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The Road to Zimbabwe – Paperwork

We haven’t posted much about how we are getting on with our preparations to move to Zimbabwe in August, so here’s a fairly brief update.

Approximately 3 weeks ago we DHL’ed the last of our paperwork to Marie’s Parents and it only arrived early last week. we had a tense week waiting while DHL tracking showed a “Customs Delay” in Harare Airport, we prayed like crazy to make sure they didn’t take a look or didn’t remove any paperwork from the package as its not easy to get some of the paperwork and after all the time it has taken to do it.

Thankfully everything made it last week, Marie’s folks took the paperwork down to the immigration office only to find out we needed to provide a copy of the passport pages showing my exit from the country. It appears this is a new requirement since we initially went to hand in the paperwork in December (when i was there handing it in). Thankfully due to the internet actually working in Zimbabwe we were able to scan and email the relevant pages to another family member in Zim (we still need to get Marie’s dad hooked up to internet and able to use his “Typewriter”!)

The forms and documentation were submitted last week and now the waiting (and praying) begins. The immigration officials say it will take up to 5 weeks (more like 2 months) for them to process it and let us know the outcome. While it should be merely a formality as i have married a Zimbabwean, its not actually guaranteed and they could still say no (why they would deny it i really don’t know). so we are praying that its favourable and we are not kept waiting any longer than absolutely necessary

We’d appreciate prayer that it goes smoothly as this is the biggest (and only real one) hurdle for our move in August




Summer is here… I think!

Wow! haven’t blogged here in a while and thought I should post an update. It’s been pretty pretty hectic for me the last month or 2 with studies, exams and work, I’m not complaining though! It has just meant that some things have taken a back burner while I focus on the priorities in the right order (God, Wife, Study, Work, Other). So roughly in that order :).

ChristChurch has been good, Marie and I got to witness Andy Tilsley being officially “prayed in” as an elder and the general comings and goings of church life, Marie has joined the crèche team to help combat the current and further impending baby boom! and they couldn’t keep me away, am back serving Sundays on the sound team now technically called the tech team (excuse the pun) which encompasses the visuals team also which i think is a brilliant move purely because the 2 teams were quite small on there own and trying to organise social events was rather difficult because normally what ended up happening is 2 guys end up meeting up for a beer (which is not a bad thing!) rather than 5 or 6 people meeting up having a meal and enjoying good fellowship.

Marie has been the usual busy with working for Newfrontiers, carrying on as usual despite all the ongoing staff changes that take place regularly, she is still knitting a woolly green scarf for me for Christmas, hopefully its ready in time although i wont need it because we are going to Zimbabwe for Christmas again, Woohoo!

Studies have finally concluded for the summer, I am still awaiting results and have one exam to do in august – due to the bad organisation of Uni which I have probably mentioned before. i had to spend 4 weeks at uni after my exams attending lectures which apparently had been the plan since the beginning of the academic year but we weren’t informed until mid way through our exam period despite several people including myself asking for clarification several times throughout this year (i think that shows how badly organised the uni is) in fact some were so badly caught out because they had already booked flights home for the summer and couldn’t attend the lectures. gladly though its all done, i cant wait to get this degree over and done with purely because it holds very little relevance to my day to day freelance work, and any content that did is already going out of date, that’s how fast paced the IT industry really is.

Work has really ramped up the last month or so, I’ve had the chance to meet and even work with some great teams like Made.com (new web infrastructure), Rackspace (got to see the Rackspace mini and got a goody bag) and have met the awesome GoSquared team and WooThemes just the other week, its keeping me busy which i like and importantly its earning money, I’m actually quite thankful to God for all the work as I had to replace my laptop a few weeks ago (the old one couldn’t take the load i was throwing at it) which cost a seriously painful amount of money which if it wasn’t for the work i wouldn’t have been able to buy.

Other than that, not much has changed, still busy busy busy, off to see my dad and Karen for the weekend next weekend which should be good as we will probably get to go to the village church too so that should be an experience for Marie (its not Newfrontiers!), the weather here has been pretty miserable the last few days but we got a couple of thunder storms that Marie and I both enjoy watching.




Mobile Broadband makes you efficient

Well i am back! just about, not been here posting lately and its not without good reasons too, the obvious one is i went to Zimbabwe for 3 weeks over christmas and GOT MARRIED!!!

some others may have wondered why its taken me so long to get this up and posted but that too is not without a good reason either. I wont bore you with the details but the shortest summary i can give you is that i applied for a phone line and broadband before we left at the beginning of december as a migration to take the existing line on, but when we got back BT had terminated the existing line and BeThere couldnt process that order so we had to put a whole new order in, which means BT openreach have to install a new line, and by install i mean pretty much plug it back in at the exchange. In BT Openreach’s infinitely efficient wisdom, i have to wait a further 6 weeks for the line to be activated (on my birthday no less), the ironic thing is. if i wanted to pay more to get less and went with BT direct, my phone line would probably have been activated in less time by the same external company (Openreach).

so i titled this post, Mobile Broadband makes you efficient, so i better say something about that! all i can say it does. My work relies on having an internet connection to be able to do my job, i need to communicate with clients often over skype or email and IM etc, i actually need to work on remote web servers (its funny how that needs an internet connection) among various other things. my options were pay £35 for access to a BT openzone wifi spot of which there just so happens to be one within reach of my flat (oh the irony) or about the same price for a pay as you go mobile broadband dongle with O2. I found out with some earlier research that the openzone in my flat’s range is not some proper openzone but a slightly dodgy openzone run off the back of someones BusinessHub and tends to only work in my living room or more often than not, only when i didnt want to use it. That left me with only one option, Mobile Broadband.

so it makes me more efficient. Why? because i just so happen to live in that one flat in Zone 1 London that has a very poor 3g signal on pretty much all the networks 🙁 this means that my 3g mobile broadband is more often than not working on low speed (boy am i glad that SSH is text based and doesnt require broadband!) and it tends to disconnect a lot, not to mention because i am a mac user, i am somewhat shunned by mobile broadband companies because i cant get access to any of the wifi points easily without using bootcamp, so am forced to just stick it out on mobile signal.

so i have to be more efficient for 2 reasons. firstly, speed, because the net speed is so low compared to modern broadband via adsl or cable i cant get as much done as i normally would, this means i need to multi task all my internet usage tasks as much as i can and basically queue up internet tasks to maximise my connected time, especially when i hit into free public wifi or into university (my uni just got hit with about 4GB of iplayer downloads this week alone!).

Secondly, mobile broadband accounts are generally all bandwith capped or charge per MB/GB, i use O2 and they charge about £15 per 2GB for 31 days and i seem to be getting through one every 2 weeks or so. because of this i have to be much more aware of what i do online, this means i have facebooked less, twittered less and more importantly watched less video and less random surfing. you would probably be surprised at how much time can be gained by cutting all that stuff out. its kind of scary that just doing the basics for work uses so much, imagine how much bandwith (and cost) i would be using if i was just surfing and working at full capacity as i normally would, thankfully the iphone has helped in keeping in touch via facebook and twitter so i have been making the most of that data connection as well, but it does highlight how in todays civilisation we are pretty much dependant on the internet for our way of life and keeping in touch.

other quick round up since december. Uni is ok, little boring and frustrating at the moment and i wish it was just over already (only 18 months left), i go on second honeymoon (because one is not enough!) for a week over the week of my birthday, should be a nice relaxing week after the manic start to the year, and i should also return to working internet amongst other things!

will try and post here as i can and as time allows




Spreading the Load

A nice geeky post again 🙂

been looking into different alternatives to VPS.net this last week or 2. i started looking after they experienced there major outage at the UK DC taking all there UK Zones/Clouds out of action for anything from 2 hours to 14 hours in the worst case for me. Although i have not really wanted to it would have been just unprofessional of me to not be aware of the current alternatives around just in case the same thing happens again. i need servers in the UK and i need them to be reliable, i thought that putting servers in different UK Zones at vps.net would be ok (they didnt need load balancing or anything fancy) my theory was that if a zone went down i would only have to deal with 1 perhaps 2 servers or clients and thats much more manageable. i wasnt planning for all 3 zones to hit out and a total of 7 servers that i manage for clients (including my own) went down at the same time, you can guess my phone got busy quickly! it really hurt me by being at a conference and suffering from the worlds worst wifi and mobile coverage (Brighton) in the UK during the middle of it.

so i started my looking and only came up with a few possibles. my requirements were simple, UK based, reliable and competitive costs or at least on the spec. the main few i found were:

so for my first requirement for UK servers i had to eliminate Slicehost and Rackspace, i remember speaking to Rackspace live chat and asking about whether they had a UK VPS service and the response while not these words exactly, i got the impression the agent was thinking, “why would you want to do that?” and it looks like rackspace dont have any imminent plans to bring it here.

Linode next on my list recently in the last 12 months or so setup a London based zone and they have pretty good pricing, but have reasonably tight bandwith limits that would mean potentially paying more than vps.net to make sure we dont have over bandwith issues. the dont offer cpanel (and for transparency even though i hate it, plesk) licenses meaning you have to get them yourself and often have to pay 3-4 times as much as if you go direct through a provider such as vps.net. going through there UI and i just didnt feel comfortable with it, sure i could use it it just felt overly complex to get things setup quickly and easily. that said i do like there specify how big disk images are (so that you can have multiple images attached to a vps and they are movable) they have some nifty features such as LiSH (Linode Shell) which is basically ssh access for when you mess up network or firewall settings, its like having a screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into your vps direct.

Next up is Clustered.net i got recomended these guys a few months ago when vps.net had another major issue (which i was largely unaffected by luckily) they are more traditional vps hosts in that you generally get a fixed instance size but you get good resources for your price (i am getting double ram and CPU than equivalent prices at vps.net. however this comes at the price of not having hypervisor redundancy like vps.net does, but you are on top of the range hardware and drives and they are a company that has been around a lot longer than vps.net has (although vps.net’s parent uk2group likely has been around longer) and just seem to get on with the job and do it well. the thing about clustered.net is that its not for normal people (read people that dont really know what they are doing – which seems to be much more prevalent at “big” companies like Linode or VPS.net) which means support resources (FAQ’s forums etc) are somewhat lacking, there support is excellent though and although they dont have a big fancy control panel (it just looks like rebranded whmcs for billing side and support only) they have importantly an ssh based emergency console and full slave dns which is a doddle to slave off your servers and white label – i am actually researching the best way to code up a cpanel module to automate this too. setup is not instant with them but if you sign up within british office hours you generally get set up in under an hour (mine was 20 mins).

so my outcome for me is the clustered is a great choice of provider, in reality all of them are good and i would reccomend the best tool for the job which in a nutshell is:

VPS.net – if you need the flexibility and very easy management system
Linode – if you dont need to worry about the added expense of a server control panel
Clustered.net – if you dont need to worry about the management interface and just want guarenteed reliability and good prices

all in all i am keeping most of my services at vps.net for now – i am more than happy with the service they provide, one client has moved to MediaTemple and getting round the plesk as control panel its a damn good service even for something based solely in the US and pretty swift. i have moved my personal server off to clustered.net as i got better resources for the same price and i dont need to worry about the management interface. besides its good to road test properly 😉 This will also allow me to look at something that can monitor my servers at vps.net and be able to do stuff that via there API that i may not neccesarily be able to do if the server its hosted on is down at vps.net 🙂

its always better to have your eggs in lots of baskets in the server hosting world because host’s get targeted, DC’s have issues etc etc, the more you can minimise that impact the better. i will still be reccomending vps.net to most people that ask me, however i am much much more informed about the competition and can definitely give a much more objective reccomendation to clients now.




No Internet…. grrrr but good in a way

Going into our second week without internet in the flat its tedious but in many respects it has also been equally a good thing for me.

Firstly a little background. About a month ago, Sky our broadband provider phoned us up on a sales call to basically get us to transfer our line rental from BT to Sky and save us some money, at the same time getting free broadband for 6 months. We thought, great free broadband for 6 months and one less bill to worry about. Roll round last Saturday a BT Openreach engineer turns up unannounced to perform the line switchover to sky, we initially thought nothing of it, a few hours without broadband wouldnt kill us. Just to make sure we phoned up sky to get the low down and were told that it was all normal and we should expect broadband back on within 24 hours (1st Lie).

Roll around Monday (48 hours) and still no broadband, another call to sky ensues, this time we are told they cant proceed as the BT line is a business line (2nd lie) and it would be up to 7-8 working days for broadband to be enabled. I phone up BT on the Tuesday (3 days) to confirm what i knew to be correct that our line in fact was a residential line and sky were lying to us. We recieve a call from a very nice manager at sky just after telling us they were still waiting for the new line to be shown as active from BT and that it could be up to 15 days before broadband is active, she was the first person to actually explain what was going on.

We called up again sky in the evening because it wasnt acceptable, after holding for what seemed like eternity and getting thrown between different teams and departments we finally found out what the actual issue was, that one of their sales staff incorrectly processed the order, in fact they were not even supposed to have offered us the upgrade in the first place. As a result our old broadband is still showing as cancelling on there systems (dont ask me why it takes so long to flick a switch and press a button). Now the mind totally boggles between how a simple migrate a line from BT (retaining the old number) turned into a serious lack of communication between teams and how such a grossly negligent mistake was made. The mind also boggles as to why they cant simply start the process of recreating our broadband connection on the new line (we cant keep our old number now) because the system will only allow one process to happen at the same time (and probably only unless you are adding packages like sports or HD). We are told it will be up to 30 days, friends have told us that they were out for 8 weeks when a similar mistake happened (gulp).

In hindsight if it had have been explained to us that we may have had to have gone without internet for a few days or that we couldnt keep our number, then we probably would have gone and said no to the sky salesman. To give Sky a little credit however, they have given us half price line rental for a year and are going to give us the free broadband offer we weren’t eligible for in the first place. its still tempting to try and bill them for accessing BT Openzone during this time as i somewhat rely on internet for a good chunk of my job, but i think that will be a lost cause.

Anyway back to my topic, its Grrr but its actually quite good in a way. This last week I have not been up all hours just mindlessly surfing the internet at all ungodly hours of the day, I have been going to bed at decent times and in some respects have been less reclusive. I really find this a positive as I am feeling more energised each morning (good for cycling but more later) and being less reclusive is always a benefit. perhaps I can find a little more time to post here as I notice i havent been about for a little while (will have to compose thoughts offline and upload when I do have internet). Its annoying not having internet because I cant watch tv on demand and catch up on missed shows, and a large part of my work means for example if a server goes down for whatever reason I need to be online and somehow looking at the problem – my mobile broadband dongle only has so much traffic it can take on the contract for free in a month, I am feeling somewhat relieved that all servers i rent or manage have just about hit there sweet spots in terms of running reliably and well that I havent yet had any issues (big touch wood here).

Last day as a 21 year old today and my GoCycle is good but more on that another day 🙂