Sunday, July 31, 2011

Installing MongoDB on a Rackpace Cloud server (SOLVED)

Just to get this technical note on the Internets for general helpfulness of humanity..

After following the main MongoDB instructions, I was stumped with "Error: couldn't connect to server shell/mongo.js:79". Mongod had started but I couldn't 'mongo'. This was NOT a mongoDB problem, despite all the rest of the advice on the internet telling you to set the datadir, check permissions, uninstall the packages, try a different package etc.

I should have thought earlier to use my own brain. The problem was the server's own firewall preventing mongo from accessing port 27017. Specifically, the Rackspace sample iptables ruleset does not allow an SSHd user to 'mongo': Rackspace Cloud sample iptables.

So if you followed the official YouTube video on setting up your Rackspace Cloud server you'll hit this issue. Rackspace Cloud setup video by Chad. My cloud server is Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid but I expect any Rackspace cloud server configured as above will encounter this. To save you the hours of troubleshooting I've just undergone, this will sort you out:

[After following the MongoDB 'Quickstart' instructions and the stuff on the page above, installing from the mongodb-10gen package]

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 27017 -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 28017 -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A INPUT -s -j ACCEPT
sudo iptables -A OUTPUT -s -j ACCEPT
sudo bash -c "iptables-save > /etc/iptables.up.rules"

This assumes you followed Chad's instructions (around time 10:00) to reference /etc/iptables.up.rules from /etc/network/interfaces:

pre-up iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.up.rules

Do that, reboot your cloud server from the Rackspace web management interface - and you'll be able to 'mongo' on your server (and remotely).

Make sure you add 'auth = true' to /etc/mongodb.conf (also adding an 'admin' user via mongo) so that the web interface on isn't too useful to people.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An insight from acting

One of the remarkable things I discovered in my brief acting course was this:

"It's easier to act yourself into an emotion than feel your way to an action". Shake your fist and frown, you'll feel angry. Smile, you feel happy. Much research is available to back this up, though I'm too lazy to list it here - but today I had a little reminder from this article linked from a tweet:

"Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and powerlessness through closed, constrictive postures. But can these postures actually cause power?" The answer is "a person can, via a simple two-minute pose, embody power and instantly become more powerful"

'Power' is a tricky word here: it's meant in its helpful guise, the ability to enact useful change, rather than 'power over'.

I went into acting because while 80% of communication is non-verbal I was spending 80% of my time and effort on the other 20%, the words and the research. So my congruence and self-awareness of 80% of my communication was minimal. Bringing that forward into consciousness, even a little, has been a great thing to attempt.

Actions speak louder than words (particularly silence).

I hope to do more acting, but not quite yet.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A project manager with no plan

My second post on my recent acting training course in London, which featured the most glorious, beautiful bunch of classmates. Hello to those folk if you're reading. If not, you were the one I thought was truly awful.

We did many classes: acting for TV, a spot of Shakespeare, movement, modern plays, voice. The one that had the most impact for me was Impro. Improvised drama and theatre, rather than comedy, though we quickly discovered disturbingly hilarious scenarios are utterly inevitable.

You start a scene, standing and you speak second, never first. You act high or low status (submissive or dominant) and demonstrate with your body a simple emotion, let's say 'joy'. Another character enters, your new friend that minutes before was tasked only with a blueberry muffin. But now your new playmate must speak first to tell you why you're feeling what you're feeling. Up until that point you didn't know, you really didn't know - and neither did he because he didn't know what emotion you'd go for.

You might have your own ideas on why you feel your emotion, but you leave them aside. You accept what he says as fact: you were just promoted to captain on Starbase Alpha and you're looking forward, apparently, to celebrating with the crew down on planet Zorg, except your legs are robot legs and they're a bit unreliable.

As the story unfolds, you discover it at the same time as your audience and at the same time as your fellow actors. You embrace the uncertainty, ride the rollercoaster while it's still under construction, it's you that's building it. Your playmate may misread your original emotion, you might accidentally transplant the scene three hundred years backwards, speak nonsense, dry up completely. The scene always continues.

The story always tends toward stability: the end of something, the resolution, the refusal of the characters to speak with one another, or into complete chaos. Stability is dull. There's no drama there, at the extremes, at the ends. If you've driven into a wall you have nowhere to go, if you've dug too deep a hole you can't get out. Steering it between those magnetic extremes is a huge challenge, a balancing act, rolling a ball-bearing around a wooden maze of holes.

As project manager I plan months in advance. My job is to reduce and remove uncertainty, fight it toe-to-toe in a constant, eternal battle, day after day. I've trained and practised this for over a decade. Supplying coping strategies to corporations.

But here I am naked, no timing plan, no estimate, no scope of work, reacting now to what happened just now. As honestly as I'm able and not even as as me but as a character - a character I only find out along the way. You have to trust your team completely. You can't react to something you've missed so you really pay attention to what they're trying to communicate, verbally and otherwise - and there's no time to anticipate even 2 sentences in advance. Incredibly tricky to do right, but wonderfully exciting and great fun.

More than that, planning or being fully engaged in the present moment - which is the closer match to reality?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A brief introduction to acting

A short four weeks ago I met a new group of 15 people in a room in central London. We closed our eyes and crawled over each other on the floor.

That was day one of acting school, which culminated on Sunday with a run of our one-act plays in front of a live studio audience. I loved the experience and hope to scribble some thoughts here.

A key thing for me was that as an actor one must be aware of one's body. It's easy to acknowledge this intellectually, but it takes a simple exercise and mere seconds to show most people that they have remarkably little idea what their body is doing at any given moment, myself included.

You stand up straight, assertive, looking straight at people's eyes. But you're fidgeting with your hands.

You attempt 'unsure' and move slowly, relax your body, look down - but you come across as cocky, confident, couldn't-care-less.

This is a problem for an actor, though the start of learning a skill that will pay royally in acting and otherwise.

In an exchange with someone, look at their eyes, look away, look back, look away and refuse to look back. You've lowered your status, marked yourself as submissive, if only for a moment. With two brief movements of your eyes.

Think how many muscles and moves the body is capable of. Each scratch, wiggle of an eyebrow, blink, intake of breath the audience searches through for meaning (so long as you've given them a reason to).

So in one interaction between two characters you have hundreds of these factors to deal with, bodily signals to align to your ends. In a scene, thousands. In an act, millions. In a play, multiply, multiply.

You can't script and control these individually, so you must trust 99% of them to your unconscious. So you try to really feel what's going on for your character. You are your character, you are your body, your body is your character.

When it stops, the scene over, more than once this has left me dazed and confused, emotional, delirious.

Who am I?

Friday, June 10, 2011


"We're here to deliver a petition", I said to the policeman at the top of Downing Street.
"What's it about?"
"Cuts to nurses" I replied, failing to consider that nurses are probably perfectly capable of taking care of cuts on their own.
"We have three signatures", I continued, "although one of them is you".

At this point I noticed a change in his demeanour. As if he wasn't taking us seriously. I probably imagined this, because it was five minutes to six in the morning and we were clearly three sheets to the wind. This may have already made his quick-witted policeman mind cautious about our authenticity. He giggled, grinned and playfully wiggled his semi-automatic gun. 

As we approached Big Ben, gleaming brilliant gold in bright dawn sunshine, he rang. Bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bonggg. Hello Ben, it's been quite some time.

We went to visit Brian Haw, but he wasn't up, lazy bastard. We resigned ourselves to talking loudly about the fact he wasn't up just outside his canvas abode.

Because we'd been out with Derren Brown that night, you see. Drinking in the same pub at least. After his show, the first night of his run of 'Svengali' in London. I can't quite place where in the show he gave me the instruction to drink 4 pints and meet him there. 

On his way out, he gave me a kiss. 'Nice beard' he said. I think he was trying to manipulate me into choosing the number '4'. And I'll never know what for. Not until I wake up age 63 on a desert island with only the vaguest sense of once co-ordinating a worldwide hacking project and depositing £10 million in someone else's bank account.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A note on serendipity

So much more these days I'm having brilliant things happen apparently out of sheer good luck.

I added an old colleague, Peter Gander, on Facebook and said in my welcome message that I'd been to his part of the world recently, Whitstable. Lovely place by the sea: me and Slawek enjoyed a lovely pint of Shepherd Neame in the blustery sea air. A short conversation later, he sends his hand-illustrated postcards about the place to me in the post:

My friend Ricky mentioned he was thinking of going to Brighton in the next few days. As it happens I'd just finished my notice at work, so I was free. I said that sounds good - and before you know it we're on the train for a couple of nights there. Brilliant!

I use serendipity in preference to synchronicity, though there appears to be a wide-ranging confusion about any distinction. If only because the latter is used in peculiar ways to imply something supernatural, I prefer the former with its origin in literature: 'The Three Princes of Serendip' whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Celebrating Zombie Jesus Weekend

Jesus died at the start of Easter and my friends nearly did too: a crash with an HGV on the motorway, the car written off. But the computer hardware came off intact. And the human cargo was fine too: my weekend gaming partners (Andy) Lockett, Chris and Doherty.

The scene: Newbury race course grandstands. A vast but temporary network of power and cabling. Four huge floors each with 400 gaming desks, split across two buildings - plus a central 'live finals arena' with spectator seating and trade stands. Thousands in prize money. If it didn't exist, you wouldn't think to invent it.

4am, 4am, 2am for Friday, Saturday, Sunday - so not quite 'Insomnia', the event title. Take it easy: we were never going to last as long as the hordes of rampaging teenagers. Rampaging in the Unreal Tournament sense.

In a different timeline these valiant young men would be out fighting for their country. Using not dissimilar skills. But our generation doesn't have wars like that. So we sit in front of the biggest screen we can afford and pretend. For fun.

Newbury took care of us with it's canalside pubs and warm weather. Rained in London apparently. While I fried eggs on a fold-up barbeque in the sunshine.

You see what you need is a waterproof, heat-conductive container. Fortunately for me, Lockett was given a 'Things to make' book one Summer age 6 and has been practising ever since constructing just such things. In my case from tin foil. Andy - don't doubt it - is handy.

After an epic 'pub quiz' in the live finals arena, Doherty entered the 'boat race' (and lost). While others streamed the new Dr Who from iPlayer, Lockett and me completed Co-op Portal 2, a new, funny and genuinely innovative game featuring Stephen Merchant as an uncertain robot that guides your two robots around a futuristic testing facility.

Every now and again a cheer would go up from somewhere in the room, some objective reached, some achievement accomplished. Or someone would at random initiate a game of 'butt scratcher', inviting a reply of the same, or comedy rhyming variant, which must be shouted at maximum volume - and no less. This game came into it's own around 2am when beer finally dominated energy drinks. MARGARET THATCHER.

And as a team of four in the frenetic battle to see how long you last in 'Left for Dead 2', we lasted 12 long, Zombie-shootin' minutes. The winners got to 144 minutes.

Our minutes were higher quality, I like to think. And to be fair, those guys were probably some of the world's best gamers, high on caffeine, running hardware so expensive it ought to be measured in mosquito nets for ethiopians, or how many nurses' jobs could be safeguarded instead, or how much of Kate Middleton's dress you could get for it. You're right, probably not much.

And now homeward bound, tent packed away, cowboy hat in tow. Leaving a thousand beer cans to recycle, ten thousand energy drink cans, some grass to sort out for the horses. Back on a train, Reading to Paddington, then a couple circuits of Regents Park on the cycle home. Good game.

As one T-shirt on Easter Sunday put it, 'Happy Zombie Jesus Day'.

Wizzo and man
The site at Newbury
Evening at the campsite
Daytime at the campsite
Doherty (in background) in the Boat Race
One of the main gaming floors
Panorama of the stage at the Live Finals Arena
Our team at the Pub Quiz

Blogs are dead. Long live blogs!

Bizarrely close to exactly two years since my last post on this blog, it's time to revive it! Not in quite its previous form. The things that interest me now are slightly different to the things on my mind all that time ago, though perhaps more an evolution than a revolution.

Who said blogs aren't relevant in today's Twittery Facebook-soaked world? I probably did. But here goes an experiment in changing my mind.

And what better time to start blogging again than as I head off into what will hopefully be a pretty strange period of my life? Having resigned my full-time job recently with no job to go to and only a vague sense I want to enact some kind of interesting change, I'll post here my thoughts as I go.