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May 2007 – Stephen Skory

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Month: May 2007

Opening Yellow Flowers

Opening Yellow Flowers

Quicktime movie, 1.50mb, 25s playing time
150 frames, 1h 40m, ~40s between frames
near my apartment
May 28, 2007
Recommended: Large Version, 1000x665, 17.91mb

Because there is so much going on here, I find it's nice to look at just one flower open up at a time. As the overcast conditions gave way to sunshine, intermittent clouds covered the sun, which lead to the change in brightness during the movie. As is the case with many of my time-lapse movies, the higher resolution version is well worth the download. Of course, either version is much better than anything you'd see on YouTube.

I also took some close-up images of the flowers, and the honey bees patronizing them. A couple of the bees had very impressive collections of pollen on their legs.


Site5 Could Be Better

Site5 Could Be Better

A week ago I saw a posting on digg about how Dreamhost sucks. It got me thinking about the problems I've been having with my account with Site5. Let me say that at no point has my experience been anywhere as bad as the one described in that link.

My hosting plan is on a shared webserver. Here is an informative page about my machine, named iaso. It has four Intel 2.8Ghz Xeon processors, and four gigabytes of RAM. It runs Linux which is a solid server OS.

My big problem are periods when this very website is unresponsive. There are lots of other websites on the same computer. And by lots I mean on the order of 600 websites:

-bash-3.00$ cat /etc/passwd | grep -v nologin | wc -l

The number of users with logins is not a one to one list of websites served, but it's probably a good estimate. All it takes is one of the 600 users with a bad webpage to clog up the machine.

Below is a plot of the load level for iaso over the course of 15 days last month. Without going into specifics, a load level of one means that there is one process needing a processor at any given moment. It will be many different processes, and that's fine. Practically, a machine can stay responsive with up to about a load of three or four per processor. So, on a four processor machine like iaso, a load level of 10-15 is about the highest comfortable level.

What you see above are many occasions when iaso went well above load levels of 25. The highest peak was a load of 230. In my experience, once the load reaches 25 my website becomes more than slow: it doesn't work anymore.

For comparison, below is a plot of the same thing on one of the nodes of the supercomputer I use, Datastar. This is the node where scientists do heavy-duty analysis on their datasets. For instance, I use this node to process my multi-gigabyte datasets using IDL. People also run Mathematica and other very computationally intensive tasks on this machine. It's got 32 1.7Ghz Power4 processors and 256GB of RAM (what do you have on your workstation, huh?). It runs IBMs AIX 5.3. As you can see below, for the first four days, the load level stays below one process per processor. In the fifth day something happens and it goes above 60 for a while, before the machine gets rebooted and things return to normal.

The kind of processes that run on the two computers above are very different. However, the supercomputer is supposed to run big jobs and get beat on. A webserver isn't. Anytime the webserver's load goes above 25, it's like the supercomputer's load shooting to 256. At no time did the supercomputer shoot to 256, while the webserver goes above 25 many times. Of course, I'm comparing 15 days to 5 days in the two plots, but I think the differences are clear.

Site5 pays a third party to monitor their webservers, with results listed here. iaso has 99.8% uptime overall and 99.4% over the last month. This is bad enough that apparently I'm due a 5% credit on my next billing cycle. iaso isn't even living up to Site5's own service standards.

Every time I catch my website being slow, I contact Site5 tech support. I know that this is a common problem with shared hosting. I'm sure that Site5 is aware that these outages, and does what they can when they happen. But, when it does happen, it's annoying. It shouldn't happen in the first place. Sometime this summer, Site5 is changing their hosting solution which may help with these problems. We'll see.

Ethics Course

Ethics Course

I guess the UC system has been working it's way down the ladder of the compensation scandal hierarchy. I thought they had forgotten about that sweetheart deal I gave to absolutely no one. I finally got my invitation today to learn how to stop myself from doing absolutely nothing again. I've decided to include you with me as I clean up my act. Off we go!

Page 1: What? No pig latin? Utbay tsiay hatway mIay ostmay omfortablecay ithway!


Page 2: It's our President, Robert Dynes, with a video message. From the video it's clear he's not used to the talking head bit. His eyes are a good 15 degrees away from the camera the whole time. My favorite part is when he says 'I liked it' when referring to taking the ethics course himself. If he really did enjoy it, he's disturbed.

Page 3-5: Blah blah blah. Introductory text, a short outline of the course.

Page 6: This reminds me of Dilbert comics I've seen before. The last one below has me thinking - when was the last time a graduate student really felt like their dignity was being respected? I suppose in the end we only have ourselves to blame since we got ourselves into this mess.

We are committed to the following principles:

Integrity. We will conduct ourselves with integrity in our dealings with and on behalf of the University.

Excellence. We will conscientiously strive for excellence in our work.

Accountability. We will be accountable as individuals and as members of this community for our ethical conduct and for compliance with applicable laws and University policies and directives.

Respect. We will respect the rights and dignity of others.

Page 7-8: I'm given the "Standards of Ethical Conduct." In summary, except for the financial reporting bits, it's pretty much the same thing you might get in your high school welcome book. Respect others, respect yourself, do right for yourself, snitch on others. That sort of thing.

Page 9: Oooh. We're finally getting relevant to me now. We're going to follow the ethical decisions of "Edna ... the Business Manager of a large department." This describes my position and responsibilities as a physics graduate student.

Page 10-13: Uh ohs, Thuvan (a name I've never heard before) is taking perks from hotels. Thuvan schedules large conferences and chooses hotels which will receive this business. Thuvan is spending all day hanging out at hotels getting free food and services. It looks like Edna has to talk to her about following ethics rules.

Edna and Tim

Page 14-17: A professor just got a big grant, and wants to hire the department chair's wife for a position, but without doing a proper job search. Tim wants to play along so there's no trouble from the professor, but Edna knows better. It looks like Edna has to sit down with another employee. Notice the slick graphics to help me visualize the situation.

Page 18-22: A professor has found a desirable, young and grant-rich researcher at another institution, and would like to hire her. But in order to do this, her salary would be higher than university standards. Oh no! Do we follow the rules or "make a secret promise to raise the salary in a year?" We follow the rules, of course.

Page 23-45: I'm going to be nice to you and speed you over the rest of Edna's ethics situations. She really has got a bunch of lousy employees. The only things I learned that apply to me are: Don't steal lab equipment (no one will notice a super computer missing, will they?) and don't gossip to the media when your lab-mate gets arrested (I'll just do it anonymously, guys).

Page 46-48: Just use common sense, dammit! Well, it didn't say dammit, but it should have.

Page 49-51: Here they're just insulting me. They give an example of a campus gardner who used what he learned from an online ethics course in a few sticky situations. They're attempting to show that even low-level employees have ethics choices to make. But even here, this gardner has more power over facilities and purchasing decisions than I do. I want them to give the example of an employee like me that applied what he learned. The problem is, I have power over nothing. No one is going to put me in a sticky situation because I have nothing to offer in return.

Page 52: Regent Parsky gives me a video message thanking me for taking the course. No, thank you Regent Parsky.

Page 53: An offer to provide feeback and a certificate of completion!!! Whew. Now I feel validated. This is going up in my office so everyone knows my ethics are unreproachable.

Congratulations to you if you read this far.