Sunday, March 18, 2007

Work and play...

The last week seems to have flown by. I completed the preview copy of the dub from Arabic to Farsi and the film is now being reviewed by one of the satellite TV stations to be put out over the air. Another friend working in Iran is very keen to have a copy as soon as possible.

In between completing the dub there has been a plethera of little things to do, discussing with Peter about the new upgrade to the email system, the SMS phone system and the failover system... [which was failing over when it shouldn't have been!] Actually the one that was most painful to sort out was the failover system.

So what is the 'failover system' I hear you ask. Basically because our systems have to work 24 hours a day 365 days a year we have two servers for most of the tasks that we need only one for and we have some clever software that says 'Use this server if you can, but it you cannot use this other one'. Sounds great
in practise but configuring this system is a tricky business and for some oddball reason it was switching over to the backup when it shouldn't. I looked through all the configurations and checked everything and it was just being 'ornery' as the Americans put it, which means it was not behaving as we wished.

The configurations were difficult to wade through as I needed to relate the configuration files on four separate servers. Eventually I decided to re-write all the configuration files and [in my view] make them more logical and easy to read. And... yes, so far it worked the failover system is now working 'as advertised'.

The SMS phone system has also been causing us grief. Ever since Christmas it has been getting increasingly unreliable. By that I mean we have had to restart one or more phones every 12 hours at least. We consulted with the manufacturers who said [like they all do] 'We don't have these sorts of problems normally...' and then in passing mentioned there was new firmware for the phones that 'might fix it'. We installed the new firmware and it does appear [so far] to have fixed it.

The email system upgrade is a major undertaking. There are two parts to it: firstly making our system more compatible with other systems and secondly reducing the spam coming in to the system. Peter has been working on it for nearly a month now. He has completed the first part and working on the second part which is far from trivial.

I spent most of Friday talking through with him and looking at the configuration for a system called 'greylisting'. Blacklisting is where you say 'never ever send me email from this person'. Whitelisting is where you say 'always let me have email from this person'. Greylisting is where you say 'I'm not sure about this person, check out that its a real person and not a spam robot sending it'. Greylisting works because real email servers will try again and again to deliver but spam robots try once and give up, so basically for greylisting to work you log the email and then say to the incoming server 'please try again later'. If they do its a real email ad we accept it, if they don't then we're sure its spam!

They say 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' and in between all this work I have been over the last two to three weeks stripping the varnish off the boom, mast, gaff, rudder and centreboard of my little mirror dinghy and then revarnishing them and repairing parts of the mast where a friend had a little accident with the dinghy last year. Now I'm longing to sail her and hopefully next weekend if the weather is good I will be able to have a day sailing.

This afternoon I went for a wander to my favourite place in Larnaca... the marina, where I can drool over the larger boats and dream of the one I would love to buy. The marina is somewhat empty at the moment as many of the boats are 'on the hard' [ie dry land] being repaired by their owners. There is one thing that is certain about all types of boat... you are constantly repairing them.

One boat that I have been watching for the last 9 years is called Windsong registered in Littlehampton in the UK. Its a 44 foot long wood hull ketch and has been very sadly deteriorating steadily over the last decade, although the owner has done a small amount of repair work during that period. It looks a boat in desparate need of TLC. Her masts are at the state where you don't need to rub off the varnish, the sun and wind has done that already. The deck and cabin too have been at the sharp end of the elements.

So what makes Windsong so special? She is the only surviving David Hillyard sailing yacht to take part in 'Operation Dynamo' - and one of the very few pure sailboats. Operation Dynamo was the name given to the flotilla of 'little boats' that evacuated the British troops from Dunkirk. Which, of course, gives her the right to fly both red and white ensigns... and there is not another little boat up this end of the Mediterranean who has that right!

Built in 1931 it is interesting the sailing technology of the day. We don't see an autopilot at the stern to control the rudder but a wind vane. This keeps the boat at a constant direction relative to the wind rather than a constant direction. Of course the modern autopilots can do both and even tack the boat for you, but it's facinating to see how the old mechanical systems used to work. The mast has steps up it to make climbing easier rather than using a bosuns chair and a halyard. I would love to see inside and see how the cabin is laid out and the navigation was done.

I just hope this dear old boat is not allowed to deteriorate further and is restored to her former glory and actually enjoyed as a sailing boat again.

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