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Lion King!

well i thought i should write something about this, been planning this for a little while to make Marie’s first ever theatre show a special one. and i have to say it does live up to its hype and advertising.

Lion King is currently in the Lyceum Theatre, near strand and is based very obviously on the Disney classic with Music written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

i originally thought it was going to be a play with good costumes and good music but i wasnt expecting to be blown away by the whole “Experience” of the Lion KIng, from moment one you are immersed in the show with some of the actors opening the act from some of the VIP boxes – with spectators in them as well and with the some of the animals(not live)/puppets/cast coming in through the stalls and onto stage including a large elephant.

now i mention puppets or animals its not puppets in the strictest sense that you would naturally visualise but what i can only describe as a synergy between masks/costumes and people, so the lions had like a headress/mask the hyenas had similar headdresses etc etc.

my geek side comes out now when i say it truly was a technical spectacle with a stage that rotated, lowered, raised and even the pride rock staircase came out of the floor to a good height as well.

in terms of the performance, it was grand and the show has cast a great balance of holding true to the film and written music yet having some interaction with the audience and some good comic moments. the quality of the acting was top notch and so was the singing too. i really cant pick a favourite character/actor because quite frankly they were all pretty outstanding and really really made the characters come alive. particular mentions are the classic comic duo Timon & Pumbaah and Zazu and Raffiki which were played with a uniqueness that captures the essence of the film characters but still they took on a newer edge which was funnier and more alive than the film could do.

we went on a saturday evening and we managed to get front row of the grand circle (top deck) and the view was quite excellent, we were a touch high but it definitely did not hinder us from seeing any of the action, if anything being that slight bit further away allowed us to take more in because there truly was lots happening at times  and being able to immerse ourselves in the whole thing helped a lot. the theatre was fully packed and all in all it was an excellent show.

i dont think i was very good at reviewing this and i think i was biased but i think my bias is good because you should really go and see experience it!




Amazon Cloudfront

i have been fighting in my spare time set up Amazon Cloudfront to take some of the hit off my server (i can then run it more efficiently and then save money) i wished i could have used VPS.net‘s akamai offerings but seeing as the idea was to try and save money it would have defeated the purpose. anyway shall post some thoughts now briefly and will later post some more info on how i got things going.

Firstly Cloudfront is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) there core job is to speed up your website by serving all the static files on your website (javascript, css, images and other files – no php) in a normal situation putting these files on another server doesnt neccesarily speed up a site but the core difference between that and a CDN is that the CDN is optimised to serve those files and also a CDN will have what are known as Edge Servers all over the world, the way the CDN works is that it caches all your files on these edge servers and when someone asks for the parts of your website off the CDN they get the server closest to them (closer server is a faster server). There are 2 types of CDN, Origin Pull & Point of Presence and they work in 2 different ways (obviously). by far often the most simple to setup and maintain is Origin Pull, the way this works is you upload your site as normal, you set the CDN to “Pull” its files from your server (like a normal client) and then to get your users to pull from a different CDN’ url for example your site is www.example.com and your cdn is at cdn.example.com your cdn pulls all your images as they are requested on the CDN from www.example.com but you provide links on your site to cdn.example.com. obviously for a big site renaming all those links to images and css files etc will be time consuming so you would need to perhaps use a plugin if you are using a CMS, Rails even has this built in as a configuration line! PoP is slightly different in that you still reference a CDN url but you have to prime the caches by uploading your data to your CDN provider, this obviously takes the pressure of pulling off your server but has the added complexity that you have to make sure files are uploaded, there are tools out there that will automate this part of the task though such as CDN module for Drupal or W3 Total Cache for WordPress.

Amazon Cloudfront is a PoP CDN and uses its S3 service as its origin so you have to manually make sure you have your content loaded up to s3 to make use of it, W3 Total Cache takes care of this and even in the sneak peak i had of the next version supported expires setting and gzip, more on that next time. the actual setup of s3 and cloudfront couldnt have been much easier, i got my Amazon Web Services (AWS) account up and running and enabled s3 and cloudfront. i created my bucket for hosting files and setup the cloudfront distribution attached to the bucket in no time, even setting up the CDN Cname record was quick and easy.

next is uploading content for now i am using W3 Total cache to take care of this but i have had one or 2 issues with url’s not being rewritten properly that i have yet to address, there are however many tools that can be setup to run via cron or in the background to sync your files to S3 s3cmd or s3sync are 2 that come to mind first. Amazon have no origin pull which i think is there first negative.

next hiccup i had was when setting up the site i changed the logo file because i had previously set expires for a week (and for some reason it registered as a year :S) i was stuck with an old file until i decided to just rename the file and force the change. there is a big problem here – i couldnt invalidate the cache on cloudfront as is normal with most other cdn providers, this is a big minus point – the only way to invalidate cache was to delete and recreate the cloudfront distribution which then left me at the mercy of dns propogation for changes.

next thing is gzip, cloudfront wont automatically send files as gzip encoding unless your pre gzip it or set the headers, this means you have to have 2 of all your CSS and JS files one compressed the other uncompressed and then rewrite your css and js rules appropriately depending on browsers this is a large overhead (Luckily solved in upcoming version of W3 Total Cache)

that said Cloudfront is decently fast, its extremely cheap although dont forget to factor in storage costs and it can also host html files with some providers such as akamai wont do on there basic object caching services

its early days and i wish i had a full blown cdn like akamai but cloudfront wins the day for me for the cheap pay as you go costs which work out well for me