Google Disaster Recovery Paper in ACM

Via Tim Freeman (@peakscale) on Twitter, this very interesting paper on how Google handles disaster recovery planning and testing. Best quote so far:

When the engineers realized that the shortcuts had failed and that no one could get any work done, they all simultaneously decided it was a good time to get dinner, and we ended up DoS’ing our cafes.

They explicitly prevent “critical personnel, area experts, and leaders from participating”, and are prepared to take downtime (and revenue loss) as part of it. They also exposed some interesting issues that wouldn’t have come to light anyway (as these things inevitably will do):

In the same scenario, we tested the use of a documented emergency communications plan. The first DiRT exercise revealed that exactly one person was able to find the plan and show up on the correct phone bridge at the time of the exercise. During the following drill, more than 100 people were able to find it. This is when we learned the bridge wouldn’t hold more than 40 callers. During another call, one of the callers put the bridge on hold. While the hold music was excellent for the soul, we quickly learned we needed ways to boot people from the bridge.

There was also the time they were running low on diesel fuel for a generator and didn’t know how to find the emergency spending procedure, so someone volunteered to put a 6 figure sum on their personal credit card. Probably would do wonders for any air miles they were accruing that way!

On a more whimsical note, there was one comment in the article that attracted my attention, saying:

most operations teams were already continuously testing their systems and cross-training using formats based on popular role-playing games.

gives pause for thought, if it was Call of Cthulhu I could imagine:

I’m sorry, but your data centre has just been eaten by Shub-Niggurath and your staff have all run away or been consumed by her 1,000 young. Take 5 D6 SAN loss and roll on the permanent insanity table.

Though perhaps Paranoia would have been a more appropriate choice, plenty of troubleshooters needed there I suspect..

A Week or so with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus

After a couple of good years with my Nokia N900 I’ve come to the sad conclusion that there’s no future for that platform due to the combined actions of Nokia and Intel – Nokia for dumping Linux and going with Windows Mobile for their smart phones after getting a new CEO (ex-Microsoft) and then Intel through dumping Meego and setting up a partnership with Samsung for yet another mobile Linux platform called Tizen (which at least went for the code first, hype second path, unlike Meego). Intel are now on their third mobile Linux project as there was their Moblin project which was merged with Nokia’s Maemo to form Meego (announced less than 2 years ago) so they have form here as a serial abandoner.

Looking at what is left in the mobile space it was really a no-brainer as neither Windows Mobile nor Apple’s iOS appealed at all, so it had to be an Android phone. The timing was pretty good as Samsung and Google had just started shipping their jointly designed Galaxy Nexus with Android 4 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS). It has the advantage of apparently being a phone recommended for the AOSP (Android Open Source Program) should I feel the need once my warranty expires – though I can’t find a reference to that now! I ordered an unlocked Galaxy Nexus with 2 year warranty from Mobicity as I didn’t fancy the rubbish that carriers tend to put onto their phones, nor get handcuffed into a contract I didn’t want. As an added bonus Mobicity let you pick from 3 optional accessories for free – I picked the screen protector (the other were either a charger or a bluetooth headset from memory).

As an amusing aside I did try and see if Dick Smith Electronics would price match with Kogan for the Galaxy Nexus as Kogan was far cheaper and DSE was only selling them online, but with a manufacturers warranty (unlike Mobicity or Kogan). Unfortunately DSE declined to do so on the grounds that Kogan didn’t have a physical retail outlet which was a bit rich given that neither does DSE for these phones. But then I found out they are now owned by Woolworths and so I didn’t fancy supporting the largest owners of poker machines in Australia.

Despite the best efforts of UPS (who said it would take 6 days to cross Melbourne having taken 24 hours from Hong Kong – it actually arrived the following morning) I received it intact and on time.

Samsung / Google Galaxy Nexus

I’ve now been playing with it, er, using it in anger for over a week now and so far I’m very happy. I’d have to say the best description of the overall experience is “smooth”. Android 4 seems light years ahead of Android 2.3.3 on my wifes Huaewei Sonic, though part of that will be the fact that it’s just a much more capable phone with a larger screen and much more powerful processor.

Good bits:

  • Auto-language select – it started up in Chinese characters but before I could really wonder how I’d fix that it detected it had an Australian SIM in it and autoconfigured the locale to match.
  • No extra cruft – I’ve not spotted any “extras” from Samsung on the phone – the Market is the standard Android Market, etc.
  • Good size screen – the phone feels much smaller in the pocket than my old N900 due to its narrowness despite it having a much wider screen.
  • Android Market – heaps of apps, though the usual criticism of it not being easy to search for open source applications applies here.
  • Camera – it’s “only” 5 megapixels, but it’s still pretty good (though I’ve not yet figured out how to turn the flash off).
  • NFC – OK, a little bit of a toy at the moment, but there are a couple of apps that will read it and confirm that the reason my Myki and Uni ID card interfere is that they’re the same type of technology and so interfere with each other. As do my credit card and my bank card (same tech again).
  • Compass – my N900 had GPS and accelerometers (as does the Galaxy Nexus of course) but the compass allows neat things like Google Sky where you can just point your phone at the sky and have it show you a labelled view of planets stars and constellations.
  • IPv6 works on Wifi – I know people say IPv6 has worked on Wifi since Android 2.2, but it certainly doesn’t on my wifes Android 2.3 phone. But the Galaxy Nexus seems quite happy on my home network with native dual stack IPv6 courtesy of Internode.

Of course nothing is ever perfect, so here’s my feelings on the bad bits:

  • No real keyboard – I really miss the N900’s physical keyboard, it made typing easy. The on-screen keyboard that Android has is good, and quite usable for SMS, Twitter, etc, but for things like the Connectbot SSH client you can’t beat a real keyboard
  • No NTP synchronisation possible – you can get root on the phone (and void your warranty) but this *really* shouldn’t be necessary!
  • NITZ sucks – whilst it gets the time right the timezone is out by an hour. Probably a carrier issue but I don’t think phones should be relying on it. Had to set it by hand to fix it up.
  • Short notification sounds – a minor nit but the default notification sounds that are used for things like SMS, etc, are really short and quite easy to miss.
  • Not entirely open source – whilst the N900 wasn’t either it does seem to have been more open than Android, and it didn’t try and avoid GPL code at all costs like Android does.
  • No update to Android 4.0.2 available (yet) – so far it appears that Samsung haven’t pushed an Android 4.0.2 update to the region my phone was intended for – though other Galaxy Nexus owners around the world have reported getting updates at other times (including someone at Mobicity where I bought it). I suspect this is just an organisational delay and nothing more serious, but it is annoying. If it wasn’t for the warranty issue I’d consider reflashing the phone with the stock Google firmware for the Galaxy Nexus and pick the updates up directly from them in future.

To finish it off here are three images taken with the camera in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (as I said I was happy with it), the first one was used on the weather slot as a background by the ABC News people last week!

Melbourne summer morning Swanston St Skyline The Light Side and the Dark Side

Google to acquire Motorola Mobility (Updated x1)

Very interesting news, especially given Motorola’s recent sabre rattling about going after patent victims^W income – hopefully this will put the end to that nonsense.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. & LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. – Aug. 15, 2011 – Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: MMI) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion, a premium of 63% to the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday, August 12, 2011. The transaction was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

I hope with Google in control we’ll see some better Android devices out there – can we get a real keyboard please ?!?

Update 1:

It appears that patents are part of the reason for Google buying Motorola, but looks like they’re being trailed as defensive according to this TechCrunch article:

During today’s conference call explaining the deal, Page noted that Motorola’s “strong patent portfolio” will help Google defend Android against “Microsoft, Apple, and other companies.” The first two questions on the call went right to the patent issue as well. With Android under attack on the patent front by Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others, buying Motorola is very much a defensive move as well.

Google Video Closing Down

Watching some random videos on Google Video I saw that they all had at the top:

This video will be removed on April 29, 2011. Learn more.

That says that “On April 29, 2011 videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback“, the people who uploaded them can download them (in FLV format only) to be uploaded elsewhere, but that’s all folks. Confirmation comes from this blog post which posts the (translated) text of an email from Google to Google Video uploaders:

Later this month, hosted video content on Google Video will no longer be available for playback. Google Video stopped taking uploads in May 2009 and now we’re removing the remaining hosted content. […] On April 29, 2011, videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback. We’ve added a Download button to the video status page, so you can download any video content you want to save. If you don’t want to download your content, you don’t need to do anything. (The Download feature will be disabled after May 13, 2011.)

Sadly this means that Google have gone back on the promise from 2009 when they turned off uploads, saying:

Will all of the videos in my Google Video account be deleted?
No. The videos that are already in your account will remain hosted by Google Video. You will still have access to all the existing management tools for them.

So if you’ve got content there, go grab it before it goes away!

Android on my FreeRunner

So it’s just over two weeks since I started with Android on my FreeRunner and it’s time for an update. First of all I’m no longer using the Koolu images, they lack echo suppression support and as soon as I found that Michael Trimarchi’s Panicking port of Android does do echo suppression I switched. The added benefit of changing was that Michaels port has fixed the go-slow feel of the Koolu version and feels responsive and usable in most situations (though the soft keyboard is still a little slow).

Good points:

  1. Calls work flawlessly.
  2. SMS works flawlessly (and has a nice interface)
  3. Contacts can be added as shortcuts on the desktop
  4. Wifi works (though WPA2 Enterprise networks need some text file magic)
  5. GPS works nicely (I used GPS-status to see how many satellites it can see)
  6. Bluetooth works – or at least finds devices when scanning – not gone any further with that
  7. Web browser works nicely, even supports Google Gears

Bad points:

  1. NO ACCESS TO THE ANDROID MARKET – the Android Market application is not open source (a decision by Google) so you can’t access any applications hosted there. Whilst there are alternative sources they only have a fraction of the applications so this does limit things.
  2. The phone seems to stop being able to suspend if you define a APN for GPRS/MMS access. Resetting the APN to the defaults (none) fixes it though.
  3. I don’t seem to be able to download MMS/PXT’s – I suspect this is related to the APN issues and I may just not have the right info
  4. Accelerometers don’t appear to work – or at least the marble game I had didn’t react to me tilting the phone.
  5. Battery life doesn’t seem to be quite as good as Qtopia/Qt-Extended/QtMoko – I have to charge every 24 hours at present. That said the later kernels don’t seem to give me quite as long a lifetime as the 2.6.24 based ones so that may not be Androids fault..

But all in all I’m really quite happy with Android on FreeRunner, it easily outshines my previous favourite of Qtopia/Qt-Extended/QtMoko in terms of overall polish and usefulness as a phone! Thanks to all involved in the porting effort, and especially Michael.

I Can Haz Android (on an OpenMoko Freerunner)

I have been assimilated. Or at least my OpenMoko Freerunner has been! It’s now running the Koolu port of Android 1.5 “Cupcake” on it, and with a *very* helpful hint from Damian Spriggs on the OpenMoko community mailing list it’s able to make and receive calls and SMS’s. For the record you need to get ADB working and grab a root shell on the phone. Then you can use the sqlite command line utility to set the “provisioned” flag in its DB.

# sqlite3 /data/data/
SQLite version 3.5.9
Enter ".help" for instructions
sqlite> INSERT INTO secure (name, value) VALUES ('device_provisioned', 1);

I’ve also found a rather nice application called VCardIO for importing my contacts exported in VCard v2.1 format from KDE’s Kontact addressbook. Now we’ll see how it goes over the next few days!

Google Chrome OS

I suspect that the world and its dog will have heard about this by now, but in case you’ve somehow missed the announcement from Google..

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

If (and I emphasis if) this takes off then MS might be in for something of a rough ride in the Netbook market. The Netbook vendors have been unable to stand up to the MS monopoly with Linux on Netbooks until now, perhaps Google can start to rebalance the marked a little ?

Google Student Photography Prize

Google is running a photography competition to develop themes for iGoogle in conjunction with the Saatchi Gallery London for higher education students around the world. You’ll need to submit 5 photos to make up a theme.

36 shortlisted students will get their photos turned into iGoogle themes, 6 finalists will get exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery and the winner will get a GBP 5,000 bursary and a day with the documentary photographer Martin Parr. Entries close 31st May so if you’re interested (and eligible) you’d better get your skates on!

ENOKOGAN – Kogan Agora is dead (for now)

Oh well, so much for the dream, this was on the Kogan blog this afternoon:

I’m disappointed to have to tell you that the Kogan Agora has to be delayed indefinitely. This delay comes due to potential future interoperability issues.

Sounds like this was partly due to wanting to keep the device compatible with future Android versions needing better screens:

One of the potential issues is the screen size and resolution. It seems developers will be creating applications that are a higher resolution than the Agora is currently capable of handling. […] In order to fully appreciate the feature-rich applications Android developers will be creating in coming months and years, the Agora must be redesigned.

I hope that whatever they come up with still has a real keyboard..