Church of England ordinand, currently at Westcott House, Cambridge. Likes Bruce Springsteen and Gregorian chant.
5 stories

“I’m still having trouble even saying the word...

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“I’m still having trouble even saying the word ‘divorce.’ I had always planned on only being married once. And now I’m not. I’m getting older now, and I always wanted to be a Mom– but I’m not. And that’s really hard. The house feels so empty. It still looks like two people live in it. I’m clocking my progress by the moments I’m not crying. And as long as I don’t think about any of these things– I’m fine. My career is going great. I can choose to not think about it. But I’ve got to. I’ve got to ask myself: ‘What happens if he never apologizes?’ , ‘Will I be fine if he never make amends?’ I’d rather not think about this stuff because it hurts. But I know it’s the only way to move on. I can either think through it now, or I can carry it with me forever.”

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2382 days ago
Cambridge, UK
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What’s the difference between arabica and robusta?

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If you’re keen to get to grips with speciality coffee, then learning the basics of beans is a good place to start. We grilled our Head of Coffee, Will Corby about the two main species of coffee and why he’s Team Arabica all the way.

First off, did you know there are four different species of coffee bean? Excelsa and liberica are basically inedible and the tiny amount of coffee they produce is bitter and flavourless. Then there are robusta and arabica, the two big players in the coffee bean arena. Here at Pact we only ever buy arabica beans. It’s something Will, our Head of Coffee, feels extremely strongly about. Here’s why…


HippoROBUSTA – The hippo.

Meet robusta. It’s a hippopotamus of a coffee. It’s heavy-duty, powerful and plentiful but lacking in finesse.

The reason for these blunt, punchy characteristics is that robusta grows on great plains between sea level and 800 metres above sea level. At this altitude conditions are warmer and so the trees grow faster. That means they deliver a higher yield in a shorter space of time, but they do so at the expense of delicate flavours.  

Obviously robusta is cheap to produce, so cheaper to buy. That’s why it’s sometimes used to ‘bulk out’ an arabica coffee, thereby increasing the profit margins of the coffee companies who choose to use it.


SamuraiARABICA – The Samurai.

Meet arabica. It’s a samurai of a coffee. Its flavours are both delicate and quietly powerful. There are hundreds of varietals of this elegant species, each of which has either come into being naturally over decades or carefully through lab-based cross-pollination.

Arabica grows on picturesque plots high in the mountains, between 800 and 2000 metres above sea level. Temperatures here range from just 15°C to no higher than 22°C, so the coffee trees’ rate of growth is slower. This allows the beans to develop subtle sweetness and aromatic flavours, which will differ depending on the variety of arabica and the location of the farm.

As you might imagine, growing arabica is far more costly than growing robusta, and requires far more expertise. Their mountainous home makes picking arabica cherries much harder, since it all has to be done by hand. There are also fewer cherries per tree and transporting the green beans from the farm via mountain passes is more costly too. But all the effort and expense is worth it when it comes to getting a cup in your hands. Freshly roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed, this stuff is the cat’s pyjamas.

Coffee Beans World Map
Where do robusta and arabica beans grow?

So as you can see, comparing robusta to arabica is a bit like comparing a Ford and a Porsche. It’s like grape juice versus a fine wine. It’s rubbish coffee versus really excellent coffee. And – as you know – we don’t deal in rubbish coffee.

Any bean-related or coffee questions? Pop them below…

Continue your coffee education by signing up for the Pact Coffee newsletter…

Via this fun button.

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2954 days ago
Cambridge, UK
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Google's Datacenters on Punch Cards

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Google's Datacenters on Punch Cards

If all digital data were stored on punch cards, how big would Google's data warehouse be?

James Zetlen

Google almost certainly has more data storage capacity than any other organization on Earth.

Google is very secretive about its operations, so it's hard to say for sure. There are only a handful of organizations who might plausibly potentially have more storage capacity or a larger server infrastructure. Here's my short list of the top contenders:

Honorable mentions:

  • Amazon (They're huge, but probably not as big as Google.)
  • Facebook (They're on the right scale and growing fast, but still playing catch-up.)
  • Microsoft (They have a million servers,[1]Data Center Knowledge: [Ballmer: Microsoft has 1 Million Servers although no one seems sure why.)

Let's take a closer look at Google's computing platform. try to figure out how much computing power Google has.

Follow the money

We'll start by following the money. Google's aggregate capital expenditures–spending on building stuff stuff—adds up to somewhere over $12 billion dollars. [2]I'm excluding the cost of an extremely expensive building they bought in New York. —adds up to somewhere over $12 billion dollars.[3]Data Center Knowledge: Google’s Data Center Building Boom Continues: $1.6 Billion Investment in 3 Months Their biggest data centers cost half a billion to a billion billion, dollars, so they can't have more than 20 or so of those.

On their website,[4]Data center locations Google acknowledges that they have datacenters in the following locations:

  1. Berkeley County, South Carolina
  2. Council Bluffs, Iowa
  3. Atlanta, Georgia
  4. Mayes County, Oklahoma
  5. Lenoir, North Carolina
  6. The Dalles, Oregon
  7. Hong Kong
  8. Singapore
  9. Taiwan
  10. Hamina, Finland
  11. St Ghislain, Belgium
  12. Dublin, Ireland
  13. Quilicura, Chile

In addition, they appear to operate a number of other large datacenters (sometimes through subsidiary corporations), including:

  1. Eemshaven, Netherlands
  2. Groningen, Netherlands
  3. Budapest, Hungary
  4. Wrocław, Poland
  5. Reston, Virginia
  6. Additional sites near Atlanta, Georgia

They also operate equipment at dozens to hundreds of smaller locations around the world.

Follow the power

To figure out how many servers Google is running, we can look at their electricity consumption. power bill. Unfortunately, we can't just sneak up to a datacenter and read the meter.[5]Actually, wait, can we? Somebody should try that. this. Instead, we have to do some digging.

The company disclosed that in 2010 they consumed an average of 258 megawatts of power.[6]Google used 2,259,998 MWh of electricity in 2010, which translates to an average of 258 megawatts. How many computers can they run with that?

We know that their datacenters are quite efficient, only spending 10-20% of their power on cooling and other overhead.[7]Google: Efficiency: How we do it To get an idea of how much power each server uses, we can look at their "container data center" concept from 2005. It's not clear whether they actually use these containers in practice—it may just have been a now-outdated experiment—but it gives an idea of what they consider(ed) reasonable power consumption. The answer: 215 watts per server.

Judging from that number, in 2010, they were operating around a million servers.

They've grown a lot since then. By the end of 2013, the total amount of money they've pumped into their datacenters will be three or four times what it was as of 2010. They've contracted to buy over three hundred megawatts of power at just three sites,[8]Google: Purchasing clean energy which is more than they used for all their operations in 2010.

Based on datacenter power usage and spending estimates, my guess would be that Google is currently running—or will soon be running—between 1.8 and 2.4 million servers.

But what do these "servers" actually represent? Google could be experimenting in all kinds of wild ways, running boards with 100 cores or 100 attached disks. If we assume that each server has a couple[9]Anywhere from 2 to 5 of 2 TB disks attached, we come up with close to 10 exabytes [10]As a refresher, the order is: kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa, zetta, yotta. An exabyte is a million terabytes. of active storage attached to running clusters.

10 Exabytes

The commercial hard disk industry ships about 8 exabytes worth of drives annually. [12] [10] IDC: Worldwide External Disk Storage Systems Factory Revenue Declines for the Second Consecutive Quarter Those numbers don't necessarilly include companies like Google, but in any case, it seems likely that Google is a large piece of the global hard drive market.

To make things worse, given the huge number of drives they manage, Google has a hard drive die every few minutes.[11]Eduardo Pinheiro, Wolf-Dietrich Weber and Luiz Andre Barroso, [Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population This isn't actually all that expensive a problem, in the grand scheme of things—they just get good at replacing drives—but it's weird to think that when a Googler runs a piece of code, they know that by the time it finishes executing, one of the machines it was running on will probably have suffered a drive failure.

Google tape storage

Of course, that only covers storage attached to running servers. What about "cold" storage? Who knows how much data Google—or anyone else—has stored in basement archives?

In a 2011 phone interview with Paul Mah of SMB Tech, Simon Anderson of Tandberg Data let slip [13] [11] SMB Tech: Is Tape Still Relevant for SMBs? that Google is the world's biggest single consumer of magnetic tape cartridges, purchasing 200,000 per year. Assuming they've stepped up their purchasing since then as they've expanded, this could add up to another few exabytes of tape archives.

All this could

Putting it all together

Let's assume Google has a storage capacity of 15 exabytes, [12]As a refresher, the order is: kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa, zetta, yotta. An exabyte is a million terabytes. or 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

A punch card can hold about 80 characters, and a box of cards holds 2000 cards:

15 exabytes of punch cards would be enough to cover my home region, New England, to a depth of about 4.5 kilometers. That's three times deeper than the ice sheets that covered the region during the last advance of the glaciers:

That seems like a lot.

However, it's nothing compared to the ridiculous claims by some news reports about the NSA datacenter in Utah.

NSA datacenter

The NSA is building a datacenter in Utah. Media reports claimed that it could hold up to a yottabyte of data, [14] [13] CNET: NSA to store yottabytes in Utah data centre which is patently absurd.

Later reports changed their minds, suggesting that the facility could only hold on the order of 3-12 exabytes. [15] [14] Forbes: Blueprints Of NSA's Ridiculously Expensive Data Center In Utah Suggest It Holds Less Info Than Thought We also know the facility uses about 65 megawatts of power, [16] [15] Salt-Lake City Tribune: NSA Bluffdale Center won’t gobble up Utah’s power supply which is about what a large Google datacenter consumes.

A few headlines, rather than going with one estimate or the other, announced that the facility could hold "between an exabyte and a yottabyte" of data [17] [16] Dailykos: Utah Data Center stores data between 1 exabyte and 1 yottabyte ... which is a little like saying "eyewitnesses report that the snake was "the escaped snake is believed to be between 1 millimeter and 1 kilometer long."

Uncovering further Google secrets

There are a lot of tricks for digging up information about Google's operations. Ironically, many of them involve using Google itself—from Googling for job postings in strange cities to using image search to find leaked cell camera photos of datacenter visits.

However, the best trick for locating secret Google facilities might be the one revealed by ex-Googler talentlessclown on reddit: [18] [17] reddit: Can r/Australia help find Google's Sydney data center? Seems like a bit of a mystery...

The easiest way to find manned Google data centres is to ask taxi drivers and pizza delivery people.

There's something pleasing poetic about that. Google has created what might be the most sophisticated information-gathering apparatus in the history of the Earth ... and the only people with the Earth ... yet the people with the most information about them are the pizza delivery drivers.

Who watches the watchers?

Apparently, Domino's.

Apparently, Domino's.

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3929 days ago
Cambridge, UK
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7 public comments
3924 days ago
There's a surprising amount of investigative work in this one.
Boston, MA
3928 days ago
ogrom googla
Cambridge, London, Warsaw, Gdynia
3929 days ago
Real life imitates Snow Crash. Again.
3929 days ago
So, essentially, you find Google the same way you find Torchwood?
3929 days ago
3922 days ago
Hee. "Illustration courtesy, used with permission."
3929 days ago
Hah! I know the guy that asked this one!
Austin, Texas
3929 days ago
reply Utah Data Center stores data between 1 exabyte and 1 yottabyte ... which is a little like saying "eyewitnesses report that the snake was between 1 millimeter and 1 kilometer long."
North of Boston

The T(w)eenage Prayer Experiment

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I'd like to invite you to have a look at my latest project, The Teenage Prayer Experiment

This week I tried to buy confirmation presents for a 10 and 13 year old from my church. I asked the Cathedral book shop for a book suitable for each age, that would help them to begin to develop a regular pattern and habit of prayer. But apparently, no such thing exists.

So, my son and I decided to write one.

Here's how it is going to work. I am meant to come up with a suggestion for a way of praying - a technique, a method, whatever you want to call it - each week.

He is going to try them. And then he is going to write a review of them, and give them marks out of 10 for ease of use, interest, and how close to God/religious/challenged/whatever they made him feel. Or those categories might change!

We'd love it if others tried them too, especially teenagers, and let us know through the comments how they were for you. You can give them marks out of 10 too.

If all goes well, we're hoping to write this up and compile a book in a year or so of the ones that worked best (and maybe the ones that were a disaster too). It seems to us that there really should be a book available out  there that can be given as a confirmation present to, say, 11-16 year olds, that shows and talks about different ways of praying, and developing a habit of prayer.

If you know of a such a book, or have suggestions for things for us to try, I'd love to hear from you. And do point and t(w)eenagers you know who might be interested to the project website, and encourage them to get involved too.
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4053 days ago
Cambridge, UK
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Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving

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Packing all of your belongings into a U-Haul and then transporting them across several states is nearly as stressful and futile as trying to run away from lava in swim fins.  

I know this because my boyfriend Duncan and I moved from Montana to Oregon last month.  But as harrowing as the move was for us, it was nothing compared to the confusion and insecurity our two dogs had to endure.  

Our first dog is - to put it delicately - simple-minded.  Our other dog is a neurotic German shepherd mix with agonizingly low self-esteem who has taken on the role of "helper dog" for our simple dog.  Neither dog is well-equipped with coping mechanisms of any kind.  

When we started packing, the helper dog knew immediately that something was going on.  I could tell that she knew because she becomes extremely melodramatic when faced with even a trivial amount of uncertainty.  She started following me everywhere, pausing every so often to flop to the ground in an exaggeratedly morose fashion - because maybe that would make me realize how selfish I was being by continuing to pack despite her obvious emotional discomfort.     

When the soul-penetrating pathos she was beaming at me failed to prevent me from continuing to put things in boxes, the helper dog became increasingly alarmed.  Over the ensuing few days, she slowly descended into psychological chaos.  The simple dog remained unfazed. 

Unfortunately for the helper dog, it took us nearly a week to get everything packed up.  By the time we were ready to begin the first part of our two-day journey to Oregon, she seemed almost entirely convinced that she was going to die at any moment.  She spent the entire car ride drooling and shaking uncontrollably.  

But the simple dog seemed to enjoy the trip. 

Even though she threw up seven times. 

She actually seemed to like throwing up.  To the simple dog, throwing up was like some magical power that she never knew she possessed - the ability to create infinite food.  I was less excited about the discovery because it turned my dog into a horrible, vomit-making perpetual motion machine.  Whenever I heard her retch in the backseat, I had to pull over as quickly as possible to prevent her from reloading her stomach and starting the whole cycle over again.  

But as far as the simple dog was concerned, it was the best, most exciting day of her life.  

It wasn't until we stopped for the night in Umatilla that the simple dog became aware that there was any reason for her to feel anxious.  But at around two o'clock in the morning, the simple dog finally realized that something was different and maybe she should be alarmed.

This particular dog is not anywhere near the gifted spectrum when it comes to solving problems.  In fact, she has only one discernible method of problem solving and it isn't even really a method. 

But making high-pitched noises won't solve your problem if your problem is a complete inability to cope with change.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, the simple dog did not understand this concept and she went right ahead and made an interminable amount of noise that was just invasive enough to make sleeping impossible. 

After an hour of failed attempts at comforting the simple dog, her constant, high-pitched emergency-distress-signal became a huge problem.  

I tried to communicate my displeasure to the simple dog, but communicating with the simple dog usually goes like this:

She was going to make that sound forever if she felt it was necessary.  We tried everything from spooning her to locking her in the bathroom, but none of it was even the slightest bit effective.  

The simple dog made the noise all through the night and was still going strong the next morning. When we were loading the dogs into the car, the constant, high-pitched sound emanating from the simple dog finally broke the helper dog.  The helper dog wailed in anguish, which alarmed the simple dog.  In her surprise, the simple dog let out a yelp, which further upset the helper dog.  And so it continued in a wretched positive-feedback loop of completely unnecessary noise.

When we finally arrived at our new house, the dogs had calmed down considerably.  Unfortunately, it had snowed the night before and there was still snow on our front lawn, and that was enough to catapult both dogs back into hysteria.  

The simple dog had either never experienced snow or she'd forgotten that she knew what it was, because when we let her out of the car, she walked around normally for about seven seconds, then she noticed the snow and her feeble little mind short-circuited.

At first, the simple dog was excited about the snow.  She started prancing around the yard like she was the star of a one-dog parade - her recent personal crisis overshadowed by a haze of enthusiasm. 

The prancing turned to leaping and the leaping turned to running chaotically in stupid little circles. Then she just stopped and stared at the ground.  There was a visible shift in her demeanor as she realized that she didn't understand snow and it was everywhere and she should probably be scared of it. She started making the noise again. 

Not surprisingly, the helper dog interpreted the snow as a sign of her imminent demise.  But she was so exhausted from worrying about all of the other signs of her demise that she just gave up and accepted her death.  She peered up at us, half-buried in the snow.  Her eyes were filled with pain and helplessness, as if she thought we had summoned the snow for the sole purpose of making her sad.

We decided that it would probably be best to bring the dogs inside.  

As a condition for allowing us to have dogs in our rental house, our landlady made us promise that we wouldn't let the dogs scratch the wood floors.  We didn't anticipate it being a problem because it hadn't been in the past, but as soon as our dogs set foot in the house, they morphed into perfectly engineered floor-destroying machines.  They started sprinting as fast as they could for absolutely no reason - skittering around in circles to avoid running into the walls.  

We finally corralled them in the bedroom and shut the door to give ourselves a little time to regroup and come up with a plan.  Until we could get some rugs or convince the dogs that it was unnecessary to sprint around chaotically for no reason, we would need to find some way to prevent them from scratching the floors.  What we ended up doing was going to the pet store and buying two sets of sled dog booties. It was the only way.

It is easy to imagine that a dog who has recently experienced a dramatic upheaval of its formerly safe and predictable life might not react well to suddenly having strange objects attached to all four of its feet.  This was most definitely the case with the booties.

The helper dog panicked and started trying to rip the booties off with her teeth. 

I scolded her and she reacted as if I'd ruined her entire life. 

But at least her immobilizing self-pity kept her from chewing the booties off.

The simple dog just stood there and looked at me in a way that would suggest she didn't realize her legs still worked.

They had to wear the booties for two days.  Those two days were filled with the most concentrated display of overemotional suffering I have ever witnessed.  The simple dog spent most of her time standing in the middle of the room looking bewildered and hurt and the helper dog refused to walk, instead opting to flop her way around the house like a dying fish.  

The entire ordeal was punctuated by the simple dog's high-pitched confusion alarm. 

We were beginning to think that our dogs were permanently broken. Nothing we did helped at all to convince the dogs that we had only changed houses and our new house was not, in fact, some sort of death-camp and we weren't actually planning on killing them to fulfill an organ harvest ritual.  Despite our best efforts, they continued to drift around in a sea of confusion and terror, pausing only to look pitiful. 

But while we were unpacking, we found a squeaky toy that was given to us as a gift shortly before we moved.  We offered the toy to the dogs.  This may have been a mistake. 

Upon discovering that the toy squeaked when it was compressed forcefully, the simple dog immediately forgot that she'd ever experienced doubt or anxiety ever in her life.  She pounced on the toy with way more force than necessary, over and over and over.  The logic behind her sudden change in outlook was unclear.   

But at least she was happy again. 

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4090 days ago
*hugs shiloh*
Cambridge, Massachusetts
4090 days ago
This is my favorite one from this comic.
4089 days ago
Hmm. Isn't this comic from 3 years ago? I wonder why it's showing up as april 8th.
4089 days ago
this one never gets old. Although I must say our dog handles moving and travel better than we do. Is there food, water, a bed and a walk? it's home today
4085 days ago
Cambridge, UK
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9 public comments
4081 days ago
This is so funny. Plus it reminds me why we don't have dogs!
4082 days ago
Without a doubt, one of Allie Brosh's finest works. Makes me nearly pass out from laughter.
Aurora, IL
4087 days ago
This one is a comic I loved when it first came out! :)
Columbus, Ohio
4088 days ago
Les dogs!
4088 days ago
Dogs. LOL
United States
4088 days ago
Worth a read if you've had a dog. I can relate to this - when either of my dogs have been ill this sort irrational behaviour is just exhausting!
4090 days ago
unbelievably good
Athens, Greece
4090 days ago
San Francisco