then select the To Revision as the version you want to go back to) I discovered another problem, I couldn't get the revisions that had already been merged to cooperate and re-merge into the branch because subversion thought that the revisions where all in there already.

After some unsuccessful searching on the net and trawling Stack Overflow I couldn't find anything useful. So I went off and poked around a little more before it occurred to that I could probably edit the properties on the branch. So I opened up the properties via the Tortoise SVN menu as shown to the left. And discovered there was a field that holds the merge history, svn:merginfo. The mergeinfo tag is organised by source branch and revision.

Once I'd found this it was a simple (albeit tedious) process to remove the revisions that I wanted to re-merge from the list and it was all good, they once again merged properly. Hope this tip helps you guys out.

Oh and I know that we should move to Git or Mercurial (aka hg) but it is going to take a while to get the whole company on board.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just hit 1000 page views on my blog

Pageviews today
Pageviews yesterday
Pageviews last month
Pageviews all time history

With Virgin Blue to thank for the last 50 or so views that pushed me over the edge.

More background on Virgins IT Systems

Check out this article from May this year discussing Virgin Blue's IT infrastructure.

Virgin on the Ridiculous

Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Sydney back to Melbourne but like around 100000 other jet setters on what is apparently the third busiest air corridor in the world I spend a leisurely six hours at the airport. Two to check into my flight and then 4 sampling the excellent gourmet fair of the airport food court and the lovely community atmosphere generated by several thousand grumpy people in a confined space. The $12 worth of vouchers that Virgin Blue (VB) kindly provided me with secured a pie and a coffee.

Anyway, this post isn't about venting (ok well maybe a little bit) but more an under informed investigation and discussion of the last 24 hours.

Navitaire: Virgin Blue's* Services Provider
I managed to discover last night that VBs service provider for its reservation system is Navitaire and after a little poking around it seems that they use the Open Skies system. A look around the Navitaire website reveals that all of the Australian airlines use the same system. As the outage affects all aspects of the VB operations that the Open Skies system would handle it seems of little doubt that the outage is related to the Navitaire system. It would also seem that each airline has its own servers etc running the Navitaire software other wise more of the airlines would be affected.

As someone that used to work on a critical business infrastructure product, corporate telephone systems, I have experienced first hand at work the business impact that downtime on one of these systems can have. Our system was supposed to be five 9s reliable, which means that the system was supposed to be down for a maximum of 5.26 minutes per year or 6 seconds a week, including scheduled upgrades etc. If there are no further outages this year then VBs flight reservation system is currently running somewhere around 99.7% reliability. Through a combination of factors we once caused a customer outage that lasted around 7 minutes and where forced to compensate in the order of $50 million.

In light of the high costs associated with downtime our systems had redundancy and lots of it. We had high availability (HA) servers that ran in pairs, you could shoot one and the other one didn't skip a beat. Then if they both failed another set of servers could take over, if the network suffered a large scale outage, servers at each site could take over the calls for the local phones.

So one of the big questions that needs to be asked is "where is the redundancy?" Where are the backup servers located in another location? Why is there not replacement server on standby ready to jump in and run from a current back up of the data?

I hope that at some point in the future we get analysis of the failures so that we can work to avoid such incidences again in the future. While it does seem that Navitaire is the culprit in this instance I'm moving on to talk about VBs handling of the situation.

Information Flows and Transparency
Let me just start out this section by saying I don't blame this on the people at the front line, the customer service folks that managed to, for the most part, maintain the smiles. They are doing a brilliant job. What is not working is the information hierarchy, it was evident that the staff were quick to pass on any and all information that they received but they were evidently not getting enough information and what information they were getting could not be effectively communicated.
  1. None of the display boards at the airport where updated. They were still showing the flights that where supposed to be going etc as if everything was running according to plan. We all know that even on a good day planes are delayed, cancelled etc and they should be able to reflect such changes on the boards quickly and easily.
  2. The website updates where too slow. I left for the airport four hours after the system went down because there was nothing on the website to say that I shouldn't. As soon as I arrived at the airport people where told that all non-essential flights should be postponed and to get out of the airport.
  3. Dissemination of credit and refund policies, I'm still not sure what the polices are!
  4. Change the messages at the call centre, I didn't need to spend an hour on hold to be told the system was still down. How about having a message at the start telling me that nothing could be done?! Or having that play instead of the "Your call is important to us" malarkey!
  5. You have email and phone details for a lot of the customers, use them! The only way I am finding semi-current information is Twitter. Check out the search for the latest. This morning I did find out that you would call or SMS people to let them know their new flight details. How about email as well? That could be easily automated!

I think I am done for now, I am sure that more things will spring to mind. But in the mean time Virgin Blue needs to be told that it is not what crises you face that defines you but rather how you respond to them and their response currently leaves a little to be desired. Studies have shown time and time again that customers will come back to a company after a failure such as this as long as the companies response is well handled.

On that note I am off to attempt to work from my mothers house on a tiny screen!

* I wonder as I write this whether I should be using Virgin's Blue as the plural of Virgin Blue.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I recently rediscovered my youth. It made me sneeze.

This is an awesome editorial on the the Hardy BoysTHE HARDY BOYS THE FINAL CHAPTER. . . it turns out that the author of the original 21 books despised them and wrote better prose when complaining in his diary than he did in the books themselves.

But you know what as an 8, 9, 10 year old it didn't matter to me one iota, I enjoyed reading them, I recall being curled up in bed reading them 'til the wee hours of the morning. A couple of years ago when I moved house I rediscovered one of the old books and, like the author I was a little disappointed by the books, but you know what? I still read the thing cover to cover before going to bed.

So despite the fact that the author despised the books and had little control over the content, he needed the pay cheque, and banged out 21 of the books to get the cash. The only thing that maintained his sanity was the fact that he wasn't allowed to tell anyone that he wrote them.

Anyway, if you enjoyed reading Hardy Boys as a kid you'll enjoy the article linked above.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ebay needs to make it nicer to buy multiple items from the same store

So today I bought two items from an Ebay store. Seems straight forward enough really. But it generated 7 emails!

I get enough crap in my inbox already. I can understand a couple of emails. But 7 seems way over the top. Why do I get a "Congratulations you won item.... " email for each item I purchased? Why do I get a shipping notification for each item from Ebay AND another one direct from the company (which if you'll notice was actually posted tomorrow... spooky)?

Surely this could be integrated together a bit. How about giving the seller the option to update everything with one email?

And I don't need to be told I've one an item when I wasn't bidding, but rather just purchasing the item. There wasn't an option to bid it was a "Buy It Now" only type item. It doesn't make sense.

Here endeth the rant.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why can't we all just get along?

Hawking has again created quite a stir, this time with an article, titled "Why God Did Not Create the Universe", in the Wall Street Journal. The article was adapted from his soon to be published book "The Grand Design".

I encourage everyone to go and read the article and then go and read the comments. It is the comments all 1293 of them at the time of writing that have inspired this blog post. There is a lot of arguing and posturing from either side of the debate, both religious and scientific zealots rule the comments.

But what I really want to know is, why can't we all just get along?

Why does it matter if a coworker prays to Mecca and is currently fasting his way through the daylight hours? 

Why does it matter if another is always in Church on a Sunday morning? 

Why does it matter that I don't think God exists?

None of this matters, either you're a good person, with strong and sound moral values or you're pure evil, or you are somewhere in between!

Everyone exists somewhere on the continuum between good and evil and belief (or lack there of) in a particular religion or philosophy has no bearing on where a person sits on this scale. There are very very bad people of every race, religion and creed around the world just as there are good. The sooner people realize that a religious affiliation has nothing to do with values or how 'good' a person is the better off the world will be. 

Tolerance is what we should all be teaching. Tolerance and acceptance of everyones right to believe what ever they want to believe.

That is all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

I've now apparently read over 40000 RSS Items

Thats pretty crazy! tells me that it has been 146 days since I started using Google Reader and that works out to be around 276 items a day!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Memristors are now being commercialised

And so with HPs announcement of ReRAM we have entered the next phase of Memristor technology, Commercialization! This should lead to cheaper and faster memory for all our device needs.

Memristors or resistors with memory are 10 times faster and uses 10 times less power than Flash memory chips commonly used in portable digital devices. The device also has greater memory storage and requires less space making it ideal as memory chips and even hard drives.

HP, Hynix To Collaborate On Memristor Memory Technology -- InformationWeek

HP, Hynix To Mass Produce Memristors - International Business Times

I'm looking forward to these coming out in 2013.