Monthly Archives: February 2007

Gluten-Free Makeup – A Cautionary Tale

One would think that refraining from eating foods containing or contaminated with gluten would be sufficient to protect the gluten-allergic from harm. (That and avoiding working in flour mills.)

It seems, however, that gluten has more ways of getting into the body than by the obvious route – it can also get in through the skin.

Every time my wife traveled to the City, despite careful avoidance of any gluten-containing food, she came back with a reaction. For a while, we suspected poor food hygiene and cross-contamination (still a risk). It was then discovered that a cosmetic product that she had been using – only before these journeys – contained wheat derivatives. This was confirmed by the manufacturer, who also advised that the product in question had been withdrawn, although not stating that it was for that reason.

Since then, my wife has moved to using mineral-based cosmetics from JR Minerals who, it should be noted, provided a first-class service.

I have heard since of another story of someone who had to stop working in a bakery due to gluten absorption through the hands. Protective gloves may have been an option, although I would certainly not want to work dough whilst wearing gloves, due to losing the “feel”.

Conclusion – if you you have gluten intolerance, not only do you need to carefully read the ingredients of everything that you eat or drink, but also what comes into contact with the body by other means. You have been warned.

Wheat Free World – Baking Without Gluten

Wheat Free World – Web site, two books and mail-order gluten-free flours and accessories.

I have skimmed through the books and will be testing some of the recipes in the near future. The appearance of margarine (Trans Fats Are Evil) in some recipes made me shudder, but that can always be substituted out.

Reports on my experiences will appear on Smiffy's Place.

Unwelcome Visitors

For a server with no publicly advertised addresses, I get a steady stream of hits on my backup Web server – none of them good. For those who are interested, I have created an annotated text file, detailing a couple of days of traffic.

I have been watching this closely on both of my public servers for about a week; I think I have nearly enough data to automate parsing the logs, doing whois and ptr record searches, etc.

Other than putting it into a database, I don’t know quite what I will do with this data at present. Still, my philosophy is "what you don’t record, you can’t analyse."

I Love My Linodes

For the past three years, my Web hosting has been on a colocated server in Brisbane, Queensland (Australia). Assurances from the provider of how this would be replaced should it fail, have been vague and uncomforting. (I have always maintained a copy on a server in my office, which can take over should the worst happen – albeit slowly.) With that same provider not answering questions like why my RAID1 array only had one disc in it and never getting back to me on what was going to happen about replacing the machine at the end of its service life, I decided that it was time to move on.

Since about August 2006, I made various investigations into hosting alternatives, especially virtual Hosting using Xen and similar. After another unannounced network outage, when I was not even able to reach my provider, I realised that the time had come to act, and to do so swiftly.

Unlike colocated hosting, virtual hosting often comes with no lock-in contracts or minimum terms, at least greater than a month. This gave me the opportunity to do some evaluations before I made a final decision and migrated all my sites, mailing lists, etc.

Evaluation Criteria

Evaluation included, but was not restricted to the following:

  • Full virtual server, with root access essential.
  • Must be able to run Gentoo Linux – I was tired of having to maintain multiple distributions. (The old colocated server ran Fedora Core, which I hated from the outset.)
  • Included bandwidth to exceed, by a large factor, the measly 1Gb inbound of my colocated server.
  • Connectivity must be such that SSH sessions from my location in South Australia should not be noticably slower than to the colocated server.
  • Must be cheap!

VPSLink

The first to try was VPSLink. These virtual servers are located in a data centre in Seattle, WA. The major attraction here was the pricing of the packages – really, really cheap.

Unfortunately, VPSLink failed for me in two respects:

  1. The virtualisation used is OpenVz. Whilst, superficially, the client system looks like a normal Linux installation, trying to run regular performance tools like free and top, everything goes horribly weird. For me, this is just too confusing. I want every Linux installation to behave pretty much like every other one.
  2. SSH sessions from my location are just too slow. As this was my first test of a host in the USA, I was rather worried that this would be the case for all; fortunately, this did not prove to be the case.

Linode

Linode was my second system to test; my first Linode is located at Hurricane Electric in Fremont, California. Whereas VPSLink delivered a familiar Stage 3 Gentoo installation, from which I am used to working, my Linode had other bits set up already, which I found a little confusing. However, the speed of my SSH session more than made up for that little annoyance.

Somehow, and I am not entirely sure how, I managed to get an SSH authentication problem within a short time of starting to set up. For a server on the other side of the planet, this could have been a bit of a nuisance, were it not for the fact that by SSHing to another address, one can actually get remote console access, which absolutely rocks. Quick software update and I was on my way again.

Once I had completed installation and configuration, looking around my new system was like looking around a physical Linux server, apart from not being able to touch the kernel. Linodes run User Mode Linux (UML); free and top run as one would expect them to. In addition to these, the virtual file /proc/io_status provides information on disc IO, which is rationed for fairness.

Linode seems to have a more busy user community than VPSLink and, more to the point, the Linode staff are participants.

Conclusion

As soon as my first Linode was up and running, I had already decided that I much preferred this to my VPSLink. After a little more evaluation, I dumped the VPSLink and set up a second, smaller Linode, located at The Planet in Dallas, Texas.

I have now migrated everything from the colocated box, done a data destruction and shut it down. With full redundancy, with better connectivity and an equivalent of at least 25 times the bandwidth to my colocated server, I am delighted that I am now only paying two thirds as much, sparing my clients any price-hikes this year.

I love my Linodes.

Gluten Free, With Gusto

Finding ourselves in Norwood, at lunchtime, and with the Parade Thai – our usual Norwood eatery – closed, we needed lunch.

As a diabetic, I have to eat (no skipping meals), and with my wife being gluten intolerant, it also has to be quality, gluten-free food with no cross-contamination.

When looking for a “safe” eatery, the reaction of staff to “do you serve gluten-free food?” is always a good indicator. Blank looks or having to ask the kitchen are always a bad sign. Having a plate of gluten-free cakes, handled with the same tongs as other food is also a bad sign.

Asking at Gusto Ristorante got an immediate and postitive “all our risottos are gluten-free”. That was a good sign.

We used to frequent Gusto some while back, when it was known as Sketches. After it was sold and went to the Gusto name, we felt that the quality suffered considerably and had not been back in some time. However, on this visit, we were pleasantly surprised. The food was really excellent.

Both my wife’s risotto and my home-made Ravioli ai Vitello were truly delightful.

Thus begins my documentation of “gluten-free dining in Adelaide”.

Gusto Ristorante
121 The Parade, Norwood
Telephone: 08 8364 6422

Motorola RAZR V3i – two months on

It is now a little over two months since I first wrote about the RAZR V3i. Now for some follow-up comments and observations:

  • It really is portable. I do not think I have ever managed to keep a phone on me for so much of the time before.
  • Screen size and keyboard pitch make SMS composition and reading much easier than with previous phones.
  • Apart from rare lock-ups, generally from shutting the phone too quickly after performing another operation, the main software issue is the regular disappearance of the SD memory card, which can only be resolved with a reboot.
  • The camera quality is no better than expected for something without decent optics; the imager needs a lot of light to get a good picture. Having said that, it is handy to have a camera that is always with one; I have used it as a visual notebook.

Software Development

Having been playing around with Java and NetBeans, and feeling comfortable using them, I was looking forward to writing some applications to run on this phone, which is about as portable as computing can get. However, the SDK from Motorola for developing mobile applications for this phone appears to be for the Windows platform only. Not impressed. When I can run the Sun Java Development Kit and NetBeans on just about any platform I wish (Linux and Solaris, in my case), I find it odd and just a bit disturbing that, what effectively is a plugin for these, is not cross-platform too.

I have opened a support ticket with Motorola, to which I have received an initial – and very unhelpful – reply of “Use Windows”. Having expressed my dissatisfaction at this state of affairs, I have asked for a contact at the SDK team to see if I can somehow extract useable parts for use under Linux. Watch this space.

Update

After a few exchanged messages with Motorola, I am advised that a Linux version of the SDK will be available some time fairly soon. I can’t say fairer than that. In the meantime, I will press on with my generic MIDP application, using the generic J2ME emulator.

NetBeans – An Idiot’s Development Environment (IDE)

Curmudgeon that I am, I have always eschewed fancy, graphical software development tools. A Unix shell and vi was good enough for me twenty years ago, so why would I want all this modern rubbish? For most purposes, I still do work with a Unix Shell (bash) and vi (vim).

Yesterday, I was asked about an offline version of my RainCalc utility. As I appreciate that some people are afflicted by the
Spawn of Redmond, Perl Tk probably wasn’t what was being looked for. Whilst I do have a Windows C/C++ development kit, this would a) entail having to boot into Windows and b) produce something that would not run on Linux.

For quite some time, I have been looking for a practical application around which I could learn Java. Well, here is a perfect reason/excuse. Re-write my RainCalc as a Java application, using the Swing GUI classes.

My only experiences of building applications with GUIs (rather than command line applications and those lurking behind a Web browser) has been with Perl Tk, and not very pleasant. I had read that NetBeans had a really neat GUI builder (formerly called Matisse) so, now that I have a fairly powerful laptop, I downloaded last night NetBeans and innumerable plugins.

I am now about two thirds of the way through writing my Java version of RainCalc, and really am impressed. Whilst IDE is normally taken to mean Integrated Development Environment, it might as well mean Idiots’ Development Environment – the code almost writes itself. Having done it the hard way for so long, I keep finding myself thinking that I am cheating, but then nobody said that programming had to be arduous.

For those who are interested, the Java version of RainCalc will be free to worth, charitable bodies (of which I will be the judge of worthiness), and available for a small sum to others.