drawing room disaster
I’m on a 4-day Linux course for the rest of this week, which I managed to get on to at short notice. It’s actually turning out to be easier than I thought, thanks to the decent course materials. The instructor has a more formal Unix background (mostly HP-UX), and so finds Linux to be too “liberal” and “inconsistent”. He has a point, since some basic functions such as networking suffer from multiple configuration methods and poor documentation that doesn’t actually answer basic questions but assumes you already have a working system. Then there are functions such as DNS, which are easy in principle but complex in practice. It’s possible to do everything right except for a carriage return in the wrong place, and have a configuration which simply doesn’t work and doesn’t tell you why.
Most Linux distributions are free, but it’s not cheap to run in the long term, because trained and competent people are expensive. The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) qualification may be laughed at by real Unix sysadmins, because relative monkeys can get it, but the same monkeys can do most of the work in a Windows environment for less pay. (Just as long as there’s someone with broader training around to back them up when things go wrong!) On the other hand, Microsoft’s escalating license costs are making managers look seriously at Linux all over again.
Meanwhile, I’m having the pleasure of dealing with our internal IT people, who have been shaken up badly by the merger and are still getting things together. Without going in to the kind of detail that could get me fired or sued (or both), it’s thankfully not an essential request, but something that will be very useful for internal communication, a new Exchange Public Folder. If it hadn’t been possible it would be no disaster, but the problem is that my request ended up in a central mailbox and was then routed to another department minus some essential details. I had a phone call from a support person in England (who could barely speak English), who asked for some details, but not the essential ones. So, the Public Folder I requested was created, but in totally the wrong place with the wrong access rights. That’s now fixed, but other services that rely on it are still to be corrected, so we’re halfway there.
When dealing with specific technical things, I much prefer to work by email. If I give someone details over the phone, that can go wrong in so many ways, and I’ve found that dealing with the other person’s voice is a hassle that gets in the way of technical details. If you look at my writing style, though, I’m aware that I can come across as harsh, pedantic, or just in a bad mood, when I’m being technical. I see the need for “smileys” and the like, but they always look out of place or insincere when I try them, so I try to use “conversational” language such as “cheers”, “eh?”, “I don’t think so”, etc.
A bunch of DVDs arrived yesterday, including Lost Highway, Memento, The Fellowship Of The Ring (extended), and Gosford Park, which I have discussed before and was highly impressed by. I guess I’m a Robert Altman fan, since he’s behind M.A.S.H., The Player, and Cookie’s Fortune too – all great films.
I read an interesting comment about Gosford Park that I agree with; it’s not simply a film about a country house, upstairs and downstairs, but films and their makers are always hovering behind the scenes. It’s not the first time Altman has made films about films, either – e.g. The Player – but this is more subtle. Not only do we see real-life film star Ivor Novello, but he’s accompanied by fictional film producer Morris Weissman (played by Bob Balaban, who co-produced the file and gave Altman the original idea). Then we have the “Hollywood” character, the young actor played by Ryan Philippe, trying to insinuate himself into the servants. (I interpret this as a subtle dig at Hollywood stars being miscast in period pieces, e.g. Julia Roberts and John Malkovich in Mary Reilly, or even Gwyneth Paltrow on more than one occasion.)
In the film, the film-makers may be upstairs, but barely; at one point the Countess politely asks Weissman about his next film, then comments “oh, but none of us will see it”. We have the people below stairs serving those upstairs, but behind it all, Altman’s direction is providing all the cast with the ultimate service; they’re looking good and having fun, while creating a lasting piece of art.