All posts made in Dec. 2005:

I'm hooked on Animal Crossing (Nintendo MMO for 5-8 year olds). I've just got the multiplayer version for my DS and I'd like to try out having guests and visiting other towns. If you want to say hello, I'm Genmon of Londra and you'll need my friendcode: 2062-2048-3996. I think I'll also need yours, so let me know by email. (Oh, and I'm 107436-228492 on Mariokart.)

Incidentally, Animal Crossing is a game where all the other non-player characters are bipedal speaking animals. Londra, my town, is also the capital of the Dark Empire of Granbretan in Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon books. Londra is a city of grotesque architecture that aches the eye as soon as you look at it. Granbretanians speak languages secret to the Order they are part of and obsessively wear ornate masks when in public, decorated to look like animal heads.

When you get a splinter, some of it snaps off and the rest is slowly broken down and absorbed by your body. The skin is a million tiny mouths, the skin is a surface of a million tiny stomachs. Sometimes the remnant is expelled: Lazy, puking stomachs. If you tightly bound a piece of meat to your arm, over skin grazed back to living cells, how long would it take to be eaten?

Follow-up on my request for hosting advice: It looks like a virtual server with root access is the way to go, but I'm a little nervous about performance--very few of my sites are static, and they spend a lot of time stat'ing files and hitting the database. Still, probably worth it if I don't have to care about hardware. And although 5Gb of drive space seems a bit claustrophobic after 120Gb and a gig of RAM with a fast processor (yes, my server used to do more), I should probably stop treating it as a home-away-from-home now I can do development on my laptop too.

Recommendations so far:

  • John Companies [thanks kellan] do daily backups and I'm told have good performance.
  • OpenHosting [thanks My McCluskey] have an intriguing pricing model based on resource consumption. They also take daily snapshot backups.
  • TextDrive [thanks David Thompson and others] offer most of the software I'm after and come with a great reputation... I'm not sure I can tear myself away from root access quite yet though.
  • Bytemark [passed along from friends by Tom Carden and others] have the advantage of being UK based. They provide backup space but don't do it automatically. I use them on another project, and they've been responsive and reliable. I'd kind of like those automatic backups though.
  • Layer 42 have also come recommended. They offer colo and custom server build, and were prompt and friendly when I asked for a quote (which was reasonable!). I think I'm going to go virtual though, so I mention it here for completeness.

Ask MeFi has a thread on virtual root access servers [via Chris Heathcote] and they mention a few of the same places and some more. These stand out in particular: Linode; Rimu Hosting; Vcolo. So much choice!

Hunting through these also exposed me to Xen, UML and VServer for virtual private servers. Xen is newer but faster, according to Slashdot in March 2005. Well. Linode uses UML (or at least, they did in March 2004). Bytemark also use UML (ref, June 2005). Vcolo use UML. Rimu use Xen. OpenHosting has VServer. From googling and email it seems John Companies uses Virtuozzo (comparable with Xen).

I think it comes down to John and Rimu. The two terms of service don't have much to choose between them. Once you take into account that you need to buy more backup disk space with Rimo, and that with Virtuozzo you can apparently slightly overstate the amount of RAM you get, I think what you get for your money works out about the same. There are raves about John all over the www. On the other hand, Rimu have open forums and talk with their customers more, and apparently respond within minutes rather than days. Then again, John's been around for a little longer, and I am reassured by the professional appearance of their terms of service. The last thing I have to care about - speed of disk IO - I can't find any comparisons about. There's barely anything in it, is there?

Okay, I have to choose (mainly because I need to go for dinner). John Companies it is. They offer FreeBSD, which I've used for 4-5 years and I can configure exactly how I like even when I'm half asleep (plus the ports tree can't be beat), and I like that the backups are their responsibility. I'm off to sign up.

Over on S&W, I'm posting to the Nokia Personalisation blog about our early material explorations (our project is about making experimental prototypes looking at mobile phone personalisation). So far I've shown what we've done with wood and fabric (there are others to come), but I'm also talking how the form and material of the mobile phone is relevant to a culture of local manufacture and usage, and the other ideas this strategy of material exploration has revealed. Plus there are photos. Start here.

Hosting or All Good Things Must Come to an End: These words are held on a machine called It's also called and Authoritatively, so far as the internet and DNS are concerned, it's really called, created on 23 November, 1999. It wasn't the first domain I bought (that was, created on 15 January, 1999) but it was the first on a server I administered myself. It was also the first on a machine I built from components, installed, looked after, stayed up all night fixing, didn't back up enough, and eventually moved all my other sites over to. The server is my secure host to send mail; it accepts email (with secure IMAP and webmail) and runs websites for a dozen or more domains, is a primary and secondary DNS for yet more domains, runs my databases, holds my email archives, is a host for a few of my close friends, my code repository, a testbed for my public and private projects... and more.

For the last 6 years, historicalfact has been sitting first in a cupboard and then in a fancy rack on a posh datafloor, thanks to the enormous generosity of my friends at Cambro and Don't Stay In. Now they're growing up, and I must move on. But where next?

Ideally I'd like: A whole server (so I wouldn't be scared about bringing down other sites. Maybe a good virtual one would do) which I administer myself (so pre-installed with Debian or FreeBSD), where somebody else looks after the hardware and mirrors the hard-drive nightly. Any suggestions?

Perhaps I should change the way I host all my services. I'm not sure who I'd trust with my email archive, and I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my code repository... but it would be good to see some options. Recommendations most welcome.

10 days of meditation practice now. I'm getting quite a pattern going: I don't want to sit when I get up, but do anyway. A minute or so in, my mind quietens down some. 8-10 minutes in, it starts feeling a bit different, a little less like I'm just sitting. Beyond that I just sit and do whatever I'm doing that day, and some time around 18 minutes I feel like I'm waking up a little bit.

My sense of time has improved enormously. I can say pretty exactly how long I've been sitting--or at least, I think I can, because I can't see a clock. Yesterday, my sudden waking-up feeling happened just a few seconds before the 20 minute chime. It's reassuring to know how long I've been sitting, but it also makes it difficult to ignore the time passing. 43 Folders has a post (and comments) on low-key meditation timers which, I don't know, feels like the sort of thing I want to avoid. Giving me something to be background-aware of is just another thing to try to be unaware of later.

So, what happens in those 20 minutes? It's getting harder to say. I move through a number of different feelings, and they seem to come in pretty much the same order each day. There are one or two I remember, but mostly I don't. A couple of days ago, while sitting, I realised that I recognised the feeling I was having from the day before, and I meant to remember it (both times). I couldn't tell you what it is now, though.

One day, I couldn't count my breaths. I kept on thinking: 1, 1, 1. That was odd, and also a great day (last Thursday or Friday I think).

I've also hit some kind of limit, for the time being. It's as if I think on 3 levels. First there's the busy-busy thinking that doesn't really go anywhere, the sort that clutters me up when I first sit down. That goes after a few minutes. Second there's me thinking as if I'm speaking. It's the thinking that I do when I'm trying to figure stuff out. It's thinking about stuff. That's difficult to make still, and happens very rarely, maybe for a minute a day. I have to notice myself doing it, and let it go.

Third, there's the level which is the me-that-does-the-noticing. It's hard to explain this. I can't see it right this second, for example, because I'm thinking with level 2 over the top of it. And it doesn't even make sense to say "I see it" because I am it. It's the level that performs the noticing of drifting thoughts. When it drifts itself - which it does, continuously, because it's not controlled - there's nothing remaining to say "hey, stop that." I can distract it for a little by letting it attach to certain perceptions, and that works for maybe only seconds at a time. I think about my tongue touching the top of my mouth, my thumbs on my fingers, on keeping a good posture (this is a really good one, as it happens), and the faint, high-pitched sound my ears make. Once I, or equally, my level 3, focuses on those, I'm not really aware of anything else--but when I stop focusing, there's no other level to let "me" know. Some days I don't even get this far.

Although it feels like this level 3 (call it my "me" or my awareness, or my consciousness) is pretty much all over the place, I guess it does have some tendencies. Each moment, it does something indicated to it the moment before, or it does something random. I guess this is where my habits come in too, which is why it's good to practice sitting quietly.

This morning was the first morning I've broken off before my time was complete. I stopped at 10 minutes in frustration and discomfort. I've been sitting in a different place - in a different house - for the last couple of days. I thought the lack of traffic noise and countryside out of the window would help, yesterday, but it made things more difficult. This morning there were more distractions: I'd already had a cup of tea, I was hungry, I was cross and upset (I don't know why, I woke up like that), and - most importantly - I thought somebody might walk in at any moment.

Around the 10 minute mark, which is where I usually feel that second transition, I dropped out completely, and my mind wouldn't stop spinning. I broke sitting, looked at my watch, and lay down. As it happens, somebody did walk in a minute or so later, and I turned out to be feeling more absent than I first realised, so I should have persisted.

Learning from this, a little practical advice for myself: It's important to have no chance of distraction, from myself or from others, at least until I'm more practised. The 20 minutes is like a shield. Also, pick a regular spot with nothing interesting to look at.

I'm going to carry on, if I can (today was disheartening), and maybe extend the time to 25 minutes. I'll also try not to so weird and hand-wavy when I next report. I really wish I could remember what the sensations that I move through are like, but their memory only exists when I'm sitting.

A couple of links:

Phil Gyford is learning to act. Recently he posted on Not being me. Learning to act must be such an introverted activity. You have to be someone else as hard as possible, but preserve your actual self to monitor and refine. It's a familiar problem. We talked in email, and he pointed me at his notes on An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. This is advice given by somebody who's walked the path, of acting in this case. It's curious how words with experience behind them are always so literal, and how it takes so long to discover just how literal they are.

Also, Rob Annable wrote up our email conversation. It includes the advice he sent me which I found enormously valuable in starting this whole exercise.