SparkFun held a "Free Day" on Jan 7th, giving away up to 100 dollars in goods per order (to a max of $100,000). With a bit of planning, an employment snow day and a lot of luck, I managed to snag one of the spots, and will recieve an Arduino and stuff. I'm in no hurry to receive it, but it should make for a nice diversion. Well, another nice diversion; I've already got a hackable phone, a website, and console games to finish. When the goods do arrive, I suppose that will be a good time to investigate how easy this is out of the box with Ubuntu.
Their postmortem gave a few statistics on the event, but it's not clear what exactly caused them to slow down so much. Personally, I figure they were over-subscribed 100:1 and everyone knew it, causing people to flood the site beyond an overly optimistic worst case scenario (f5 refresh galore!). Not to mention the extra 75,000 visiters were likely all trying to do purchase transactions simultaneously, which involves SSL overhead and substantial DB writes. They didn't post the architecture or individual server stats you'd need to determine whether it was CPU, IO or network bound. Some bitter parties accuse them of intentionally crippling the site as a stunt to avoid an anti- climatic instant sellout. Or that they failed to utilize any caching control on server or client side.
Anyways, thanks to SparkFun for the toys, I'll be sure to put them to good use.