Site Update: Sewage Flooding, CeBIT Australia, Vivid Sydney, etc.

I suppose some of my followers may have noticed that posts have been somewhat thin on the ground recently, and that is definitely true. Recent developments with my PhD have meant a lot of time being taken up by it to reach certain milestones and maintain progress, meaning more time at the uni, and less occasional scraps of time where I can sit down and punch out a blog post. Of course, I’m expecting my PhD to take a lot of my time, but sometimes you really do need something else to do.

So why not a quick update on how the site is going?

As of publishing this post:

  • Google Analytics reports a total visitor count of 14,439 with a total view count of 27,461 since 28th November 2012. An overwhelming majority are new visits (81.93%) with ~18% returning visitors. Average Top 1,000 daily Google Queries position is 120! A total of 59.4% of visits are thanks to Google, 19% of visits made directly, and the rest are referrals from social networks, forums, etc.
  • WordPress Jetpack reports a total view count (of the blog, excluding legacy pages, counting after migration to managed hosting) of 25,100 views.

Definitely quite a bit better than I could have envisaged. I’ve had a few interesting contacts with people I would have otherwise never have heard from.

The poll which I’ve run in the sidebar for ages (and haven’t changed, due to the “lackluster” voting) is rather interesting, turning up a 10-20% female readership (it hovers around there). Of course, I take the polls with a grain of salt, but it’s better than the 0% I (and a few friends of mine) was expecting.

On the other hand, the site uptime statistics make for worrying reading. Pingdom Tools offers some free website uptime monitoring at one-minute intervals with a limited number of SMSes a month in case of extended downtime. My report for April showed a “three-nines” 99.9x% uptime, which is generally considered poor. My report for May showed only a “two-nines” 99.xx% uptime! Yikes! As a result, I can’t say Ziphosting’s Cloud Hosting platform is doing a good job – most of the downtime is caused by the mySQL database server refusing to honour requests because it’s overloaded, so I guess you do get what you pay for.

The upshot of that is if the site isn’t available, it’ll almost certainly be available after a 5 minute wait 99% of the time.

The other reason why there hasn’t been many posts …

On Monday, 3rd June 2013, I left the house for uni at 8am. The house was calm, everything was normal. At uni, at 10am, I attempted to connect remotely to the servers at home, to do some work. No dice. Maybe someone dug up the phone line, maybe TPG had screwed up, or the modem went kaput. No worries, we’ll sort it out when I get home.

I left the uni at 5pm, and got a panicked phone call from my Mum, who was already home. She explained that the house was flooded, power was out and could not be restored. I rushed home at 6:50pm to investigate.

This was what I was greeted with:

Doesn’t look too bad? Well, the video only shows half of it. As it turns out, it was also spewing out of the laundry drain in the adjacent doorway into the garage and that was flooded too. It definitely was “on the nose” – with bits of tissue everywhere, and varying in height as it pooled in the low-spots in the house. My mum had restored power with the electrician at the time, and had already mopped the house dry once, only to find that it comes out in waves and began to flood the house again. All of the lower living, kitchen and dining area was completely waterlogged, up to about a Coke bottle in height at its peak.

I spent my time bucketing out the water, using takeaway containers to transfer it to buckets. It’s hard work, more than 200 litres of sewage was hand collected that way generating aerosols which invaded the nostrils and irritated them. Water splashed everywhere, and initially I wore plastic bags on my feet to try and keep the sewage off my skin, but it was so slippery, it fatigued my muscles to maintain balance, so I went barefeet.

As a result, I can barely walk now because of the sheer exertion on my (less than healthy) muscles. Yesterday, I was limping around uni – because assessments were due and supervisor meetings were in order, I had little choice. I’ve taken the rest of the time off until my final exam next Saturday to recover.

We called Sydney Water faults, only to be told by the crew that it was not their fault and is a strata issue. The strata plumber was not available 24/7, so we had to “man” the situation overnight. I installed newspaper and weights over the toilet drain to divert the flow to the laundry drain, which we dammed with newspaper to make it flow out the garage, where it would flow out through the propped-up garage door, avoiding flooding the living area.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough – it was still leaking somewhat through the paper and weights – so my next ad-hoc solution was to grab a circular takeaway container, and my hot glue gun to cap the drain and seal it relatively air-tight, and shove weights on top of that. That was enough to get us to the next morning.

The water got so bad that it seeped through the wall into the adjoining neighbour’s living room. She came around just to check what was happening!

So, what happened? According to the plumber, a tree root impinged on the outgoing sewage pipe about 23.6m down from our drain. That’s a long way, it’s not even within our property boundary, but is within the strata plan somewhere. They water-jet cut the roots to clear the blockage, but permanent repairs still await approval. Without excavating and repairing the pipe, the roots will grow back into the pipe in short order, causing this to happen again.

Consulting my surviving dry computer upstairs which was switched on, and doing work, its regular logs of bandwidth and network activity ceased abruptly at 09:52:50am indicating a loss of power at that time +/- 5 seconds (interval of recording). At this time, it is likely that the water backflow had been happening for a while, and had flooded the living area sufficiently to reach a powerboard sitting on the floor which provided power to my main servers, tripping the residual current device, shutting off all the electricity.

What now? The day after the disaster, my mum worked hard to bleach down the floor surfaces throughout the house, and I tried to recover some equipment from the disaster. I used a mixture of methylated spirits and water in a spray bottle to disinfect items, and distilled water just to give things a rinse. It’s safe for electronics as long as you let them dry.

Cleaning Stuff

The first step was to try and bring up the main network server – the one which does all of my file sharing, downloading and printer sharing. No luck. Power supply is fine, but the motherboard is kaput – so I had to replace the machine with an HP Microserver N36L that was in my room, formerly one of two satellite TV feed recording boxes. Coincidentally, this meant an upgrade to Windows 7 x64 from the old Windows XP Pro based server and an increase in storage space. It took all day just to get the configuration right to get networked shares up, to migrate data from IDE hard drives to the SATA drives in the Microserver, to get all updates and applications installed, and to get networked printing working for PCs (32-bit and 64-bit and Mac/Airprint). No data was lost, which was great, and any hard disks submerged were not really important.

As a side note, if anyone ever has this happen to them, hard disks which have been submerged up to the breather hole are definitely trouble since that would lead to increased humidity inside the chamber causing possible condensation and head stiction. If things are important, either call a professional, or as I would do, disassemble the drive inside a plastic box maybe with some desiccant and the edge propped open to try and get a dry *clean-room-like* condition. As long as you’re quick, the drive may live long enough to see the data pulled off before having too many head crashes.

At least, with that sorted, I could actually print my assignment due Wednesday … one that I hadn’t started on at the time. It was already Tuesday evening.

But the family wanted their TV too. I had built a mumudvb based solution, running on Lubuntu, which had six tuners each tuned to a Sydney DVB-T multiplex and serving it unicast over the network, and drove a monitor and speakers at the dinner table as a TV-and-TV-server combination. The water got to that machine and the front end aerial amplifier and the tuners too. The front end amp is almost certainly lost – the tuners need a lot of cleaning. In the interim, I got the Dell laptop I was donated into the job of driving the monitor as a TV using a Twinhan VP-7046 MagicboxII tuner.

At least the modem, routers, and switches were high enough not to have succumbed. I still haven’t fully analyzed our losses, but we definitely lost many carpets, a bag of rice, two boxes of paper, numerous photo albums stored underneath the staircase (of which their scans may be the only surviving thing), many printed materials (vintage manuals) and books in the garage, a spare open-frame computer sitting on the ground, the hard disks inside a recovery computer I have also on the ground. Other than that, we might find the cleaning may affect the metal in the computer chassis as well. I had many spare vintage parts and computers in the garage too – how can one place a price on that, as well as the sentimentals and labour to clean things up and reconfigure everything?

Surprisingly, the ice cream in the freezer was okay. A little ice-crystalled, but still edible. I would have preferred to trade the ice cream for the server, but we don’t get to choose.

It’ll take me a little time to recover and clean everything up, but even just to walk properly … sigh.

CeBIT Australia

Onto something a little bit more cheery – another year, another CeBIT Australia exhibition in Sydney. This year, it was over three days, 28th to 30th May – because of my commitments, I could only make it on the last day when I was still recovering from the flu. Of course, it’s nothing compared to the real CeBIT in Hannover, and it’s not like Computex in Taiwan (oh bring me there one day!), it’s still a good chance to take a walk around the floor and see what’s new.

Almost anyone who knows how to fill in a form at the beginning of the year can get a free entry to the exhibition every year – just by doing it early on. If you leave it to the week it’s on, then you’re stuck paying $99 or more. Of course, the conferences cost an arm and a leg, but that’s not what I’m going for.


This year is like most other years – some vendors make a traditional showing between years and are regulars to the point that I can even recognize their faces. Of course, an event like this is mainly for trade visitors to establish networking, partnerships, distribution deals etc, so there isn’t much for your average consumer. There’s also a prohibition on selling anything during the exhibition itself, so you’re only going to be leaving with promotional items, pamphlets and business cards.

I still value this – it’s a chance to see new technology, and have a chat to some people in the industry. While they might like me to list their names – I don’t feel comfortable endorsing and advertising them in this respect, so I shall instead refer to the technologies thematically rather than the suppliers.

Some things have changed – for example, the lanyard now have two clips, and the printed badge has three holes at the top, and the 3D barcode has been replaced by a 2D barcode this year. The lanyard colour is also printed on the badge, and the multiple fancy colour scheme of previous years have been eschewed for something more simple. The lanyard is also branded Salesforce – a particular business-to-business part of their exhibition this year. Interestingly, this year, the NSW Government gets a mention too (which I don’t remember seeing in prior years).

The show floor this year had a segment for upstarts with small booths which was new. As usual, there was a corner for Asian exhibitors – this year was a little smaller than in previous years. I suppose it’s a cultural thing, but it’s quite clear that overseas exhibitors tend to be meek and shy, with the product reps sitting in their booth and not approaching visitors. This is in stark contrast to the local exhibitors which take the chance to talk to anyone who looks like they even hesitated for a sec while walking past. Exhibitions like this are about making the most of opportunities to build business partnerships – so I think the Asian exhibitors could do some work here to make it work better for them in the future.

Concerningly, there were a large number of exhibitors which provided “expert” outsourcing service for SEO and Programming – many promising programmers for as little as US$9/hour with full satisfaction guarantees. Its sad to see skills like programming being “offered” at such low costs – one has to be wary about the safety and security of doing this kind of thing, and just how our local graduates could ever find work at reasonable levels of pay when such alternatives are being actively pushed towards Australian businesses.

Exhibits of 3D printing have been growing in prevalence since last year – this year is no exception with more 3D printers on show, all the way from hobby grade to more professional units. Software vendors were also on show, and data analytics was touched upon by some of the companies – especially about social media.

There were some eye-catching claims by some vendors. I won’t name them, but they claimed outrageous figures – unfortunately, if you cannot answer questions about your technology truthfully or in enough depth that allows us to understand the premise behind the technology, it is hard to be convinced. It is especially hard to be convinced if your demonstration actually demonstrates the opposite of what you are claiming and trying to convey.

But there were also heartening displays of super simple ideas which can make life a heap easier – I was super impressed by the IEC-LOCK connector which is basically a power cord with a little spring-loaded cutout around the earth pin which causes the cable to latch into any IEC receptacle when it is plugged in, requiring the sliding of a pin to release the spring loaded cutout and allow the cable to be unplugged. Super! No more worries about power cables being disconnected within a server rack when someone carelessly trips or pulls out an Ethernet lead. The pull force is so high that I couldn’t pull them apart by hand. It’s such a simple idea – why didn’t I think of it?!

Another vendor displayed a self-tracing Ethernet patch lead with blinking LEDs on both sides, powered by a button cell and activated by a push button. There is an extra lead in the cable to allow the functionality, but it isn’t much more expensive than regular patch leads – making tracing spaghetti a lot easier.

It was lovely to visit the data recovery vendors and have a chat with them, and look at some of their products and their “low-level firmware capabilities” as well. I also managed to drop by the element14 (yes, I named them, but I stand by them!) stand and watch their little Raspberry Pi demonstration and have a chat to some of the local representatives.

I suppose I should make a note about the systems at CeBIT – it seems they now have Blackberry units equipped with barcode scanners to read your badge and collect your information from a database. The scanning of your badge serves as “consent” for the organizers to give your data to the organizers. Those who don’t opt to pay to hire these units and get the data in this way have to get it the traditional “business card” route. Unfortunately, there were some vendors that were somewhat indiscriminately scanning badges without asking – and as a result some people (me included) have to sleep with the knowledge that my details have been shared with people … which I didn’t really want to have my details.

Vivid Sydney


Yep, I did make a short initial attempt time-lapse of Vivid Sydney 2013, and I had plans to make another.

I went to Vivid on Friday 31st May, only to find record numbers of crowds which were almost impossible to navigate, if not even dangerous. I know from my prior trip that photographers can get quite antsy. I’m normally quite mellow about it – whatever happens happens, including people tripping over your tripod, jumping in front of you, etc and I just accept it – we don’t own the space in front of our lenses, but other people don’t and make it into a hostile confrontation. Very uncomfortable. I left almost immediately.

I was planning a return on Monday, but then … shit happened. Literally. And now that I can barely walk – I don’t think I’ll be able to see the last 1/3rd that I’ve not focused on before it closes up. Unfortunately this puts my plans of having a full-coverage timelapse video out of whack … maybe another year. But I’ll put up something half-baked in the interim sometime soon …

A bit of randomness …

Just as a little bit of randomness to finish off the post – I found this old picture of me, which I have appropriately captioned. I’m sure some programmers would feel the same way …


Another bit of randomness is this bit of wisdom from me – avoid some cheap alkaline batteries. Again, it’s Jaycar that’s the curse, with their Eclipse branded batteries being infamous for corroding the contacts on our remote controls (AAA size) and now, even corroding the terminals on my cheapass multimeter to the point the 9V battery wouldn’t even remove from the battery snap. Given the cost of a new cheapass DT830B 19-range now sitting at a record low of $4.22 posted with battery and leads (eBay), it might make more sense for most just to buy another …

Knowing some people who have owned Fluke multimeters who haven’t replaced their Eveready batteries in 15 years opening it up to find it in perfect condition, it’s a bit of a shame to think of these cheap batteries causing so many issues. I’ve had leaking issues with some batches of IKEA branded alkaline cells as well. I just hope it doesn’t damage something *actually* precious! If I ever afford a Fluke meter, I know I ain’t putting no cheap Alkaline in it …

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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3 Responses to Site Update: Sewage Flooding, CeBIT Australia, Vivid Sydney, etc.

  1. Hi Lui,
    Thanks for sharing your feedback on CeBIT Australia – I was proud to be one of the organisers this year and we thrive on feedback like this. Keep it coming! Glad to find another blogger to follow too. Everybody should blog in my opinion.

    As an alumni of UNSW I was thrilled to see you graduated with honours in Engineering there last year – congratulations!

    Best regards,

    • lui_gough says:

      Dear Tony,

      Thanks very much for leaving a comment. Without people leaving comments, I have absolutely *no* idea who may be reading (or not reading) my posts and their backgrounds. It’s a great thing that (as an organiser) you are on the lookout for feedback on CeBIT Australia to ensure the event remains the premier trade and technology expo in this “corner” of the world.

      Of course, the exhibitors “make the showfloor” – each and every company has their unique approach and style. and they have their own stories to tell. Some companies are better at selling their message than others – I really found it interesting that young upstarts in the incubation stage were given a chance to exhibit in much smaller stalls in the side-area where formerly, it was a specifically themed exhibition area opened only to those who opted to purchase tickets into.

      It’s been almost a yearly tradition for me to attend and take a gander through the stalls on the floor, and it’s often great to meet like-minded people who are in the profession/industry even if it is just to have a chat and find out what’s new. I’ll surely be there next year and I’m sure it will be great as always … :).

      – Gough

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