Friday Sep 04, 2009

The Exterminator

Well, almost 9 months on from my first fell race, I've now got 12 under my belt and 8 months preparation for this weekend's Exterminator.

When I ran the first race in this series back in January as my first fell race, I got the bug and set myself this race as the target. I actually thought it would be reasonably easy to increase my mileage to 16+ on long runs to prepare for the event, but as it turns out, the mileage wasn't the problem - it was developing the strength and stamina to cope with the almost 4000' of ascent over that distance!

I first reccie'd a large part of the route back in the early spring, and bumped into a guy who'd run it before who thought I was starting preparation very early. He was so wrong! In that first run, I adopted the "if it looks like a hill, walk it" mentality - keeping my heart-rate under 160. This enabled me to get round most of the route without premature death - albeit somewhat slowly. A good tip well received from Clive when I read his report of the Highland Fling.

Since that first reccy, I've done all or large parts of the route (with slight variations to test the times) 4 times. Each time, it's been an extreme effort in lasting the distance. In part that's because I normally do my long runs on Sunday afternoons, and twice they were warm, sunny afternoons which resulted in me being impacted by dehydration. However, I did do one run on a cooler day with plenty of fluids on board, and that convinced me that not only was I nearly ready, but I should also be able to put in a reasonably respectable time.

The event is now less than 48 hours away and I'm in a good state of preparation. Began tapering last week, with a short race on Thursday evening followed by a 9.5 mile moorland run on Sunday. This week I had intended to run with the club on Wednesday evening for an easy leg-stretcher, but the weather was so foul and depressing that I decided that I could easily excuse myself as part of tapering ;-) So now, it's carb-loading for dinner from last night through to Saturday night - pasta with everything. Also plenty of fluids, although a little more alcohol than I should! The weather forecast is looking good for a reasonably mild (19C max), but cloudy Sunday. Perfect running weather!

I was hoping that I would be able to enter the Highland Fling next year, but I'm not sure that I can get in the preparation I need to extend to 50+ miles of running by April. I was also hoping to enter next year's Ben Nevis race, but I know I need much more strength to be able to cope with 4500' of ascent in 9 miles. Hopefully, this Autumn's training should help me make a decision on both, but even if I don't enter either of them, next year I'll be aiming to complete some 20 and 30-mile fell/trail races.

Friday Jan 30, 2009

First Fell Race

I've been running for just over 5 years now, and despite the ideal landscape for fell running in the Derbyshire Peak District around where I live, have never actually braved one of these beasties. Until last weekend, that is!

One of our local clubs puts on a fell racing series each year which is so close to home I can jog too and from them, so this year with a little encouragement from some of my club mates, I took the plunge and entered the first race of the series: the rather strangely named: Tigger Tor.

By the more direct routes between checkpoints, this is around 9 miles with 1700' of ascent, so it's moderately challenging in general fell running terms.

After recce'ing the route a couple of times with friends from my club, I set myself a target of 1:50. I actually thought I could do it 5-10 minutes less than this, but being my first fell race, slightly unfit and not knowing what to expect (except wet feet), I set myself up to be happy with something around this time.

One of my team mates said that it's okay to walk in fell races, so I should expect to have to do so in this race. Indeed, I did need to walk a couple of times, but as I was already mentally prepared for this, it didn't bother me, and I think it helped overall in that I was able to refresh myself and carry on running at a reasonable pace afterwards.

Once the race had started, I didn't look at my watch again until the finish. It's not like a half-marathon or 10K - where you can check your pace and adjust accordingly, so the time at any particular point during the race is largely irrelevant. However, when I did check my watch at the finish, I found that I'd come home in 1:32. Not only that, but I was well into the top half of the finishers list too. To say I was chuffed to bits is a bit of an understatement as I didn't think I was anywhere near fit enough to do that!

What Wikipedia doesn't tell you about fell running is that you have to be ever-so slightly demented to take part. I mean, what kind of person willingly runs through calf-deep mud, crosses streams by the shortest, not driest route, and throws themselves downhill with all the abandon of a mountain goat?

It turns out though, that I have become one of those people.

My motivation for racing has now returned after over a year of apathy, and I now know I will try to get fitter and stronger for the next race... After the next slice of pizza that is.

Monday Mar 31, 2008

9 Gold Medals!!

What a truly stunning performance by British cyclists at the World Track Cycling Championships which finished yesterday.

If you didn't catch this on the BBC, you missed a rare treat. This was cycling at its most exciting - not just because of the successes of the British athletes (although that helped), but because of the support from the enthusiastic crowd at the Manchester Velodrome, the excellent commentary from Hugh Porter and Gary Sutton, and the fast (and often furious) racing.

I think the highlight for me was the men's Madison, in which Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins not only showed what it takes to be true champions when the chips are down, but in their modesty about their achievment afterwards. This was a stunning race which had me on the edge of my seat all the way through.

Watching the events that the British team were not so successful in, you can see that there is talent developing there, and I'm sure that we will be in for a real treat at the Olympics later in the year. Whilst the press will surely focus on the Gold medal performances and the high profile riders, it is great to see that we also have younger cyclists such as Steven Burke (in the Omnium) coming up through the ranks and getting personal bests throughout the competition.

Congratulations to all of the athletes and team support staff taking part in this event for making it so memorable!

Finally, thanks to the BBC for their excellent coverage. As I've already mentioned, the racing commentary was excellent, but the background and interviews by Jill Douglas with help from Jamie Staff were also top quality. Great work Beeb!

Monday Dec 17, 2007

2007 Bolsover 10k Race Report

Well, another year has gone and another Bolsover 10k was run at the weekend.

It was a typical cold and frosty start again this year, after last year's relatively mild day, although thankfully there was no ice around to make it treacherous underfoot as there was the first year I ran this race. Unfortunately, unlike the past 3 years, it was a cloudy day, so no winter sunshine to cheer us all up!

As usual, the start was near the bottom of the lane by Bolsover School. Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part about the organisation of this race, as everyone has to make their way down from the school to the start line and then turn around because the race goes up the lane. Of course the faster runners tend to clump around the start line ready for the big off, and that means that the late-comers end up either having to squeeze their way through or (as seems to be the case) simply push into the crowd just behind the 'elite' runners. The end result of this is a somewhat chaotic start where the faster runners have to work their way past a lot of late-arriving slower runners.

Last year, I think I complained that I/others couldn't hear what the starter was saying and that he should get a loud-hailer. This year, I couldn't tell whether or not the starter said anything - there was much too much babble in the throng where I was at the start. That said, though, the start was clean and away on time at 10.30 (at least from my perspective).

Marshalling and general organisation was as good as in previous years, and it was cheering to be encouraged on by these folks who gave up their free Sunday morning to stop whinging motorists and encourage sweaty runners. Although I didn't make use of it, the drinks station at 5km seemed to be a welcome sight for a lot of runners. I pity the poor folks who had to walk down the lane and pick up all of the discarded cups, though!

As usual, the finish was in the grounds of Bolsover School, with lots of support from friends and families of runners (and the obligatory burger/tea van). Thankfully, since they started using chip timing in this race, the finish has got much easier, without the funnels which quickly got backed up in previous years.

The memento this year was a long-sleeved t-shirt, as it was 2 years ago (only a different design). Although I like it, my T-shirt drawer is getting full, so maybe next year they will pick something different like hey have in previous years (wall clock and stop watch, to name but two).

Overall, this was a well organised race with good support, and I heartily recommend it as a good bit of fun just before Christmas.

Oh, and I ran it it 42:36 - bang on my target time. A minute down on last year, but I expected that. Maybe next year I'll be fit enough to set a PB on this course (which the organisers claim the course is good for)!

Monday Nov 19, 2007

Kalenji "Protect 5000 Windbreaker" Review

I thought I'd write up a separate review of my new Decathlon running jacket for the benefit of anyone considering buying one.

What attracted me to this jacket was the fact that it is windproof, waterproof and lightweight. It also seems to be cut for skinny runners like me, and I quite like the dayglo yellow colour too (although my wife and kids think it's ghastly, but what do they know?).

There was a RonHill lightweight jacket on the peg next to this one, and it was about £25 cheaper, but on close inspection, it was a lot thinner, only good for light rain, and didn't appear to be "breathable". I have a cycling jacket that fits that bill already, so no point in buying something similar!


All seams and zips are taped to prevent water ingres. This is a good feature which is missing in many cheaper jackets and which is why they aren't good for really bad weather.

The jacket has a hood, which seems to be a good fit, but which I'll probably never use as I prefer a woolly hat. Fortunately, it unzips from the jacket and the jacket has a nice little flap which folds down over the zipper when the hood is removed. Nice touch! The hood itelf has a draw-tie at the back and a loop and hook (aka Velcro) tab on the front to make for wrapping you up well against the elements.

Ventilation on the jacket is by means of a concealed vent on the back of the jacket, and two zipped vents on the sleeves. I guess that's what they mean by "breathable", although I tend to prefer GoreTex - at least for hiking (I have heard that GoreTex can't release vapour fast enough for runners, but haven't ever tried it). The one thing that concerned me about the vent on the back of the jacket is that it is not closeable. So, with a strong enough wind, you may notice cold air or even water getting in (more on that later). The zipped vents on the sleeves are good quality with water-resistant taping over the zipper when it is closed (this is also repeated on the front of the jacket).

The cuffs have two hook & loop patches which allow you to adjust how tight the cuffs are when the jacket is on. I found that getting these right with a pair of gloves on to be a bit tricky, but the fit was good in the end and the sleeves did not ride up or let the cold air/rain in as my cycling jacket has a tendency to do.

The neck is a reasonably close fit when the front zip is fully up. I don't have a fat neck, but I imagine that someone with an above normal neck size might find it difficult to zip all the way up and still remain comfortable. There was no draw-tie on the neck as some jackets have, which I thought was going to be a problem, but turned out not to be!


I will caveat this by saying that I've only worn the jacket once, and although there was wind and rain, neither were particularly heavy.

The jacket material is fairly thin, so I opted to run in a vest under a Lowe long sleeved base-layer. I thought that this combination might lead to me overheating - even in the cold conditions, but I'd rather be too warm than cold when out running. It turns out that this was a pretty good combination for the prevailing conditions. My shoulders wer cold for the first 10 minutes or so, but once I'd warmed up, I didn't have any issues until I was cooling down again after the run.

The most problematic aspect of all foul-weather jackets I've tried is that under exertion (eg hills or fast road work), you tend to heat up a lot quicker than with normal running gear. This jacket is really no exception to this. However, I did find that I didn't overheat as I thought I might - even with hat and gloves on. Not only that but once I got home, I found that I wasn't soaked with sweat as I usually am when running in my waterproof cycling jacket with similar levels of exertion. I can only attribute this to a better "breathability" of the jacket.

I mentioned earlier that I was concerned about the vents on the back letting in cold air or even rain when it is very windy and wet. This did not occur during my run, and although it was not a particularly strong wind or heavy rain, I am confident that the jacket will hold true even if the weather were that bad.

I supsected also that because the neck was a little loose, I would get rain in. This did not appear to be the case, although I have to confess that the Lowe base-layer does have a high, close-fitting neckline on it, so even if rain got under the coat collar, I probably would not have noticed it unless it was significant enough to wet me through.


Lastly, let's talk about the price: £64.95! Fortunately, my son works at Decathlon, so I got a 20% discount off, but even so, it is an expensive piece of running atire. I've seen Gore Wear jackets much more expensive than this (and was indeed tempted by one), so in reality, it is a mid-priced jacket.


Overall, I'm very pleased with the jacket. It appears to do everything Declathlon claim of it, and does it well. I think the price is probably a little high, but knowing Decathlon, they will have pitched it well against what they consider its opposition.

The only minor negatives for me are the slightly fiddly hook & loop patches on the cuffs and the lack of a draw-tie on the neck. However, these are very minor issues.

There ar undoubtedly cheaper jackets on the market, but for the features, overall, I think this is a fair price.

First wintery run of the season

Yesterday was a cold and miserable winter's day, despite the official start of winter being some 5 weeks away. The temperature peaked at 3°C (38°F for the metrically challenged), it was windy and it rained with some sleet for most of the day.

Being a bit of a fair weather runner, I was in two minds whether or not to go out in such miserable conditions, knowing full well that I'd be in for a good soaking! However, I have a goal to get fitter in time for the Bolsover 10K in mid December, so needs must. Not only that, but I spent a fair amount of cash on a wind and waterproof running jacket a couple of months ago, and it needed a performance evaluation.

Now it has to be said that I pride myself on being a hardy Northerner and will run in shorts even when the weather is 0°C or slightly below outside. However, I hate the combination of wind and sleet so I slipped into my trusty pair of RonHill Bikester DXB tights to try to keep some warmth in my muscles. I tend to wear these a few times over winter on the coldest of days or if the wind is up, but other than that shorts are best.

Completing the rather fetching outfit with a woolly hat and a pair of running gloves, I was ready to go.

It actually turned out to be quite a nice run, except when the rain/sleet was blowing straight into my face. I managed to average 12.4km/hr (7.65mph), which is a little faster than my normal training pace of around 12km/hr, but it felt easy - even up the hills. Total distance was 15.2km (9.4 miles). I'm glad I made the effort to go out!

Late yesterday evening it snowed heavily and we had about 5cm before the snow turned to rain. By this morning the snow had completely disappeared again. This was the story of last winter, but it has come earlier this year, so I'm hopeful for a nice cold winter with plenty of snowfall.

Friday Oct 19, 2007

Calling Jython from a Java Servlet

I'm not really sure why anyone else would want to do this, but we have a big application written in Python that we have been experimenting in calling from Java using Jython. The complexity was that the application uses cpickle as part of its communications layer, so we needed to initialise Jython's copy of cpickle before we could use it. This was, in fact, no mean feat and took several hours of poking around in the Jython source to get to the answer!!

So, in the interests of saving other people jumping through a similar hoop in future, I've documented what worked for me here...

The Java magic you need to initialize Jython and (in particular) the cpickle class is:

    private static void initPython()
        PySystemState.initialize(PySystemState.getBaseProperties(), null, null);
        PySystemState sys = new PySystemState();
        Py.setFrame(new PyFrame(null, sys.__dict__, sys.__dict__, null));

I'm sorry that I can't tell you what each step does because other than the first step, which is the main initialisation for Jython, I really don't know. It's enough for me that it actually works ;)

Once you have the code set up and compiling okay, when you call java, you need to tell it where to find Jython:

java -cp my-app-dir:/local/packages/jython/jython.jar -Dinstall.root=/local/packages/jython my-app

This enables Jython to correctly find its registry, in which I'd already updated python.path to include the path to Jython's Python dir ("Lib") and our own Python code dir.

However, not content with this suffering, we decided to write a servlet to access the Python application. This uses the same initialisation as above, but this time we need to tell Jython what the python.path should look like, since we don't want to be setting global JVM variables in the webserver for one application.

So the magic to add to your servlet's init() method should look something like this:

    public void init() throws ServletException. IOException
        Properties pOverride = new Properties();
        String jythonPythonPath = getServletContext().getRealPath("lib/jython") + "/Lib";
        String pythonPath = jythonPythonPath + File.pathSeparator + "/my-app/lib/python";
        pOverride.put("python.path", pythonPath);
        PySystemState.initialize(PySystemState.getBaseProperties(), pOverride, null);
        PySystemState sys = new PySystemState();
        Py.setFrame(new PyFrame(null, sys.__dict__, sys.__dict__, null));
The second argument to PySystemState.initialize is (obviously) a Properties instance which contains those properties which you want to replace (or set, in our case) during Jython's initialisation. We only set python.path but if you look in the Jython registry, you can see what other options there are.

Note that this code could (and probably should) go into a static initialiser rather than a class method, but the servlet was really only a test harness, so it wasn't coded for style/robustness/whatever!

Finally, we set up the WAR file build so that it copies the Jython installation directory into "lib" at the root of our WAR file. This is probably overkill, since we already have jython.jar in the jars for the build and it only appears to need the "Lib" directory (which contains the Python code), but it was expedient and I haven't had time to test paring it down yet.

Friday Oct 12, 2007

Second Life

Dave recently blogged about a fairly senior Sun engineer raving about Second Life, but says he doesn't get it.

After working out a couple of issues with the client on Solaris 10 Update 3 with the developer a couple of months ago, I cranked it up, created myself an avatar and spent 30 minutes wandering around there.

I can safely say that I don't really get it either. As Dave says, it sure looks nice, but that's really about it as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and Dave - I made my Avatar slightly overweight - maybe that's why nobody would talk to me in Second Life?

Cheap running shoes as good as expensive ones?

Yahoo! has an article today which describes some analysis done by researchers in Scotland that concluded that low-mid price running shoes were as effective at cushioning the foot as more expensive (GBP 70+) shoes.

The researchers added two caveats to their findings:

The kinetics of running on the treadmill may have been different for the volunteers wearing the test shoes, when compared to wearing their own personal shoes.

The durability of the shoes' mid-soles and in-soles -- whether the "cushionability" of the footwear either faded or endured with prolonged use -- was not put to the test.

That's quite some cop-out, if you don't mind me saying - particularly the durability issue.

I am not a scientist, but I have been running for a while, so I think I know a little bit about it by now...

Firstly, as most runners will attest to, the kinetics of running on a treadmill are vastly different to running on the road:

  • The treadmill is a moving surface, so this requires less effort to "move" the body forward than would be required on the road. I therefore suggest that the amount of pressure on the forefoot on "pushoff" would be lower on the treadmill than on the road.
  • Most treadmills have a cushioned bed. Whilst this might not affect the pressure measured in the test shoe, it does alter the way a runner runs because it adds "spring" to the running step.

Secondly, by adding a pressure plate ("Pedar") inside the shoe presumably between the insole and sole, the researchers would seem to be completely ignoring the effect of the cushioning provided by the technology in the shoe's sole, or at the very least skewing their data. In my research for shoes for myself, I can safely say that the more expensive shoes tend to have different technology in the sole to cushion and/or provide better running dynamics, so this is not something that can be ignored.

Finally, this research only focussed on cushioning. Whilst I prefer a well-cushioned shoe, it is not a priority for all runners, some need motion control, some want the shoe to be very responsive to their running gait. Whilst not all shoes are strong on these three details, the cost of the shoe is generally related to its ability to do one or more of these things very well.

I am not suggesting that everyone invest in a pair of expensive shoes. Buy what you can afford - particularly if you are new to running. However, I would not blindly accept this research as being gospel. Test shoes for yourself in the shop and figure out what is comfortable for you.

Thursday Jun 07, 2007

Patch 125720-03 on Ultra 40

I thought I should blog about this just in case, like mine, your desktop monitor (temporarily) becomes no better than a cheap terminal!

My Ultra 40 came pre-installed with S10U3, and I have been keeping it up-to-date with all of the latest security and recommended patches using Sun Connection Update Manager. A few days ago, Sun released patch 125720-03 as a security fix for the Xorg server, so I duly installed it like any good admin should ;) along with a couple of other security fixes which came out the same day.

The problem was that after rebooting, the window system did not start up, and what was worse was that I could not get the console login prompt to login to find out why. The moniter showed the normal message indicating that the X server was being started, but other than flashing a couple of times, it did not start or exit to allow me to find out what the cause was.

Luckily, I have my trusty laptop hanging around, so I logged in from there, figured out which patch was the likely suspect and removed it. Within a few seconds, the X server started up and we were up and running again. A quick poke around in /var/dt/Xerrors showed the following:

1214:   /usr/X11/bin/Xorg :0 -depth 24 -nobanner -auth /var/dt/A:0-vCaiJb
 fef70b47 read     (a, 8047950, ff)
 080e391d xf86SigHandler (b, 0, 8047b20) + ed
 fef7013f __sighndlr (b, 0, 8047b20, 80e3830) + f
 fef666ed call_user_handler (b, 0, 8047b20) + 22b
 fef6686d sigacthandler (b, 0, 8047b20) + bb
 --- called from signal handler with signal 11 (SIGSEGV) ---
 feab7443 _nv000949X (f9e00000, 4b00780, 2000, 1820, 842e484, cafe0001) + c3
 00000000 ???????? (0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 20)
 feb86948 ???????? ()

Fatal server error:
Caught signal 11.  Server aborting
This seems to indicate that the X server is crashing whilst trying to access the nVidia driver (that's a guess, BTW).

I logged a bug about this 6565662 which was handled very efficiently by the engineering group responsible for the nVidia drivers and it turns out that this is an issue with the particular version of the nVidia X driver installed on my machine:

pkginfo -l NVDAgraphics
   PKGINST:  NVDAgraphics
      NAME:  NVIDIA Graphics System Software
  CATEGORY:  system,graphics
      ARCH:  i386
   VERSION:  1.0.8776,REV=2006.
   BASEDIR:  /usr
    VENDOR:  NVIDIA Corporation
      DESC:  X and OpenGL Drivers for NVIDIA Quadro graphics
    PSTAMP:  builder2920061016223323
  INSTDATE:  Feb 27 2007 09:54
   HOTLINE:  Please contact your local service provider
    STATUS:  completely installed
     FILES:      115 installed pathnames
                  26 shared pathnames
                  34 directories
                   5 executables
I had version 1.0.8776 installed, but the Xorg server in patch 125720-03 requires a facility of the nVIDIA driver which is not available until later releases, so an upgrade to the nVIDIA driver was required - to at least 1.0.9637.

If you work for Sun, you can get the updated drivers from here. Otherwise, you need to visit nVIDIA.

I have it on good authority that the README for patch 125720-03 will be updated to reflect this dependency in the patch installation instructions.

Thursday Mar 15, 2007

Music meme

Kevin tagged me about music in order to get me to blog. I find it difficult to believe that we're almost 3 months into the year and I haven't written anything yet. I think I've got writer's block or something.

Anyway, I am asked to name 5 songs or artists which I love, but which annoy my wife. This actually proved to be quite difficult in some respects because although both of us tend to like similar "pop", but we don't tend to listen to a lot of music, except whilst we're in the car or otherwise travelling.

So, to the 5 (artists), in no particular order, which my wife definitely doesn't like:

  1. Linkin Park
  2. Stone Temple Pilots
  3. Yes
  4. Green Day
  5. Roxy Music

Thanks for waking me up Kevin, it was fun reviewing the music on my iPod to find these things.

So, riddle me this batman: is "meme" pronounced as "meem" or "me me"?

Wednesday Dec 20, 2006

Bolsover 10K Race Report

I really find it difficult to comprehend how fast this year has gone by. It barely seems a couple of months since I last ran the Bolsover 10K.

Amazingly enough, for the third year in a row, the weather was great for the race. After some overnight rain, there was a chilly start in glorious winter sunshine. Although the temperature was only around 5°C (40°F), it would have been okay to run in shorts and T-shirt, but I opted for a long sleeve thermal top and shorts instead. Next time, I think I'll go with the T-shirt as I got a little too warm in the latter stages of the race.

The race was over the same course as the previous two years, and after a bit of a squash on the start line we were underway pretty much on time.

Having done very little speed training over the summer, I wasn't expecting great things from the race, but I set off at my normal 10K pace with the idea that I'd try to bag as many seconds as I could in the early part of the race, knowing I'd be slower later. And so it worked!

I felt pretty good for the first 7K, but then began to tire a bit. It's a gentle uphill pretty much all the way from the 7km mark to the finish, and whilst I'm reasonably good on hills, my lack of speedwork was the telling problem as we plugged our way toward the finish. The last Km was the worst for me - it's flattish for the first 500m, then uphill for the remainder of the race into Bolsover School. That's been the real killer for me every year so far, and my club colleagues also said the same this year. A guy caught me up at the 9Km mark and I thought he'd be off as we neared the finish, but I managed to keep with him up to the last 250m when my legs finally decided that they were at their speed limit as far as propelling me forwards was concerned. He finished 6 seconds ahead of me in the end, but due to the beauty of chip timing, had the same personal time as me.

The difference in this race for me this year was that I actually enjoyed it (well, apart from the last 500m). I felt good most of the way round, and the lovely morning made it all the better. In previous years, despite the weather being good, I've felt so knackered part way round that I just lost all of the enjoyment. I set a new personal best for the course of 41:20 - taking a whopping 10 seconds off last year's time. I was pleased with that, although judging by the number of people in front of me, if I'd been as fast, comparatively, as last year, I would have taken more than 10s off the time. Still, I'm not grumbling and it has got me remotivated again to try to beat 40 minutes in a 10K in 2007.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the race organisers and marshalls, all of whom did a wonderful job! I liked the stop-watch memento (although I must confess to preferring the usual t-shirt).

For a change, this probably won't be my last race of the year as my club is organising a cross-country race in a local park on December 30th. I haven't run a proper cross-country race since I was in school (all of 30 years ago), which I remember disliking a lot. However, I have done a fair amount of off-road running over the summer and autumn, so this will be a bit of post-Christmas fun to finish off the year. I haven't started planning next year's runs yet, but I will over the Christmas break.

Friday Nov 24, 2006

Networking wierdness between two S10 boxes

For some months now, I've been having a problem with file transfer between my Sun SPARC workstation and an x86 box - both running Solaris 10.

The problem manifested itself as extremely poor NFS performance and 'scp' - where the SPARC box was the client and the x86 box the server, but only in that direction. scp to the x86 box was seemingly fine. Strangely enough, ftp worked okay in both directions.

What I found was that when using scp to transfer a file from the x86 box to the SPARC box, it would transfer a few KB, then wait a few seconds, transfer a few KB more, wait a bit longer, ... The waits got longer and longer (roughly doubling every time) making it a pain to transfer a file anything larger than a few KB.

At first, I thought it might be a crypto problem, since ftp appeared to be working fine, but NFS was slow when configured as V3 or V4, so I pretty much ruled that out.

In fact, I reached a dead-end on diagnosis and just tolerated it for the past 6 months - up until 2 days ago.

I happened to mention the problem to a colleague and after some discussion he suggested that maybe the Ethernet NIC on my x86 box was running in half-duplex mode, and simply couldn't keep up with ack's from the SPARC box when transferring lots of data. Sure enough, a little experimentation identified that this was a strong possibility. A quick Google located a discussion on db forums which highlighted my 3COM card as being a little problematic. FTP apparently doesn't wait for ack's, it just pours data down the pipe, which would explain why it apparently worked ok and scp ddidn't.

So, after a little careful checking of what drivers might be needed, I settled on a Linksys LNE100TX with drivers kindly provided for all by Garrett Damore.

The new card arrived yesterday, and after some PCI slot reorganisation and a fistful of reboots, the card sprang into life with Garrett's superb 'afe' driver. File transfers are now far, far faster than they were before, in both directions - a transfer of a 320MB file taking just 30s (it took 3.5 minutes yesterday to do the same operation: SPARC -> x86).

I'm happy now and the 3COM NIC is destined for the garbage or maybe eBay.... :)

Thursday Oct 05, 2006

Britsol Half Marathon 2006 race report

Well, despite my obvious shortage of blogs on the subject, I am still running and a couple of weeks ago I ran the Bristol Half Marathon for the third (and probably last) time.

In the past two years, the course has done a quick loop in Bristol City Centre before heading out along the Portway, under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. A couple of miles along Portway, the course would turn back on itself and we'd head back into the city with the final couple of miles around the centre.

This year, however, the organisers decided to change the route, so this time we started around the old docks area and headed into the city centre in a quick loop before a long run out much further along the Portway. The turn on the Portway was on an uphill stretch at about 8.5miles, and then there was the long run back towards the city, with the finish fairly close to the start in the old docks area.

I have to say that I much preferred the old route. We spent more time in the city centre, which gave supporters a better chance of spotting us. It also seemed to me to be easier, and a quick comparison of runners times between last year and this would seem to support the fact that the new course was harder.

As for my race, well I probably hadn't prepared as well as I should. Although I've been doing 20+ miles a week during the summer, not much of it was fast miles, and I think that may have compromised my race performance. My first 3 miles were on my target race pace (around 6m 50 per mile), but after that, things just went horribly and by 10 miles I really wanted to give up and walk (my pace dropped to over 8m miles at that point). I can't tell you how glad I was to get to the finish, but it was nearly the end of me. Given all of that, I still managed a very respectable 1hr 35 for the distance, and 620 place out of 9700+. Most people would be very happy with a time like that, but I know that I could have done much better, which kind of took the pleasure out of it for me. Oh, and somehow I missed the people giving out the race medals, so I don't have one of those to add to my collection this year.

Up to now, I've really enjoyed the Bristol race, but this year it just didn't do it for me, despite the great crowds of enthusiastic supporters all around the course. Given that it's also expensive for me to run - £25 entry, £40 in fuel and £100 in hotel charges, I no longer think it's worth the effort. So, I think that's my last - at least for the time being, and next year I'll give the Nottingham Half Marathon a try as it's only an hour away from home, but has a great course and great support.

One final note is that I noticed that someone from "Sun Microsystems RC" also took part in the Bristol race, and I didn't even know that we had a running club!

Wednesday Oct 04, 2006

Live Upgrade ate my system

For reasons which I won't bother the reader with, I decided to use Live Upgrade to upgrade my system from Solaris 10 Update 1 to Solaris 10 6/06.

Since I already upgraded my system from Solaris 9 to Solaris 10 using Live Upgrade, I thought this would be a doddle, and indeed it was.

First, delete the old Solaris 9 boot environment:

        # ludelete solaris_9

Next, create the new boot environment on the same partition as the old Solaris 9 partition:

        # lucreate -m /:/dev/dsk/c0t1d0s0:ufs -n solaris10_u2 -f /tmp/excludes
Note that here I tried to exclude some file systems which I would rather not be part of the new BE. Sadly, this failed, for some reason (maybe because they are part of the current boot env).

Now, do the upgrade from the Solaris 10 6/06 DVD:

        # luupgrade -u -n solaris10_u2 -s /cdrom/sol_10_305_sparc/s0

And finally, activate the new boot environment and reboot:

        # luactivate solaris10_u2
        # shutdown -y -i6 -g0

Those of you already familiar with Live Upgrade will no doubt know that the luactivate command spouts out some information about what to do if your new boot environment fails. It turns out that this was a life-saver for me - especially as I was rather rash in attempting to fix the mess which followed the reboot.

So, the system rebooted and it was immediately apparent that something had gone badly wrong with the live upgrade. A number of modules could not be loaded because of missing symbols: aggr and zfs to name but two. Then, when X-windows tried to start up, it failed and I see I have a core file from 'dtgreet' left in the root directory.

Unfortunately, here's where I panic'ed (no pun intended). Instead of thinking rationally about the problem, I thought it must be a kernel issue, so I rather rashly copied over /platform/sun4u/kernel/sparcv9/unix from the original boot environment into the same place on the current boot environment (without making a backup!!!!!!). Surprise, surprise, ... on attempting to reboot, the kernel panic'ed early in the boot and that was game over.

After some faffing around booting from DVD and trying to correct the fault, I finally recalled the sage words spouted by luactivate, so I managed to pull these from the handy-dandy typescript file I cunningly made whilst performing the upgrade.

luactivate says to "Mount the Current boot environment root slice". However, what you really need to do is to mount the old boot environment root slice, because it is that you need to activate. That's worth remembering!

Now comes another tricky bit: for some bizarre reason, when booting from DVD, the device tree for the disks is set up with the disks hanging off controller 1 instead of controller 0 as they are in the disk boots. So, you happily mount the old boot environment root slice and try to run the luactivate command to reactivate that BE. Needless to say, this fails with a complaint about it being on the wrong disk partition.

The fix for this is to do the following (assuming c0t1d0s4 is the old BE and c0t1d0s0 is the currently active BE):

        # cd /dev/dsk
        # ln -s c1t1d0s4 c0t1d0s4
        # ln -s c1t1d0s0 c0t1d0s0
        # cd ../rdsk
        # ln -s c1t1d0s2 c0t1d0s2
Then, mount the correct device and run luactivate. This should run through successfully.

Finally reboot and we're back to where we were before we started.

I'm not sure if I should re-attempt the live upgrade or just give it up as a bad job for the moment, but I thought I'd share my experience (and stupidity) in case it is helpful to anyone else.




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