On global roaming for data

Like most international travellers in the Internet age, during our recent travel through Europe I was confronted by the ridiculous situation that exists for mobile data access.  By ridiculous I mean ridiculously expensive.

Telstra SMS warnings

Warnings from Telstra when a customer connects to a roaming network.

Look, don’t get me wrong: the technology that allows GSM/UMTS global roaming is pretty magical[1].  But it’s not exactly new!  It’s not like mobile networks are breaking new ground in how this should be done!  As I understand it, GSM was designed almost from day one to support the interconnection of networks in the manner that global roaming requires, so why are we consumers gouged so aggressively for it?

Telstra goes to great lengths to warn their customers about the high cost of data when they roam overseas.  Nice.  So let’s say I want to buy one of these International Roaming Data Packs—how much does that cost?  On Telstra’s website I find the answer: in fact I find several answers, since it would be unreasonable to expect one simple, easy-to-budget rate from a telephone company.

The cheapest data pack is A$29, which gets you the princely total of—wait for it…

20MB of data.

Wait, what…?

Twenty megabytes?!?!?

Packs range all the way up to 2GB, which costs an unbelievable A$1800.  I have a Telstra mobile broadband service which costs around A$39 per month and has a monthly allowance of 3GB—that comparison puts the roaming data rate at almost 700% more expensive!

The kickers though are in the fine print:

If you use all of your data allowance, we will charge you 1.5 cents per kB you use which equates to $15.36 per MB.

This is the rate for roaming data if you don’t have a data pack.  An order of magnitude again more expensive than data in a data pack!  Let’s look at the SMS they sent though: “we’ll SMS you every 20MB of data” — which means, if you don’t have a data pack, you’ll get your first SMS alert once you’ve already spent A$307.20!  The next one is the absolute best, though:

Any unused data allowance will be forfeited at the end of the 30 day period.

Are you absolutely @#$%!$ kidding?!?!?  Seriously?!?  Let’s think this one through:

  • You have concocted an astronomically exorbitant rate for data usage
  • You’ve made me pay up-front for my expected use
  • If I get the estimate wrong, I’ll either pay through the nose at the casual usage rate until I decide if I want to buy another pack OR I’ll get no compensation of the up-front money I paid for data I didn’t end up using
  • You’re still collecting on my contract monthly plan fee, which includes domestic call and data allowances I can’t possibly use because I’m overseas!

The whole situation is unbelievable to me.  Unjustifiable.  If Douglas Adams was writing Life, The Universe, And Everything today I believe “bistromathics” would have instead been “phonemathics” (except that it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well).  I can just imagine it:

“Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer’s movement in time, so it was realised that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s mobile phone’s movement through roaming zones.”

It’s only a problem because mobile technology is so embedded in our lives today.  We tweet, we post pictures, we e-mail, we navigate, we live connected in ways that we didn’t even ten, or five, years ago.  I know this, because I did without mobile data even as recently as 2009 (when I was in the US and China for a total of seven weeks).  The ironic thing is that we are most likely to want to do these sharing activities, such as checking in on Foursquare and sharing photos, when we are travelling—and even more so when we are in new and exotic places, such as a foreign land.

I call BS on the whole international roaming data scam.  I defy anyone from a telecommunications company to explain to me why it can be three orders of magnitude more expensive to access bits in a foreign country compared to accessing those same bits from home.  It is nothing more than a money gouging exercise, and I reckon I’ve got proof:

Amazon Whispernet.

I have a Kindle, for which I paid about A$100 when the local supermarket had a 25%-off sale.  It’s the 3G and Wi-Fi version, and I take it with me most places I travel.  I’ve had that Kindle in the USA, New Zealand, France, and of course here in Australia, and in every place I’ve had Whispernet come on line and I’ve been able to at least browse the Amazon store.  Now, if roaming data really did cost what mobile networks say it does, how does it make sense for Amazon to make Whispernet available internationally on my Australian Kindle?  I mean, if I browsed the Store for half an hour before buying a A$2.99 book (pretty-much exactly what I did last trip, in France), the transaction would have cost more than it made!  To me, Amazon Whispernet is the proof that there is minimal cost in roaming data and that we’re being taken for a ride.

Needless to say, my phone has Data Roaming disabled.  I became a free Wi-Fi junkie—one of those pitiful souls hopping from one café to the next looking for open access points.  It wasn’t too bad when we were in Paris and Montpellier, but before leaving for the back-blocks outside Toulouse and Bordeaux I knew we’d need a better solution.  In a Geant Casino store in Montpellier I happened across a prepaid 3G Wi-Fi access box from Orange for about 45€, which included 500MB of data valid for one month.  It came in handy too, thanks to the GPS unit in the car getting confused about the location of our hotel at La Pomarede and us having to use Google Maps to find the right way.

Come on mobile networks, get with it.  Stop pissing off your customers and forcing them to do cruel and unusual things when they travel.  Just charge reasonable rates.  You’ll get more business, and guess what—happy customers.  Well, happier.

[1] By magical I refer to Clarke‘s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

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A long time away

Back when I last posted here, I would never have imagined that within twelve months I would be in a new relationship, travelling overseas on holiday, and generally happy with my life.  And yet, that’s exactly where I am.

I write this from a hotel room in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, having recently returned from Boeblingen (outside Stuttgart) where I spent a week attending an education event.  In a couple of days we will go by train to Montpellier in the south of France, then travel to Toulouse for my partner’s “cousinade” (family reunion).  After that, it will be Bordeaux for a couple of days, then by train to Amsterdam for a few days, then back to Paris for another few days before flying home.

On the technical front since I posted last, I have been spending a lot of time in my System z lab working on Linux and z/VM, as well as building a z/OS Parallel Sysplex (coz dat’s how we rollz, aw yea).  My current project is to build a set of self-paced workshops based on z/VM and Linux for the IBM Systems Symposium in Melbourne in August.

Life doesn’t suck anywhere near as badly as it did about 12 months ago — it’s still far from perfect, but part of what I’m learning is that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I do promise that this will return to being more of a technical blog though. 🙂

Edited to correct the spelling of “arrondissement”.

What happened to my old life

For the last eight months I have been living alone.  On 4 February this year, my wife of 15 years told me that it was her intention to end our relationship.  She told me that she understood that it would take me some time to adjust to the decision she had made, and that there was no discussion to be had about that decision.  The next day, she and our two children moved out.

For about a month I tried to hide what had happened, but the folk I work with knew that something must have happened when I suddenly went from being an occasional visitor to the office to being the first to arrive and last to leave every day of the week.  I have confided in a few of my workmates, and they have been incredibly supportive (and helpful to my sanity), even as some of them go through the same issues in their own lives.

This post is not about casting blame.  If you have read my posts about depression, you may already have put two-and-two-together and realised that this was the major event that pushed me into seeking treatment.  Initially I blamed my wife for not having the strength to help me though my illness, but I accept that she would likely only have been able to do so much in the face of my reluctance to seek help.  I envy her the courage she showed in making such a dramatic change to her own life.

I don’t accept that either of our lives are better — or will be better in the near future — as a result of this change, and the new situation our kids will have to adjust to as they grow up is one that I would still prefer to have avoided.  On this, my wife and I have to agree to disagree: I will claim that I was not given any choice in the matter, and she will claim that I made my choice by not getting treatment for my condition which would have allowed me to be a better husband.  I could be wrong on this of course, but I will never know, since my wife and I can talk (very pleasantly I must say) about just about anything except our relationship and what happened.

I’m proud to say that I have maintained a great relationship with my kids.  They stay with me once a fortnight, and while I spoil them terribly I am still keeping up the father role well.  Visibly they appear unaffected by the change, but I worry constantly about what they don’t show.  My daughter, for example, will suddenly want to sit snuggled in my arms on the lounge for an hour and not want to move.  My son has become intensely possessive (even more so than your usual eight-year-old) and is totally focussed on what toy or present I will next buy for him or give him.  Having said these things though, it is clear that my wife still loves our children as well and neither of us would consciously do anything to bring them to harm.  While this kind of situation is tough at the best of times, I think that the fact that my wife and I have been able to come to a speaking arrangement is a huge benefit to our kids.

The relationships we form as we go through life are part of what define us as individuals.  In fact, the versions of us that live in the memories of everyone we meet are entirely shaped by our relationships with those individuals, and every one of those versions of us is different because of the individual whose memory we live in and our relationship with them.  I have lived all my life with an almost pathological inability to deeply bond with others — it’s a wonder I’ve ever been able to make friends, let alone get married and have kids.  Combined with that, for the last several years I’ve been shackled by depression.

Now, without a love relationship and undergoing treatment for my depression, I find myself in a situation I would never have imagined for myself, even on 3 February 2012.  The relationships I have with people have changed, because I am not the same person I was.  I am being changed, not just by relationships I’ve had for years but by people I’ve met in only the last few months (some of whom will never know the profound effect they have had on me, even in as little as a few days).  Not only that, I’ve finally realised something that I never admitted in the past: that I have the ability and opportunity to change the people I have relationships with, just as they change me.

I am determined to make the best of this situation, by being the best friend, colleague, father, workmate, son, presenter, uncle, mentor, brother, and whatever else life sends me (including, yes, ex-husband) that I can possibly be.

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Wil Wheaton on depression

Unless you’ve been living in a geekness Faraday cage for at least the last twenty years, you will have some idea who Wil Wheaton is.  To many, he’s Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, to others he plays himself (or an evil version of himself) on Big Bang Theory, to yet others he’s Fawkes from The Guild.  To folks oblivious to things off the Internet he’s @wilw: a blogger and prolific tweeter, and sometimes is on TV.

On his blog today, Wil posted about his depression.  His experience is almost exactly like mine, in terms of the initial reluctance to seek treatment and the eventual realisation that life does not have to be that way if we seek some help.  I blogged a while ago about the start of my treatment, but Wil writes so much more succinctly and neatly than I do that it’s worth his take.  Like others who have commented, thank-you Wil for sharing your experience and helping to break the stigma.

I have decided that I need to be open about the other major change in my life, but it’s going to take a while to find the right words.

A new adventure: installing z/OS from scratch

From time to time, I’ve run z/OS on the System z machines I have access to.  Originally this was by obtaining the ADCD distribution (which I think stands for Application Development Customised Distribution, and there’s a hyphen or a slash in the name somewhere too), but of late I’ve had access to alternative methods of installation.  However I’ve obtained my z/OS builds though, as I’ve never actually been a z/OS systems programmer they’ve always been pre-built systems.  I’ve never experienced a from-scratch installation of z/OS.
This is about to change.  I’ve set myself a challenge: equipped with my very basic z/OS systems programming knowledge, the z/OS Customised Offering Driver system on DVD, and IBM Shopz, my plan is to build a z/OS Parallel Sysplex.  Importantly, I plan to bring you along with me as I progress.  It won’t be a quick process, as I have to fit this around my day job (which for the next four weeks will be at the ITSO Poughkeepsie Center updating the “Security for Linux on System z” Redbook) but as I achieve milestones or hit major hurdles I’ll let you know what’s happening.
My first couple of milestones have already been achieved.  Firstly, I have managed to get the DVD-based COD system installed and running.  Some would say I’ve cheated a little, as I’ve used z/VM to avoid having to build a customised LPAR to match the IODF shipped with the COD.  I may yet take my working IODF from the running system and install it into the COD system to be able to run the COD in an LPAR natively.
The second milestone was to get TCP/IP connectivity to the COD.  Running under z/VM, I figured the easiest way to do this was to define a virtual OSA to connect to my z/VM VSWITCH.  Consulting the documentation for the COD, I found out what device address to use for an OSA This worked fine, but when I tried to bring up the TCP/IP interface I’d coded I got this nasty response:
When I displayed the channel paths, I saw all the paths defined as per my real IOCDS!  The “virtual” CHPID that z/VM had chosen for the virtual OSA did not actually exist in the real IOCDS, which I saw when I tried to vary the devices online:
IEE763I NAME= IOSVDSEO CODE= 0000000800000000
The fix to this is to use an option on the z/VM DEFINE NIC command which is almost never used for Linux guests: the CHPID option.  I had to define the virtual OSA to appear at the z/OS guest on a CHPID that in the real IOCDS was an actual OSA.  This solved my problem, and allowed me to bring up TCP/IP and TN3270.


Now I can look at what to do to start the ServerPac installation.  Before I do that though, I’m pretty sure I have to allocate some DASD.  In fact, the instructions for the COD say I need to add page and spool datasets to the COD before I can do anything productive with the system…
Wish me luck!

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Update on my illness

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Qantas Club lounge in Sydney Airport. For the last week I’ve been working with a customer installing a new IBM zEnterprise 114. It was a great week, full of learning and new experiences for both my colleague from the customer and me.
But as the highs of the week gradually fade, I settle in to the reality of returning home. What should be a happy time of reunion and catching up is… well, not. More on that another time — it’s the “something else” I alluded to when I first blogged about my depression, and I’m still not ready to share with the ‘Net. For now, let’s just say that all is not as it should be at home.
What is better is my health. I’m glad to say that I’m responding to treatment — my moods are better, I can rationalise things more, um, rationally, and I’m losing weight. I’ve had some disappointing things happen at work, and for the first time in ages I’ve been able to feel that disappointment without despair. I can feel, almost on a daily basis, small things that are better about my life and my emotional state. Yes, I am medicated, but I’m even okay with that too.
I apologise to the people that have been in contact with me with well wishes to whom I haven’t responded. Don’t think that I don’t appreciate your thoughts — in fact, the opposite is true. Knowing that there are people I’ve seldom (or even never) met that care about my condition enough to tweet or comment is one of the things that is keeping me going.
Getting help to deal with this illness is the best thing I’ve done in my life.
I just wish I’d done it sooner.

DisplayLink and x2x brings back Zaphod mode

Ever since work issued me a Lenovo T61 and I installed Fedora on it, I have lamented the loss of something that X afficionados referred to as “Zaphod mode”.  By gluing together a few different software and hardware components I managed to get close to the old Zaphod mode days — but first some background…

Usually when you set up a multi-monitor installation you get a single desktop that spans all the screens.  This is great when you have a single desktop, but on Linux multiple desktops are the norm.  When I started using multiple screens in Linux, I loved the extra screen real estate but the fact that switching virtual desktops caused *all* the windows on all the screens to switch really bugged me.  I wanted the ability to have something — like an email program, or a web browser — to stay on one screen while I switched between desktop views on the other screen.  Or better still, the ability for both screens to have virtual desktops that were independent of each other.

Enter “Zaphod mode”, named for Zaphod Beeblebrox from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  Beeblebrox, who was President of the Galaxy before he stole the Starship Heart Of Gold, had two heads that were independent of each other.  In X server terms, multiple display devices are often referred to as “heads”.  So you can probably deduce that “Zaphod mode” refers to an operating mode of the X server where the multiple “heads” or display devices function as different displays.

Go back far enough and you get to a point where that was the standard mode of operation of X.  The X extension “Xinerama” was developed to provide the merging of different X displays into a single screen.  NVidia also had a hardware/firmware based equivalent called TwinView, where multiple heads on an NVidia card (and even sometimes heads on different cards) could be joined.  These extensions came not without their problems however: it was common for windows and dialog boxes to get confused about what display to appear on.  You would almost always see dialog boxes that are meant to display in the middle of the screen being split across the two physical displays.  Also, there was the multiple desktop “inconvenience” of not being able to switch the desktops independently.

Zaphod mode fixed these problems.  Because the screens were separate, windows and dialog boxes always appeared in the centre of the physical screen.  You could leave a web browser on one screen while you switched between an e-mail client, an IRC client, and an SSH session in the other.  It wasn’t all beer-and-skittles though, since in Zaphod mode it was not possible to move an application from one screen to the other.  Plus, some applications like Firefox could not have windows running on both screens (the second one to start could not access the user profile).

Zaphod mode largely “went away” during the transition from XFree to Xorg.  The servers dropped support for multiple separate displays in the one server, and only gradually added it back in (with the Intel driver being one of the last to do so, and probably still has not).  Since laptops were the only place I still used multiple screens, and the laptops I used all had Intel integrated graphics, I had to do without Zaphod mode.

Today, I hardly use dual monitors at all.  I used to have a desktop system with a 21″ CRT flanked by 17″ LCDs on either side, but that all got replaced by a single 24″ LCD.  At work we don’t have assigned desks, so setting up a screen to plug the laptop into isn’t going to happen.  I guess I learned to live without Zaphod mode by just going back to a single screen.  I still remember my Zaphod-powered dual-screen days fondly though, and with almost every update to Xorg I would scan the feature list looking for something like “Support for configuration of multiple independent displays (Zaphod mode)”.

A while back I bought a DisplayLink USB to DVI adapter.  I didn’t really know what to do with it at the time, but recently I dug it out and tried setting it up.  Googling for “DisplayLink Fedora” sent me to a couple of very helpful pages and it didn’t take long to get the “green screen of life” that indicates that the DisplayLink driver was active.  It was when I was looking at how to make it work as an actual desktop — part of the process involves setting up a real xorg.conf (that’s right, something about the DisplayLink X server means it can’t be configured by the Xorg auto configuration magic) — that I realised I could do something wonderful.  Instead of making a config file that contained both my standard display and the DisplayLink device (and probably cause havoc for the 90% of times I boot without an additional screen) I would create a config file with *just* the DisplayLink device and start it as a second server.  Run a different window manager in there, and I would have two independent desktops — Zaphod mode!

I did a couple of little experiments just starting an xterm in the second X, and it worked fine (the more alert of you will realise that I’m taking a bit of artistic license with the word “fine” here, and know that three little letters in the title of this post are a clue to what wasn’t yet working…) with the desktop and the xterm appearing in the second monitor.  I installed XFCE, and configured it to start as the window manager of the second X server, which also worked well.

Something was missing though: there was no mouse input to the second screen.  In Zaphod mode, even though the two screens were separate X displays they were managed by the same server.  This meant that the input devices were shared between the two displays.  In this configuration, I was careful to exclude any mouse and keyboard devices from my second display config to avoid any conflicts.  So how was I to get input device data into the second server?  A second display is not much good if you can’t click and type on the applications that run on it…

I remembered about an old program called x2x that could transfer the mouse and keyboard events to a different X server when you moved the mouse to the edge of your display (and, inexplicably, I forgot all about a much younger program called Synergy that can do the same thing).  Since x2x isn’t built for Fedora I found the source and built it and started it up…  and it worked first time!  When I moved the mouse to the edge of the screen, it appeared on the other screen!  I could start apps and type into them exactly as I wanted.

It wasn’t perfect, however.  I found that when I returned the mouse to the primary screen, the second screen was still getting keyboard events.  I figured this would be particularly inconvenient when, for example, I was entering user and password details into an app on the primary screen while an editor or terminal program had focus on the second screen…  I checked the Xorg.1.log file, and found that even though I had not specified a “keyboard” input device Xorg was automatically defining one for me.  I turned off the udev options, but it still happened.  My initial enthusiasm was starting to fade.

What fixed it was to manually define a “dummy” keyboard device.  There must be some logic in Xorg that it refuses to allow a configuration with no configured keyboard (which makes sense), so in this rather unusual case where I don’t want a keyboard I have to define one but give it a dummy device definition.  Defining the dummy keyboard stopped Xorg from defining its automatic one, and everything worked as expected!  Even screensavers work more-or-less as designed (although I haven’t actually spent much time in front of the setup yet so haven’t had to unlock the screen that often).

I’m away from the computer in question right now, otherwise I would post configs and command lines (and even a pic of the end result).  I’ll update this post with the details — leave a comment if you think I need to hurry up!  🙂


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Hi, I’m Vic… and I have depression

This is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.  There is a lot of emotion behind the words I write here, and I’m trying to keep that out.  If you were expecting the latest snippet of technical insight from me, I’m sorry.  Maybe next time.  This post is about me.

In the first six months of 2004 I changed employer, my first child was born, and I suffered a mild heart attack.  For some time I’ve believed that this set of major events occurring over such a short period was responsible for the way I feel.  If I’m honest though, there’s every likelihood that it was there long before, and 2004 just pushed me off the top of the slippery slope.

People’s reactions to near-death experiences vary almost as widely as the events that bring them to near-death.  To me, how someone recovers from such an experience will depend very much on how they can rationalise who is at fault for the experience.  Experiences like being a victim of armed robbery or a car accident are fundamentally different from health-related near-death because when it’s health-related there’s no-one to blame but yourself — you ate the wrong food, you didn’t exercise enough, you got bad genes, etc.  You can try to blame someone or something else (blame the fast-food chains for your diet, blame the TV programs or the computer games for your lack of exercise, blame your parents for your genes) but deep down you know it’s all on you.  The effect this can have on self-esteem and self-worth are immeasurable.

I say this all in my context of course — for me it was too tempting to blame that heart attack for feeling bad.  I’m sure others have felt the same: despite all the other things in their life that might be causes of concern — stressful or unrewarding job, young children, difficult relationships, money problems — the health problem that nearly killed them becomes what they use to define themselves.  This was definitely the case for me: I was 34 years old, I had been overseas for a week for work and was supposed to be at home helping to look after my 3-month old son, what the f**k was I doing in a cardiac hospital after suffering a myocardial infarction?  I was broken, a product of a gene pool that produced 11 out of 13 immediate blood relatives with cardiac issues.  People would tell me this was my “wake-up call”, my “second chance”, but nothing could break my resignation that the deck was stacked against me.

I saw a psychologist for a while in 2005-06, and was on antidepressants for a while around the same time.  I thought I was feeling good about life again.  My last visit with the psychologist was just before I went on an overseas business trip with a colleague in March 2006.  I got a script for more meds before I went overseas (the doctor actually joked with me about how having a psychotic break while going through US airport security wouldn’t be a good thing), but when that script ran out I didn’t bother getting a new one.  Looking back, I was in Zoloft-fuelled denial of my real mental and emotional state.  I actually thought I was better, so I didn’t need the drugs any more.

The denial of my mental state has continued until almost the present day — except that it was no longer fuelled by antidepressants.  Over the last six months or so, denial came from a self-fulfilling belief that there was nothing worth doing.  When I thought I was feeling good about life, I failed to see that what I was really feeling good about were things in my life; in times when things to feel good about became fewer and farther between, so too would my moods get darker and darker.  I’d have good days and bad days, but even on good days I’d be a hair’s breadth from falling into a dark black mood in which even just moving seemed like too much effort.  I have been denying my state of mind — except when it suited me to say “I don’t feel like it” to get out of doing something.  I’ve told myself that my poor diet and lack of exercise led to my heart problems, which in turn made me depressed, causing me to want to withdraw further from family and social situations.

Recently though, I’ve realised that the opposite is true: that all the things that I thought have derived from the heart attack have actually come from a different — but no less real — condition: clinical depression, or “a major depressive illness”.  I’m actually on the border of bipolar disorder, but I’m told my “highs” aren’t quite manic enough to fit that profile.

Some of you reading this will unfortunately think that now that I know what my problem is I can just get over it.  While knowing what my problem is allows me to find proper treatment, it’s a long way from getting over it.  Let me ask you: if someone has a broken leg, does being told that they have a broken leg make the leg any less broken?  “Okay,” someone might reply, “so you just pop some pills to feel better.”  Again: if someone has a broken leg and they take medication for the pain, is the leg any less broken?  “Well, go and talk to a shrink then.”  If you’ve got a broken leg and you talk to someone about the experience of having a broken leg, is the leg any less broken?

Our protagonist with the broken leg starts the road to recovery when the break is set and the leg is cast.  Pain killers might be needed, along with crutches or a wheelchair for mobility, perhaps even a ruler to scratch the skin irritated by the cast.  Physiotherapy to rebuild muscle and supporting tissue might be needed as well, once the bone is sufficiently restored.  Our protagonist might walk with a limp for a while, but will eventually return to full health.

I have started to get help, but I have no idea what my road to recovery will look like.  I saw my GP a few weeks ago and he referred me to a psychiatrist, with whom I’ve had my first session.  Medication will be involved, but I’ve already felt the effects of the other actions I’ve taken: exercise, eating well, and treating my after-hours as my own time instead of an extension of the work day.  I’ve started to lose weight as well (2-3kg so far) — something that I’d always wanted to do but felt was beyond my mood-locked abilities.  I still have dark times though.

Now the really hard part.  Some of you might be wondering if there was a catalyst to all this self-realisation and affirmative action.  I’m not ready to talk about that, except to say one thing: this illness I have is like a cancer — ruthless, vicious, absolutely silent, and often detected way too late.  Unlike cancer though, many people don’t take it seriously.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Depression will take things away from you that you don’t know you’ve lost until they’re gone, and what you lose might be the very things you’ve always needed to make it through to the end of each day.

Don’t wait until RU OK? Day…  if you’re depressed, talk to someone; if you know someone who might be depressed, talk to them.  Please.

Online resources in Australia for depression and bipolar disorder (not an exhaustive list, nor a list of endorsements):


Another year over…

As I type this, 2011 draws to a close (in this timezone at least) — in fact if I keep going long enough it’ll be my first post to span two years.

I would like to have blogged a bit more in 2011. It’s not like I had any shortage of things to write about, in fact that’s probably the crux of the matter: not enough time to write due to many things going on. No promises about writing more next year though — I can’t imagine I’ll magically have more time for writing next year!

Wherever you are, best wishes for the coming year. Here’s hoping that 2012 brings health and fortune to you and your family.

Happy New Year!

Oracle Database 11gR2 on Linux on System z

Earlier this year (30 March, to be precise) Oracle announced that Oracle Database 11gR2 was available as a fully-supported product for Linux on IBM System z.  A while before that they had announced E-Business Suite as available for Linux on System z, but at the time the database behind it had to be 10g.  Shortly after 30 March, they followed up the 11gR2 announcement with a statement of support for the Oracle 11gR2 database on Linux on System z as a backend for E-Business Suite — the complete, up-to-date Oracle stack was now available on Linux on System z!

In April this year I attended the zSeries Special Interest Group miniconf[1], part of the greater Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) event COLLABORATE 11.  I was amazed to discover that there are actually Oracle employees whose job it is to work on IBM technologies — just like there are IBM employees dedicated to selling and supporting the Oracle stack.  Never have I seen (close-up) a better example of the term “coopetition”.

On my return from the zSeries SIG and IOUG, I’ve become the local Oracle expert.  However, I’ve had no more training than the two days of workshops run at the conference!  The workshops were excellent (held at the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World, no less!) but they could not an expert make.  So I’ve been trying to build some systems and teach myself more about running Oracle.  I thought I’d gotten off to a good start too — I’d installed a standalone system, then went on to build a two-node RAC.  I communicated my success to one of my sales colleagues:

“I’ve got a two-node RAC setup running on the z9 in Brisbane!”

“Great!  Good work,” he said.  “So the two nodes are running in different LPARs, so we can demonstrate high-availability?”

” . . . ”

In my haste I’d built both virtual machines in the same LPAR.  Whoops.  (I’ve fixed that now, by the way.  The two RAC nodes are in different LPARs and seem to be performing better for it.)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll write up some of the things that have caught me out.  I still don’t really know how all this stuff works, but I’m getting better!


IBM System z: www.ibm.com/systems/z or www.ibm.com/systems/au/z

Linux on System z: www.ibm.com/systems/z/os/linux/index.html

Oracle zSeries SIG: www.zseriesoraclesig.org

Oracle Database: www.oracle.com/us/products/database/index.html

[1] Miniconf is a term I picked up from linux.conf.au — the zSeries SIG didn’t advertise its event as a miniconf, but as a convenient name for a “conference-in-a-conference” I’m using the term here.




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