Dec 142010
 

SD Urban linked over to a story at SD Uptown News about the “Restoring the Magic” trolley project concept.  It seems like a great idea – bring back the old school trolley cars, run them downtown for a while and push the route up north to connect along some of the old San Diego Electric Railway lines. It is mind blowing that the zoo isn’t connected to the trolley, let alone Balboa Park or the beach. For a tourist city, we sure do make it hard for tourists to get around.

Anyone who has ever visited Trolley Barn Park in Normal Heights has probably thought about what the city would look like if the old street car lines still existed.  It is a shame that the move to buses and the Great American streetcar scandal killed all the infrastructure and investment in those old lines. Getting that infrastructure back will have a large cost, but seems worth it to me.

Dec 082010
 

Too much money, too much downtime. That sums up my experience with my web hosting company over the last couple years. My shared hosting account costs about $120/year, and sure didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Due to ridiculous email downtime and failing SSL certs I moved email services to Google apps a year ago. That helped a lot, but many times over the last few months my web server has gone down for hours at a time.  The alternatives were to deal with another unknown web host (with likely the same problems), or buy a VPS (virtual private server) for a more than what I am paying now. Amazon web services was out of the question for personal use, as a small instance was $300 per year.

All that changed this fall though. Amazon introduced micro instances – 613 MB RAM machines which provide a small amount of consistent CPU and burst CPU capacity when additional cycles are available. This is plenty of horsepower for my little website; probably more overall resources than it had access to in shared hosting. Importantly the pricing is quite reasonable when you consider reserved instances. The three year reserved instance works out to $88.65 per year, plus storage and bandwidth costs (minimal in my case).   The real kicker though is that Amazon is eating the costs for micro instances + services for one year with their AWS Free Usage Tier to try to get more customers using AWS.

You can’t beat free, right?  This sounds like a hell of a deal, and it is. But this does come with hidden costs – your time and experience with two aspects:

  • The Amazon Web Services platform. I’m pretty familiar with AWS already – I’ve been using Amazon Web Services (EC2, EBS, S3, etc) at work for about two years now. It is great for being able to expand out with as much processing power as you want. Though things have been quite simplified these days (boot from EBS, elastic IPs, web control panel, etc), the service and concepts can have a fairly steep learning curve if you are new to it.
  • Configuring & running a Linux server. I’m using Amazon’s Linux image for my server with mysql and apache installed. Getting applications like Gallery and WordPress running happily on a new server does take some reading up if you aren’t familiar with linux and web concepts (e.g using yum to install dependencies, editing config files to enable php modules and htaccess). You also need to think about things which are normally taken care of by your web hosting provider, like backups.

This page is being served to you from my Amazon micro instance.  It took me an afternoon to transfer my files from my old hosting provider and get everything setup correctly on Amazon. If you were new to the platform or Linux, it would take longer than that. But if treated as a learning experience, it is an amazing opportunity. AWS Free Usage Tier lets you try out a server for a year for free, that’s pretty damned amazing.  Frankly, I don’t know of a better learning lab – you can pick and choose from hundreds of starting images, destroy them, and start fresh at any time easily and quickly with no cost.

The real question is – will I still think it is a good idea to run my own web server a year from now?  Probably not, but it was an fun little project.

Dec 052010
 

During our weekend in Brussels we missed out on some sites like Cantillon Brewery, but we managed to hit Bier Circus before it closed Saturday night. The food was pretty good, but it was the beer selection we came for. We poured through their beer menu and had some lovely selections over the course of the meal and evening. While their regular menu is impressive enough, we also paid a god awful sum to try an off menu choice, Westvleteren 12.

That name doesn’t mean much to most people. Westvleteren is one of only seven Trappist breweries in the world. The others you may recognize – Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, and Koningshoeven (aka La Trappe). All are well known for their excellent beer. The critical difference with Westvleteren is that unlike the other monasteries, it has no interest in producing commercial quantities of beer. Westvleteren only brews enough beer to cover monastery costs, no more, regardless of demand. People have to call in to the abbey in advance to make a reservation on a particular day to pickup a case of beer (and no more than a case). Given the rarity of the beer, it has produced a bit of an obsession in the beer world and has consistently ranked one of, if not the best, beer in the world.

The “best” just seems silly to me. Ranking is such a strange concept when applied to intangibles and variances. A prime example is travel. When someone asks me “what has been your favorite place to travel to”, I honestly don’t have an answer. I’ve love to return to any of them; each brought a difference experience to the table. I feel the same way about *the best* food or drink.

Is the Westvleteren 12 an excellent beer? Definitely. The best? It doesn’t matter. I’m just as happy with a St. Bernardus Abt 12 or Trappistes Rochefort 10. Perhaps that’s for the best. Scarcity and expense have an impact on our perception of how much we think we will like something. But research shows it doesn’t work out that way – we frequently like the cheaper stuff better.

Dec 022010
 

brussels brussels
Photos of Brussels, Belgium

We stayed in Brussels over the weekend, in the north part of downtown, off Koningsstraat. I say that because I think it has a lot of impact on our impressions of the city. The city center was a complete ghost town over the weekend. Everything except Grote Markt and area of course. Those small streets were humming with activity and markets. Packing my suitcase at De Bier Tempel, a sample or four at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers Belges, and of course a waffle at Manneken Pis. I can’t say we were very original, but it was still a lot of fun.