Tag Archives: shortsighted

Brutal irony

Saturday was Buddha Pūrṇimā, the international holiday that celebrates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing. The UN Secretary General issued a message calling for solidarity and the alleviation of suffering.

In Sri Lanka, the military decided to celebrate the holiday in true Colt Peacemaker style, by launching a Gaza-style offensive against the last remaining enclave of Tamil separatists. Don’t get me wrong: in my opinion the LTTE is one of the worst terrorist organisations on the planet. That does not, however excuse the slaughter of civilians. The horrific triumphalism of the Asian Tribunes article celebrating the ‘liberation’ of the northeast of the island stifles any attempt at black humour. Hundreds are dead.

In the Swat Valley, thought to the birthplace of Padmasambhava, the Pakistani army continued a thorough offensive to dislodge the Taleban. I have not seen any reliable reports on how many are dead. At least a million people have become internal refugees.

At Bodhgaya, protests erupted because the shrine there, sacred to Buddhists worldwide, is controlled by a Hindu-majority board backed by government decree. The governor chose to chastise the Amebedkar-Buddhist protestors telling them that they were not showing ‘tolerance and inclusiveness’.

Here in Aberdeen our small saṅgha had a picnic.


Open source at the blunt edge.

Here is an object lesson in why free and open source software is a symbol of good ethics.

The other day, I had a PDF sent to me by the private firm to which the UK government outsources its visa application work in Nepal. The PDF was a list of documents required to apply for a UK Visa. That list is nowhere on the internet, because it asks for documents that very, very few Nepalis could realistically provide; it is, in effect, a challenge to produce impossible documentation. Bear in mind that the average per capita income in Nepal is less than £200, and most are unemployed with little or no property. Nonetheless the document list requires, for example, tax records for three years. I know no one in our village who pays tax save, perhaps, the largest monasteries; how could they? In any case, the institutional corruption involved in the visa industry in Nepal, or Nigeria or pretty much anywhere else, is staggering and a subject of research by a few of my colleagues. Every university who admits foreign students knows this. So that PDF? It was printed using unlicensed software – the header on the document says so. I’d be surprised if they had paid for their copies of Office. Do they care? Why should they? It’s enterprise Britain! ‘We don’t want you unless you can lie about having £6000 so well that we can’t tell.’ Britain is proud to be represented by an outsourced firm operating on such a deep assumption of corruption-within-bounds that they are not embarrassed to send out official documentation using an unlicensed programme.

By contrast, one can get a free Nepali dictionary and clear instructions on how to install it into Open Office from FOSS Nepal. The visa service could run their entire office legally using their distribution of Linux and applications. It wouldn’t cost taxpayers, or visa applicants, a penny. Wouldn’t that be a much better symbol of what Britain stands for?

Holi freezing heck!

Okay: Bhavana had a great idea. Why shouldn’t the Anthropology Society, who are always up for a ritual, play Holi? The results speak for themself: see this, and this, and this. What the pictures don’t tell you is that it was snowing. Bleah. It’s one thing to be doused with abhir-water when it’s 35° – quite another when it’s 0° with a 50 km/h wind blowing sleet. Still, it’s the thought that counts.

Sitting back to back.

I work in a corporation, cunningly disguised as a university, that shifted from an open-source server suite to Micro$oft about a year ago. Life on the network has been miserable ever since. All the worst clichés apply: local administrators blocking support for Mac software, blanket generalizations about PCs being cheaper, and a vast and covert community of Mac users trying to get their work done from the sidelines. Emails to students with readings attached now fail as the server barfs on large attachments, and my research budget for fieldwork last year skyrocketed due to the smug torpidity of Exchange over dialup links.

So what can a poor Mac do?

Well, there are four problems- accessing files, sharing calendars, accessing user directories, and getting mail. I’ve only been able to find workarounds for some of these.

File access is still a nightmare. Aberdeen has not implemented webDAV or sftp, and thus from offsite the only way to access files is read-only. We do now how a rather braindead version of VPN which isn’t implemented at the network level, only at the browser level. Idjits. For mail, after my research budget last year was torpedoed by spending days – literally – on the phone line trying to make Mail and Exchange, or even Firefox and Exchange, talk to each other over a slow dialup line, I went back to my roots, woke up the postfix installation of my laptop, installed fetchmaill and took my mail directly from the Exchange server without pissing around with interfaces.

The calendars are my worst nightmare. Remember when MacWrite read M$Word files, because it had to in order to compete? Way, way back? Well, that sort of logic should still be in place. iCal should be a fully able Exchange client, and for it not to be is a staggering piece of bloody-mindedness.

When I read My Struggle I knew I was hearing the wails of a fellow sufferer. GroupCal is actually not a real solution – the interface is appalling, it only makes sense to an experienced Exchange user, and it hasn’t survived the transition to Leopard. Apple has raised hopes but not yet fulfilled them with the release of Exchange sync for the iPhone. Several people are rumbling on about a direct calDAV-Exchange sync solution but no such thing yet exists. Over here, judismith is in the same pickle. Wow. What an amazing disconnect. This sort of hole only emerges when developers behave perversely towards each other.

Sitting back to back – it can be a metaphor for mutual support. One of my favourite group exercises from theatre days was sitting in a ring of people, facing outwards, arms linked, and all standing up together. It works. Any prat who makes a profit from decisions to pursue incompatible standards should be made to eat the tyres of his car. (No cyclist would ever behave thus!)