Bill Gates doesn't get it

Bill Gates on the excellent OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project, which aims to provide simple, reliable, low-cost computers to developing countries:

"If you are going to go have people share the computer, get a broadband connection and have somebody there who can help support the user, geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you're not sitting there cranking the thing while you're trying to type."

This has been described elsewhere as 'trolling', but I'd be more charitable. Bill is being sincere...he just doesn't get it. Bill lives in a world where computers exist in order to generate metric tons of corporate documentation, and to use MySpace, MSN Messenger, and iTunes (well, not iTunes, obviously...let's say Napster). I suspect Bill's version of the OLPC project would look like this:

The system would be a full Intel powered laptop which cost the user $100 to buy. This would be because the country's government would have been massively pressured into subsidising half of the rest of the cost, with Microsoft subsidising the rest in order to get a toehold in the market. Contrast to the real OLPC project, where the system is genuinely designed to actually realistically cost $100 or so (at first a little more, economies of scale will bring the price down), and where the expectation is that the government will buy the systems and the people who use them will pay nothing.

Bill's system would run on conventional batteries. Half of the systems would be used for two hours then be relegated to doorstop duty for the rest of eternity as the users would have no way to recharge the batteries.

Bill's system would be designed, as modern conventional PCs and operating systems usually are, on the assumption that a fast, always-on Internet connection would always be available. Internet Explorer would be right on the desktop. The system wouldn't be heavily tested because updates could always be shipped over Windows Update. Bill would probably enter into some partnership with selected governments to build out a massive, expensive communications infrastructure in order to hook up all these expensive laptops, which would predictably end in disaster.

The real OLPC is designed to be usable in absolutely any situation, particularly where no electrical power is available, as will be the case for many of its users. It does not presume the existence of any network connection at all and will be designed with the idea in mind that it will principally be networked together with other OLPC machines in a peer-to-peer style network.

It's particularly sad to see that Bill is so far gone he can't conceive of a technological product people can use without someone being instantly available to tell them how to use it. This is clearly a logistical nightmare for a project as ambitious as OLPC and would shoot the entire thing out of the sky if it were necessary. Thankfully, the OLPC project has its head thoroughly screwed on, and will explicitly be designed to perform simple, useful tasks easily and reliably without the need for constant technical support.

Overall, I'm immensely glad Bill didn't get his hands anywhere near this project, because the people who did seem to be amazingly practical and it seems they'll turn this project, which at first glance seemed a little ridiculous, into something genuinely useful and exciting. Bill wouldn't.

Enterprise ready

I liked something Jeff Waugh had to say yesterday:

When someone says “not ready for the enterprise” (or similar context- and content-free assertions), what they actually mean is: “They never had to deal with this shit in Star Trek!”

Posted here, but his blog is down as I write this.


Had a bit of an adventurous day today (well, not by 'climbing Everest on a camel' standards, but you know what I mean). Under the time-honoured Sod's Law, Gran Turismo 4 came out on budget a week after I got GT3, so I picked up a copy. Came home to find it wouldn't boot. Our PS2 is a fairly old one we got cheap second hand, and its laser has obviously been having trouble for some time now - games take a long time to load and we'd come across a few that won't load unless it's sideways, or won't really load at all, etc. This one was the last straw, though - I really wanted to play it, so I looked up a couple of guides for How To Do Exciting Things To Your High Tech Console With A Couple Of Screwdrivers. Opening it up was pretty easy, much like a PC case really, and I gave the lens a clean and adjusted the angle of the lens to the disc (there's a little flywheel that tilts it about). Put it back together and it seems to have done the trick - GT4 boots now, and all our other games start a lot faster. It won't read PS1 games any more (makes scary noises then refuses to read the disc), but that's not a big problem. Success! Not a lot else happening, really. Oh, it's been snowing, which is mildly disconcerting. Still got a few games of tennis in, though.


A few days ago I bought a copy of Gran Turismo 3 for my PS2, since it was only $12 second hand. (Yes, I know GT4 has been out for months now, but it still costs $60). I played it a bit on Friday and liked it but found it intensely frustrating to control, so I went out and got a Logitech GT Force steering wheel instead. Wow - what a difference. I've never driven a real car (and don't intend to, I can't justify it in ethical terms) but as far as I can judge it feels incredibly realistic; the steering wheel just keeps it on the 'nicely difficult' side of the dividing line beyond which lies 'excessively frustrating' (think about how much precision of control you have with a steering wheel and a couple of pedals, then turn the steering wheel into the tiny analog joystick on a PS2 control pad and the pedals into buttons - which on the PS2 control pad are actually analog, but the travel is so short you need superhuman touch to actually reliably get any response between 0 and 1). I've played many arcade-style racers on different formats - from Outrun and Chase HQ back in the day through to Ridge Racer on my PSP - and this is obviously and immediately utterly different - orders of magnitude less immediately amusing and more difficult, but ultimately much more rewarding than games where the car behaves like a go kart and just pings off in the direction you point it. Unfortunately my PS2 is old and has laser problems, which I think is why the game crashes every time I finish a real race...fortunately, the difficulty level and my perfectionist tendencies mean that I find just playing the license qualification tests and trying to get the gold scores so rewarding that I'm happy just to do that until I can afford to get the laser fixed.

I suspect many first-time players spent about an hour just trying to figure out what car to buy first (there are a hell of a lot of cars in this game), but for any right-thinking Initial D fan, the choice is a no-brainer; the Trueno AE86 comes in nicely under your starting budget...

I will show you my true power!!!

It occurred to me yesterday that I really need to cut down on my intake of crappy cliched 'battle' anime. When you start thinking in bad anime cliches (such as the topic, and 'this guy is not bad! I must start to play seriously!' and 'this battle starts now!') in the middle of a game of pick up tennis, things have probably gone too far.

But I've still got a couple of seasons of Initial D to watch. Sigh.

Mandriva Linux One

So, the wraps are off the Secret Project - it's Mandriva Linux One, the first beta of which is on mirrors (in /devel/iso/2006.0) now. It's basically an installable live CD, in the vein of PCLinuxOS etc. I tested it out in VMware today and it works amazingly well for a first beta - scarily fast, too. It's got a nice set of apps and it's built on the latest 2006 Community, which means it's got a lot of fixes for bugs that were in the original 2006 release ( stuff, Kat stuff etc), so it'll be a nice thing to have out there in a month or two while the other distros are going through their release cycles. Go try out the beta, it's nice.

How To Break Ubuntu In Thirty Seconds

adamw@ubuntu510:~$ sudo scp /etc

adamw@ubuntu510:~$ sudo nano /etc/hosts

sudo: unable to lookup ubuntu510 via gethostbyname()

...yeah, sudo, it's all very clever until someone loses an eye!

I have a bunch of entries in /etc/hosts because of having four local systems plus a bunch of VMware machines etc. So now when I set up a new VMware machine I just copy the /etc/hosts from the real machine over to the VM then edit a couple of lines to match the VM, instead of re-editing it all from scratch. Only, as you can see, this utterly breaks Ubuntu...all I need to do to fix the sudo problem is edit /etc/hosts so is 'ubuntu510' (the name of the VM) rather than 'zen' (the name of the real machine), but I can't do it, because sudo doesn't work...

the only way out of this that I can see is single-user mode or the recovery console. Not too smart! Surely sudo shouldn't ABSOLUTELY NEED to look up the host it's running on?

VMware fun

Today, I have mostly been having fun with VMware. This post is brought to you by (shock!) Fedora Core 4, running in VMware Player on my trusty Cooker desktop. I've more or less figured out creating new machines with qemu and a bit of text file hacking; I've already got this machine and a SUSE 10 one set up, by the end of today I'm hoping to have Ubuntu 5.10 and Mandriva 2006 Xmas edition as well, and in the end probably Mandriva 2005, Corporate and some others. It'll be a great help troubleshooting problems (sometimes it's a bit hard since I don't run 2006, like most MDV users, and I don't run KDE) and looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the other distros.

The main reason I got into this, though, was to get ready to test the Shiny New Secret Project, about which I now know a couple of more things than I did before: it's called Mandriva Linux 2006 One (or something like that...if it is overly complicated / sucky, that'll be Point One on my feedback), and from what I can gather, it's an installable live CD, like Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS. If all goes well there'll be a public beta up tomorrow or early Saturday, and we can all get cracking on it. Excellent.

So far my Adventures With Other Distros have shown me that Red Hat's 'up2date' thingy stinks (what were they thinking?), but the FC community came up with a pretty good replacement in yum, which seems just as good as urpmi, apt or smart at normal tasks. SUSE's automatic update monitoring thing is, er, better than MandrivaOnline (although to be fair to our Online guys, SUSE's is free so they don't have to handle the substantial added complexity of individual user accounts). When I mentioned this on our internal chat, one of our tech guys told me to wait for the major update to Online that's due in a month or two and see who kicks whose ass then, so that sounds interesting! SUSE still insists on running suseconfig (or whatever it's called), which rewrites every configuration file it monitors, every time you make even a small change in just one area - insanity. Fedora doesn't have /usr/sbin or /sbin in root's path, which is really amazingly annoying.

It's been fun so far. Ubuntu and MDV 2006 Xmas are currently downloading - I'll see how smoothly installation of those goes, later on.

Hero of the day

My hero of the day is vincentfox from Linksysinfo - he appears to have identified and helped me fix the network problem which was causing me massive amounts of frustration in the last half a year or so. An issue I'd never have figured out on my own. Thanks, Vincent.