Monthly Archives: September 2006

B-Day!

So today I turn 26. With the bare minimum of fanfare, being in the field in Dublin. But even with little fanfare, it is always nice to get the digital birthday greetings from home on a day like this. Thank you for the thoughts. I hope you’re all taking good care of yourselves wherever you may be.

Though I haven’t told a lot of people about my birthday, I still got a cake:

B-day cake! Yay!

Courtesy of the ever-thoughtful KDE usability expert, Ellen.


Tonight a whole bunch of the remaining people here will go to a Japanese noodle restaurant and treat ourselves to a proper meal – something surprisingly rare in Dublin where most meals involve crips, chips and deepfrying.
Being prepared, I have brought some quality original Danish spirit to combine the meal with Danish birthday celebrations in a proper fusion cooking event:

It's porse! it's snaps! It goes well with sushi! (maybe!)

So, if you’re excited about this and want part of the action. Just fly to Dublin! We’ll be meeting at 8 PM sharp on the campus of the glorious Trinity College in central Dublin and walk to the restaurant. More specifically, we’ll be meeting just outside of the fantastic edifice housing the hack-labs for this year’s aKademy conference, the appropriately monikered PC-huts:

Imposing!

Yes, they are basically containers full of computers. But they are nice containers! Okay, they’re not. But at least we won’t be eating our noodles there. 🙂

The butt end of globalization

Dublin has proven to be a very strange place.

Because of the immense golfing event taking place over the weekend, the only accomodation I’ve been able to find was a rather lousy hostel run by a group of Polish people and, apparently, mostly inhabited by young Polish people seeking easy employment in one of the many bars and pubs around central Dublin.

When Poland became part of the European Union, all the Danes were afraid that Denmark would be swamped with cheap Polish labour trying to make a good living. But it seems that with low taxes, cheap Ryanair flights and an immense need for unskilled labour, Ireland is a better bet within the EU for these young Polish guest workers who utilize the globalized possibilities of inexpensive flights, free movement of capital and labour to casually travel from one end of Europe to the other in order to earn and save the money necessary for a better life back in Poland.

Apparently, there are now more than 40.000 registered Poles in Ireland and most likely a lot more, since they no longer have to register with the lax rules within the EU.

But in an even stranger twist of globalization, Dublin is now the Call Centre capital of Europe some claiming as many as 100.000 people employed in the industry in Ireland and specifically around Dublin. When I was fixing my grandparents’ eMac a while back, I called Apple’s support line and was connected to a young Danish speaking Irish man in Dublin. Very weird. He had learned Danish while working in an Irish pub in Copenhagen. Very globalized.

The call centre industry is huge, and it is the sort of business where saving money on training and employee job security seems to be the order of the day. It is a very nasty piece of work, but people seem to be willing to put up with it for the immediate benefits they can get.

Oh, and one last thing why Dublin is a strange place: The Irish prefer their beer less carbonated than beer elsewhere. They can even take perfectly good lager and make it less refreshing and interesting by not adding enough gas. It’s as if all beer has to be like Guinness in that regard.

Konference for Developers in ?ire

I have arrived safely in Dublin’s fair city, and have found it harder than expected to find decent lodgings, due to the huge crowds drawn to some sporting event taking place outside of town. But I’ve found a modest hostel dorm bed, and are now waiting for the registration to begin for the aKademy conference – the annual gathering of developers, designers and other contributors working on the K Desktop Environment.

KDE was the first open source desktop environment, hoping to contain a complete desktop use experience with web surfing, email, word processing and more. Announced in 1996, the name is a typically hackish joke on the then popular proprietary Unix desktop environment named CDE (the Common Desktop Environment).

KDE is based on the Qt toolkit which at first was not entirely free software which caused a fair few flamewars, and eventually the creation of the rival GNOME project in 1997. Since then Trolltech, the Norwegian company behind the toolkit, has made their work available under a fully acceptable Free Software license, and that issue has ceased to be a concern, and instead the main issue is ensuring peaceful collaboration and co-existence between the two development communities – something that can be more difficult than you might expect.

Not only are there deep differences in the way the two communities approach the basic aspects of the development having chosen differing programming languages for the basic architecture and differing design philosophies for the user configurations. But even simple considerations on the look and feel of the desktop itself can easily reach almost religious levels.

Currently, KDE development is focusing on the release of the KDE4 which seeks to refine KDE even further based on the experiences of the past years Open Source desktop work – not only with regards to technical infrastructure but also with regards to graphical design, look and feel and usability.

I’ll be here in Dublin for the conference, hoping to learn more about the role of Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu, within the KDE community, and how the relationship between the distribution and the upstream developers is working. Oh, and maybe drink a few pints of Guinness, as well.

Recognizing the digital divide

Under the impact of this information explosion, different degrees and types of anticipation result among the professionals who participate in the technology of the next generation of machine translation. […] Each of these “users” has got hold of some major or side effect of the information explosion, and each is a potential supporter and advocate, sufficiently entranced by the possibilities of the new devices to use them and to dream of a form of life which will be increasingly permeated with the new technology and which will nevertheless be human and desirable.

On the other hand, each is potential rejector, bemused, frustrated, left behind […] This opposition has the special quality that comes from the absolute inability to communicate, the feeling of being up against a brick wall – that is symbolized by a live speaker at one end of a telephone conversation and a recorded answer at the other. […]

These reactions are already plain to see on every side, and it will be worthwhile for the innovators in the new technology to invest time and thought in ways in which delight and hope for human consequences of the new technology can be increased, and fear and rage decreased.

Margaret Mead – New York Times, May 23 1965.

Comics! (for those who care for such things)

You know what? I like comics. A single wellwritten and conceived comic strip can express some deep truths that would be impossible to convey properly in any other medium. By connecting simple images and dialogue while leaving plenty to the imagination to combine, comic strips can be like zen koans, absurd theatre, ponderous comedy and pop cultural references rolled into one single nugget of uncertain wisdom.

Web comics do this very well, since most of them do not seek to please. They are simply an outlet for the writer. A way of letting go of their thoughts. Of course, some people eventually make a business out of it, but with genuine web comics (ie. comics only published on the web, and as a pastime at first), the original nerve is that freedom to write what feels right. Without seeking to please anybody.

My first webcomic love was Achewood, which I still read. It is a bottomless font of new English slang and curious incidents. The first strip sums up the style quite well.

It combines wide-eyed wonder with world-weary slang. It’s basically like treasure.

I also had a brief fling with one called Men in Hats, which upon rereading it is a bit of a letdown. Still, some of them do have that sarcastic distance which seems almost zen.

My latest infatuation is with the aptly named xkcd, which brings wonderful honesty and a deep fascination with mathematics together. Now I may not know mathematics, but somehow this still manages to be funny:

George Clinton, BA

Especially those ponderings of love struck some rare chord with me. As well as those pseudo-scientific theories that erupt from time to time.

I think most people find themselves in situations where whatever they’re thinking just isn’t relevant to anybody around them. I hope to be able to think in strange ways, even if it isn’t the Bellman-Ford algorithm.

Musée Dapper

In the current influx of new Ubuntu Members on getting their blogs on Ubuntu Planet, I thought I’d join in as well. I’m fairly new in the world of Free Software, first getting really involved with Ubuntu at the Paris Ubuntu Developers’ Summit in June.

While in Paris, I came across this surprise:

Musée Dapper

Of course, it has nothing to do with random release code names and rather more to do with African artwork and heritage. Maybe somebody ought to send them a few Ubuntu 6.06 CDs to give away as well..? 😉

Columns

From the Nazi rallying grounds in Nürnberg:

Columns

From the “Street of Human Rights” outside of the Germanic Museum, also in Nürnberg:

A tree rather than a column:

Tree
(Meant to signify all the world’s language that couldn’t be represented on the columns)

What the former nazi rally grounds look like today:

it's a circus! I love a circus!

(more comparisons of then and now here. It’s interesting to see, because the nazis specifically built things with intent that they should be majestic ruins in a thousand year’s time)

Overheard in a Nürnberg hostel dorm

(07.06 Sunday morning. The first rays of grey morning light find their way through the curtains in a 12-man dormitory room. The door opens. In comes a young man, wobbily walking to the far end of the room where a bunk bed is located. He bends over the lower bunk and speaks in a tired, drunken slur.)

Boy: “Hey, Jersey. Sorry I left you. I spent an hour looking for you, but these people just dragged from one club to another and … Jersey?
Girl: “Mhmm?”
Boy: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find you. I’ve been out drinking until now.”
Girl:”Mhm!”
Boy: “I met this girl named Michelle, she’s really nice. I’m going to try and see if she’ll let me sleep at her place. I’ll come back here tomorrow at 3 at the latest.
Girl: “Mm.”
Boy: “You’ll wait for me, won’t you?”
Girl: “…”
Boy: “Alright, see you. Thanks, Jersey!”

(He quickly walks out the room, uncarefully slamming the door as he leaves.)

(07.34 – the door is opened carefully a second time. Again footsteps can be heard across the room.)

Boy: “Jersey? … Jersey? I’m sorry, I’ve been out drinking until now. I tried to find you and all – I spent an hour and a half looking for you, but it’s like were just gone.”
Girl: “Mhm..”
Boy: “I’m sorry, they just dragged me from club to club… It was pretty great.”
Girl: “…”
Boy: “I met this German girl named Michelle, she was only 18, but she looked like 20.”
Girl: “Mhmm.”
Boy: “Yeah, I know. But she was really nice and… Oh! I’ll be right back – I got to fart.”

(walks out of the room, closes the door. The sound of a loud fart can clearly be heard from the hallway. Door opens, the young man comes back in, clambers into his top bunk)

Boy: “Jersey, you’ll wake me tomorrow, won’t you? Just wake me up when you get up, okay?”
Girl: “Mhmm.”

(Boy snores)

The army boys

I spent last Saturday night hanging out at a local hostel in Munich, drinking a few beers with random people. I talked a bit a group of three American guys who, as it happened, were soldiers on leave from the American army base in Schweinfurt. Though they were on leave, they had violated the rules by having travelled to Munich – more than 2 hours away from their base just days before deployment.

As they explained to me, they were off to Kuwait in one week and then off to Iraq a week later, so these were the last few days in Europe, and definitely their last chance to drink beer and travel around more or less freely. So they were making the most of it before they would be spending a year patrolling the streets of Baghdad.

The three were a motley crew: A jew, an arab and a roman-catholic. They were quite conscious about this and made a point of it: “What other army in the world would you find people with such different backgrounds?”

The jew was 23, and had bounced from job to job and ended up signing up last year. The arab was also 23, and had a university degree in Political Science which, he as he put it, “was all about bullshitting people”. He didn’t want to discuss the reasons for going to Iraq, but had signed up a few years earlier. The roman-catholic was 19, and had duct tape on his glasses and wore a strangely misshapen hat much like some sort of streetwise gangster. He enjoyed being out on the town and seemed quite cheerful whereas the other two were more tense.

While making the most of the 2-euro-draught-beer happy hour, they showed me pictures of what they’d seen around Germany and explained how joining the army probably was their best chance of ever seeing Europe. So I asked them why they’d joined and the jew answered: “Fuck if I know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.” But he still smiled.

Soon, they disappeared off into the Bavarian night for their last night out.