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July 8th, 2003

Unshared interests memeage

Via missfairchild and flick: "I keep a vague eye on the user info of most people on my friends list, and am always intrigued by the unshared ones. So I'd like to know a little more about the unshared interests you list. What are your favourite ones? What do they mean to you? And why are you such contrary buggers that nobody else on LJ seems to agree with your choices?"

I have to admit my unshared interests are probably rather boring. Which is probably why only I have them...
  • application development advisor is a magazine I write a column for. It's very good (the magazine as a whole, not just my column), and it's the only remaining European English language developer title.

  • computer journalism is what I spend most of my time doing these days.

  • context computing is an interesting spin out of ubiquitous computing, where the current actions of the user determine the services and interface offered. My friend Tac and I were working on the idea of a context matrix, where application and UI designers could capture the information they need to manage how their systems would handle context back in our Scient days. It's a project I still wish we'd be able to finish.

  • deadringers is, of course, a typo for Dead Ringers, the wonderful Radio 4 satirical impressions programme. I really must get round to fixing it some day...

  • fred gambino is one of my favourite SF cover artists. I have one of 4 prints of his cover for the UK edition of David Brin's Heaven's Reach on the wall here in the East Putney Museum Of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Sequential Art...

  • intelligence amplification is the idea of using technology to improve the way we interact with the world. I'd recommend reading Vernor Vinge's short story "Bookworm, Run" to understand what it could mean.

  • it journalism, see computer journalism!

  • jerriais is what should be my native language. I am ashamed to admit that I can't speak more than a few words of it.

  • scranletting ticklepenny corner is what Seth and Amos ("Seth and Amos, too! Send gumboots!") do in Stella Gibbon's wonderful Cold Comfort Farm. I only put this one in to confuse people. I don't think it worked...

  • sf art is what I collect. Currently I own a large number of pieces by artists like Jim Burns, John Harris, Chris Moore, Bryan Talbot, SMS and Fred Gambino. These range from full original book covers, to pencil and digital studies for later works, along with limited edition photographs and prints of digital works.

  • the spike is another way of describing the singularity. It's a term used by Damien Broderick, and I think it's a better description of what lies ahead of us. It's also what I'm trying to write about in my SF. It is not a Buffy reference, OK?

  • writing sf is something I try to do... I'm not as good at it as I'd like, and I don't put enough time to get better...
So there you have it. The missing bits of my list...

Egosurfing the past

Today, I have been ego-surfing Google's Usenet news archive, pulling out old articles I'd written, along with rants and poetry. Some weren't that bad, too. So I'm going to be occasionaly reposting pieces here - starting with pieces written in the Scary Devil Monastery (aka alt.sysadmin.recovery) back when I was Technical Manager for UK Online...
The road to Damascus can be a strange and lonely place.

I've got a confession to make. I have two hats. On one hand I run the tech for a large ISP. On the other, well, I'm (whispers quietly) a PC journalist - nothing major, a little comms, a few book reviews maybe, perhaps the odd small peripheral.

So my editor says to me: "You're a sysadmin."

I grunt something non-commital in return. It's 11 am and she wants sense from me?

She smiles down the phone. "How about a seven page feature on Windows 95 networking."

Uh oh. I shouldn't have answered the phone. Unfortunately, I do a few quick sums and work out that this is in fact very good for my bank balance, so I say yes, and wander off to blag a nice fast PC and a pile of ethernet cards. That and two corporate LAN packages.

Three days later and I'm cursing the software. Exported drives that vanish halfway through a session, tech support the other side of the Atlantic, no man pages, and a Windows 95 network client that only talks to (oh horror of horrors) Windows 3.1. My poor old PC is getting quite battered, and has probably learnt a whole pile of new swearwords. I'm running out of espresso, and the next door news agents have just shut for the night, and the cat is trying to eat the length of ethernet that runs down the landing to my housemate's room.

At that moment I was enlightened.

At that moment, I realised it.

I love TCP/IP. I love NFS. I love configuring firewalls and the intricate beauty of ifconfig. I love Unix.

So I stripped out all the fancy network protocols and let the damn thing run on IP packets the way any good network should.

They're changing my medication tomorrow, and I think they'll probably take away my white coat with the funny sleeves too.

Ho hum.

At least the house is wired and I can be a BOFH at home as well as at work, and a Sabatier kitchen knife makes one damn fine LART...

(Written back in 1996. And look where I've ended up...)
Somedays nothing goes right.

Sunday lunchtime the technical beeper goes off. It's Elly, and the service has fallen over.

I log on and confirm it. No life from anything on our London LAN, it looks like a dead router.

Oh shit.

I dash out to Shepton, to contact the people who have a management contract (once I find their number) for our site. It only takes them four hours to send someone to press a button... I could have go there faster, but I'm stuck at my desk fending phone calls from a telco who don't seem to understand contracts.

The router doesn't reset, and it's too late to get an engineer out.

Oh fsck.

Nothing I can do, and customer support haven't told mne how to change the voice mail system. I can here the phone ringing, and I know we're going to be down for at least another 12 hours, and there's nothing I can do.

Help! The adrenalin has worn off. I'm hungry, and completely shattered. And its 20 miles back to Bath, and my car has "go-faster-letters", and there's a tape of the Simpsons, and Mary's cooking me a bowl of pasta. You're another driver on the A367 Shepton Mallet-Radstock Bath road - do you feel lucky?

Monday morning, the support desk duly warned, I contact one of my people who's drawn the short straw, and has had to lose a day off and go to London. (Hah!)

The engineer turns up and replaces the router. Everything works.

Hey ho.

This morning the main database machine decides to fall over after 230 days of uptime. And to cap it all, the Bath Disney Store sold out of Buzz Lightyear figures just before I could get there.

Somedays you just can't win.

As ever, reporting from the bleeding edge of consumer ISP technology.

(Another story from the early days of life in as an ISP)