My life as a geek

These days I spend quite a lot of time trying to escape from proprietary software to the wide open plains of open source. Open source tries to get around some of the political and commercial difficulties that you run into when you try to use property law based on physical objects to "govern" networked electronic information.

I buy that rhetoric, and I think that Richard Stallman will be remembered long after Bill Gates. I believe that the massively parallel development of information systems offers a powerful model for future applications in many different areas of human endeavour. Because of my early upbringing I'm happier with networks than hierarchies. Last year's struggle was the right to use my own client (a G3 powerbook) to log in wherever I work. This has been won, though I continue to guard my boundaries. This year I realise I need my own server too. The advent of ADSL in Britain over the next year will bring high bandwidth, permanently on-line internet connections to any individual who cares to do it--and I do.

My project has started with the development of a home network linked with Thin-net running ethernet and appletalk. I hope to be able to migrate some of the Macs to Linux and use the Linux machine as a server. I've gone with the Debian distribution. So far it's been a steep learning curve that involves such delights as command line editing of partition tables. I'm told that the very latest distributions on the PC are almost plug and play. Anyway, the budget for the project is £100, and, to keep the economics sane, I've priced my time for the job at zero. It doesn't work yet but it will and it's going to be beautiful.

I stay in touch with the broader internet issues through this perspective. Slashdot is an interesting example of the way in which very free internet communication can be facilitated: that's all done through PERL scripting apparently (and the code is available if you want it). I read that Python is a good place to learn to begin to code, so maybe I'll start with that once the battle of the box is won. (Linux machines are always called 'boxes' for some reason).

Why? I have always loved to read, and I have always loved to write. This is true literacy. I love the medium of the internet and I want to participate in it fully. Reading and writing on the internet involves dealing with some structured languages (as well as mastery of natural language) in order express myself fully.

I have a number of ideas for applications of these skills: web databases to improve access to local information for general practitioners, to enhance road safety, and to promote cycle tourism in Hackney.

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