Open Source, Closed Book

Visualization of the various routes through a ...
I Definitely Left That File Here Somewhere

Another really pleasant April day. The last one of course; by the time you read this it will be May, and instead of considering the good days a bonus we’ll see the bad ones as short-changing us. This is why April is the far superior month, it rewards optimists.

But I’m back in the windowless Windows cave, a net café with 17 PCs in various stages of broken. Late last night I defeated a secret second level boss defending them against their own administrators. Tonight I have two cleaned and ready to take the set of applications that the public will want.

If it were up to me of course, the public would get the apps I want. And they’d all walk out of the shop pleasantly astonished at how good open source software is now.

Yeah right. Customers faced with OpenOffice instead of the Microsoft equivalent are just going to react with panic and dismay. Though there isn’t really much to choose between the two, it’s a classic case of the market leader being the market leader because they’re the market leader; office applications are a natural monopoly. The only reason why OpenOffice still even exists is that it’s not for profit.

What I think stands a better chance at competing, in this market at least, is Google’s still-nascent attempt at doing the thin client all over again, Chrome OS, where the computer is running absolutely nothing but a browser, and all the applications and all the documents are out there in what marketeers now want us to call “the cloud”, or what we used to call cyberspace. In other words, a server farm in Indonesia.

Is it crazy? Doing your computing right there in front of you has simply got to be quicker than doing it over a network, however fast. But consider me. It’s six in the morning. I started at one in the afternoon. I am still tweaking the drivers and software and settings of these Windows machines so that I can start to make them ready to be made ready for the public tomorrow.

Just one installed program – and even that kept updated automatically over the Internet? For public situations like this, yes please. For the customer too, the convenience of always having their documents to hand no matter what computer they were made on would be wonderful. No more schlepping them around on flash drives. They’ll learn to love Google Docs.

If need be I’ll pay them to.

Little Boxen

A USB flash drive in the shape of a piece of i...
I'm Starting To Hallucinate

Sitting in a late pub, torn between throwing up my hands in despair at those damn computers, and going back and coddling them all like sick hens. They really are depressing. Aside from some of them being basically made of string and spit, they have been the unfortunate victims of good ideas.

Naturally in a net café you want to keep the computers safe from the customers and whatever crap they might download or bring in on their dirty little flash drives. Someone had a scheme here, to totally lock down these computers. Good? Unfortunately, they’re locked to Windows Updates, to new software, to antivirus that can still  get updates… You can’t change anything as a user and you can’t log on as an administrator, even in Safe Mode. These computers are frozen in the past.

There are supposed to be Norton Ghost images to restore them from, but so far every one I’ve tried has this anti-change software on it, so they’re just frozen further in the past. It’s like whoever did this job last decided to set a fiendish puzzle to those who came after. Normally I’d relish such a challenge, but this café does need to start making money some time.

Royal Pain

Royal standard of members of the British Royal...
At Least The Royals Have Standards

A woman on the radio is going to Britain for their royal wedding, so she can see all the best people there decked out in fine clothes and jewellery, and get away from all the doom and gloom here that was brought about by greed.

Can she not make mental connections?

I shouldn’t listen to Liveline¹, it’s a form of masochism. It’s obvious that the producers choose the most irritating callers deliberately. Royalty fans now. Even leaving aside the whole problem of the stealth recolonization of Ireland via television,  how can anyone, anywhere in the current universe be a fan of royalty? Its entire basis is the idea that some people are born innately superior to others, that they inherit the necessary qualities – or even the God-given right – to rule us. That idea is anathema. How exactly does it differ from racism?

The British royal family may be an amusing burlesque these days, but when you think about it what it stands for is actually shocking. So no, though it does represent a mostly positive change in relations between our countries, I won’t be out to look at the Queen of England when she comes to visit here. A nice old lady she may be perhaps, but she is also a symbol of – to speak plainly – evil.

  1. The most popular phone-in radio show in Ireland.

Filler Text

Wow. I haven’t been this exhausted since I climbed Croagh Patrick. Yes that was only two weeks ago, but if it wasn’t for that I’d’ve been able to say “I haven’t been this exhausted for years”. Damn that mountain.

One brief break to eat aside, I repaired computers for more than 24 hours straight. I think in the end I got nine previously defunct machines up and whirring. Is that some sort of record?

The one drawback is, I may die.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Fish and The Blues – Both Better Raw

I’m sorry, I begin so many of these posts by describing where I’m eating. It seems like the only opportunity to write I get these days. Today particularly – I was working flat out from ten-thirty till seven, with only one brief break for a coffee and a banana.

But I’m making up for it now. A plate of sushi in Wa Café, the other Japanese place in my neighbourhood. Excellent nigiri here. I’m no connoisseur of Japanese cuisine, but sometimes it just tastes better than others. I particularly love the mackerel. I don’t think I’ve ever had raw mackerel in sushi before – or indeed, in any circumstances – and so perhaps it’s not traditional, but it was exquisite. There was salmon and tuna too. No squid, octopus or prawn, but that’s perhaps as well. I think I enjoy the idea of eating those more than the actual experience.
So tired…
Anyway, my new project. I am rescuing a net café. Yeah I’ve fixed computers before. This weekend, while other folks go about their religious observances, I must try to raise a whole roomful of the beggars from the dead. I will be Computer Christ.
It’s a biggie. Basically this net café started out with a healhy stock of twenty computers. Inattention over the quiet winter months has seen this dwindle to just eight… And as I mentioned, tourism has picked up of a sudden. They need functioning machines to coin money with. So twelve computers in one weekend. Can it be done? Well I got four done today and it’s a long weekend, so if I can keep up that pace…

Fuck what a sound! Sorry. Since I started writing I’ve drifted down to the new blues bar in Wood Quay, Muddy Maher’s (where the Stage Door used to be) because I heard some friends were playing. The Prodigal Blues band: Niceol Blue, Mark Molloy et al. I just heard them warm up there, and was impressed. Reminded more of Led Zeppelin than anything else. Niceol is sexy like Robert Plant was sexy, but with the considerable added advantage of being a girl.
This will keep me awake until bedtime.

Your Phone Can Replace Your PC

Tux, the Linux penguin
The Penguin Cometh

My big tech news: I have a desktop computer on my phone now.

It’s running Linux, the free alternative to Windows or Mac. With it I can edit Word documents and spreadsheets, create PDFs, do Photoshop-class image editing. The screen is pretty tiny for that kind of thing of course, but it’s doable. In essence, I don’t need a computer anymore. It even runs Firefox. Not the new mobile version you can get for Android, but the full-scale desktop one.

Oh, and it still makes phone calls.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve been messing with this stuff half the night and I take on an even bigger project tomorrow. More of both these things anon.

Thumbs Up

QWERTY keyboard layout - homes keys - Start po...
WRONG

So let’s see can I do this and cross the street at the same time… OK, no collisions thus far. Bicycles are the worst. Silent and deadly. Like woodlice.

Yes I’m blogging while walking again, using my phone’s thumboard – that is, a keyboard the right size for typing with your thumbs. This time though I’m in an urban environment, which is even more stupid. (Please do not try this at home. Richard is a trained stuntgeek.) Of course we’ve all entered text while walking, on our phones. Some of us have also tried it using the handwriting recognition on a tablet PC, which works pretty well. In terms of speed though the thumboard beats both hollow. It takes two hands, but if you’re texting on an ordinary phone the other hand is idle anyway. Or should be.

So though thumboards may be perceived as unfeasibly cramped they’re actually more useful than the larger keyboards you’ll find on things like netbooks, which are still too small for touch typing but too wide to be used like this. They’re a great invention and deserve a bit more respect.

But back to the local colour. I’m walking via the campus, site of my undistinguished but enjoyable academic career. Those four years seemed to go on forever, yet somehow I could still never find time to study. The place has expanded almost out of recognition since then, and hoardings up now promise that when complete it will be the largest school of engineering in Ireland. Shame, I preferred it as a university.

He may be a geek folks, but he’s still an arts grad.

Keep The Profit, Share The Blame

We All PartiedSo the Nyberg report into our banking industry says that borrowers as well as lenders were to blame for the crisis. Fair enough I suppose. After all, it’s not like the banks lent money to people who didn’t ask for it.

Oh wait. They did.

A tramp living in a sherry bottle could borrow money in that market. Hell, they offered a ‘pre-approved’ loan to me. While many borrowed foolishly or even greedily, the greater part of the blame must surely fall on the professionals. Your bank was traditionally expected to advise you on your financial interests. It was not supposed to push debt on you, take your indebtedness and repackage it as an asset, use that to raise money, declare this a profit and pay themselves enormous bonuses. A basic trust was broken there. Not to mention a law of thermodynamics.

A proportion too has to belong to the institutions overseeing the industry – the regulators of course, but ultimately the Department of Finance. They were astonishingly lax while all this was going on, and we still aren’t being told why. (The role of government was beyond Nyberg’s remit, strangely.)

Do we really need to ask though, when politicians party with and parties are funded by people who were making enormous profits  from all this? The nod and the wink is the Morse code of Irish governance, messages flew back and forth across the wealth-to-power hotline. You’ll go a bit easy there on the regulation. Wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, or look a gift horse in the mouth, or whatever stupid aphorism they used.

When you get a gift horse as mysteriously generous as this you shouldn’t look it in the mouth, no. You should shove a telescope right up its bum. Nobody rocked the boat because the boat was full of money.

God, The Sun!

Toasted Heretic Point Out The Profound Lack of Iberian Influence

At a Spanish café near the Spanish Arch, eating… scrambled eggs. I could have had an omelette but things were already getting out of hand. A tourist had come up to me and asked directions to Galway’s ‘Iberian style’ cathedral. He did mean the modern 60s one, I checked. His guidebook must be Europe On Drugs, I’m not seeing aything remotely Iberian about it. Frankly I don’t think it’s in any consistent taste whatever, except Questionable Irish-American. No seriously, the thing has what to every appearance is a shrine to John F. Kennedy.

Today though is for worshipping that most primal of gods, the sun. The best kept secret about the Irish climate is that it is frequently much better in April than it is in August. At this time of year it either rains or it’s hot. Of course, it can rain a lot… Last Monday we had cloudbursts – of hail, even. Including one right in the middle of my mother’s driving test, which didn’t help.

But this is infinitely preferable in my book to the overcast that can last throughout the ‘summer’ proper. It’s to be expected I suppose in a country that sits in a bowl of Atlantic. The summer sun on that water drives off so much vapour that it blocks the heat and light from us. So infuriating to be cold in mid-July, knowing that just beyond the great grey shell there’s a solar furnace at maximum. Nature can be a curse.

I call it a secret, but someone seems to have been blabbing. It’s thick with tourists around here already. Cúirt is on of course, but you don’t expect literary festivals to bring the horde down on you. Maybe there are more domestic holidaymakers than usual, what with The Economy.

Certainly seemed to be a lot of people out clubbing last night. Even though I picked the quietest route back from Salthill I still had to walk around two broken Bucky bottles. Buckfast tonic wine – the party drink made by monks. Maybe people drink it for the irony. Or possibly the sulphury. Must be something like that anyway; it tastes bloody awful.

Irony, and caffeine. The Bucky in a brown bottle, which for some reason is unique to Ireland, actually contains more caffeine by volume than Red Bull. And remember people dilute Red Bull, by adding vodka to it. So that’s why you see broken bottles everywhere. It’s not the 15% alcohol content that makes people clumsy. It’s the caffeine shakes.