New Server

When I attempted to upgrade my old Rackspace server to Ubuntu 12.04 I found some incompatibility between syslogd and the kernel that cause syslogd to use all the CPU resources all the time. That is how I discovered that I was using a Rackspace-provided kernel instead of the Ubuntu one.

So after finding the problem difficult to fix I discovered that Rackspace are renting new OpenStack based servers and I could get more memory and disk space for about the same money. I’ve also organised this new server a bit better, for instance by using etckeeper, and kept better notes.

Why bother with a virtual server at all when a simple web host would be cheaper and easier to maintain? Good question. This way I get to play at running my own server, and also install obscure software on it and play with ssh tunnelling and permanently connected IRC clients. In other words it is mainly for my own amusement. I wouldn’t recommend it if all you want is a server to run WordPress on.

Budget Android Phones

My dad has expressed an interest in smartphones, but he doesn’t want to spend much money. In theory this is possible.

The trouble with budget Android phones is that a typical user is likely to be less tech savvy. People like me are happy to shell out large sums of money for the best devices. But low end users are less likely than tech savvy users to be able to cope with the drawbacks of current budget devices. These tend to be slow, laggy and stuttery, and have small screens, inadequate displays and less than responsive touch screens. All these things confuse non-tech savvy users because their mental model of the phone does not include invisible, behind the scenes processing. Tap an icon and nothing happens? The natural thing to assume is “I did something wrong”, get frustrated and tap it again. By which time the phone has started to respond and that second tap starts some other confusing behaviour.

In fact, a less tech savvy user is likely to be better off with something like an iPhone because it guarantees all of the above will never be a problem. But these are expensive.

It is only a matter of time, though. The Huawei Ascend G300 has a decent sized screen and a decent CPU. This could be the breakthrough phone. If not, a year from now I imagine the situation will be greatly improved.

Inside Facebook

I just caught the last half of a documentary about Facebook, which was fairly decent despite being on the BBC. This link should show you when it’s repeated:

Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook TV Schedule

Decent in that I learned something about the various business models that I didn’t know. And the journalist talked about technical details of a subject I understand without being wrong, which is rare. And it wasn’t a hatchet job about the dangers and risks and general awfulness of Facebook and business in general.

In fact the criticism of Facebook was pretty weak. If I “like” a company on Facebook, it can pay to display adverts to my friends that say, “Rob Fisher likes [company]“. This could be construed as using me in an advert without my consent. Or maybe not. The documentary did not seem to have a strong opinion.

And there were academics interviewed who made arguments such as: by keeping in touch with more people, we are having fewer close friendships. Well, anyone can tell for themselves whether that is true, and whether it is a problem.

But the best bits were the bits explaining how Facebook makes money. This included a demonstration of the information available to someone creating an advert. The example was a product for brides, and showed how various filters could be applied (“female”, “engaged”, “interested in beauty”) to see how many people would see the advert. This looked powerful. But not as powerful as the use of Facebook to talk to customers. This segment concentrated on companies’ attempts to get people to leave comments on their pages so that the comments get shown to friends, thereby generating a kind of word-of-mouth advert.

It strikes me that the best way for a company to use Facebook is to let your employees have real conversations, like real people. The documentary didn’t really go there, unfortunately.