NaNoWriMo 2008, a birthday, and some reflection

This blog had its birth with NaNoWriMo 2007, so 1 November 2008 marks an anniversary of sorts. Not only will it be my second attempt at the lofty goal of writing 50,000 words in only 30 caffeine-driven, somewhat sleepless, crazy days, but it will also be On Writing, Tech and Other Loquacities' first birthday.

Which puts me in a mood of reflection, it must be said.

One year ago, I was living in a different state, but more to the point, I was in a different state of mind. Life has changed a lot but with the benefit of hindsight I can unreservedly say that it has been for the better. As a teenager, growing up in the country meant that I spent most of my time wishing that I lived in the city. This led to a series of nomadic movements through cities starting on the Gold Coast, then Brisbane, and eventually Canberra. When the settled life I found in Canberra exploded a couple of years ago, and Brisbane tantalised me with dream job-offers, I returned, and that was where November 2007 found me: lonely in a city that had forgotten me, with a new job completely different to anything I had done in the past, and as a single mother in a place I knew only as a teenager.

When circumstances forced me to return to Canberra, I didn't want to come. It was a blow to my independence, it meant working in a way that I wasn't sure I could cope with, and it meant packing up what little stability I had and starting yet again. The decision was made on a whim but this time I chose against living within Canberra itself. The Village beckoned. The move itself was extraordinarily draining, but when I got here and settled in at the Cottage, I recognised a sense of relief - the hard work was over, and I could get on with working out who I wanted to be.

The good news is that I not only worked out what kind of person I wanted to be, but I'm now at least a few steps down the road to becoming that person.

The past twelve months have possibly been some of the hardest months of my life, but here I am, at the other end, and relatively unscathed, too. That's not to say there's no scars, but they're fading, and the lessons I have learnt from them have made me far and away a better person. Every journey needs bumps, for how else are we to learn along the way?

Software Freedom Day - What is it and why should I care?

(Posted for posterity)
You might never want to look at the nuts and bolts of the software you use, so why should you support Software Freedom Day? To keep the software you want to use free of charge, and to make sure that the people who can improve it continue to do so. You probably already use, or know of, some open source projects - Firefox (a web browser), Thunderbird (an email client) and Open Office (word processing and spreadsheet software) are all completely free programs used by millions of people worldwide.

The developers who write and maintain free and open source software do so because they are passionate about it – they're not paid for their work, and they don't expect to be. By using and distributing their programs, you are helping them to continue making great software for you to use free to charge. Just by copying the software and handing it to your friends, you're supporting those people who have written the code, and who work hard to maintain it.

When you download and install open source software, not only do you get a program for free, but if you want to, you can take a look at the source code too. And if you find something there you don't like, you can change it. Submit it to the developers, and see your contributions go out to the next person to download the software.

With proprietary software that you pay money for, the source code is under lock and key, so you can never be quite sure what you're getting. It could contain viruses or adware, have security vulnerabilities, or just be badly written, making the software unreliable and unstable. Open source software is not only free to use, and free to share with your friends, but it's also a step towards personal freedom for everybody. With open source software you can see exactly what you're getting, and can help to make the software better, even if you aren't a developer.

By supporting Software Freedom Day, you're supporting the open source community and helping to keep knowledge where it belongs – in the hands of the people who created it.


OK! I'm excited! Where do I start?
Drop in and see the Canberra Software Freedom Day team at the Computer Fair in the Bus Depot Markets on Saturday 20 September, 2008. See free and open source systems in action, get your own free copies of the software, and ask as many questions as you want.

Drop in to the Install Fest at the ANU (CSIT building - Room N101) the following weekend on Saturday 27 September. Bring your computer and we'll provide the software and help you get up and running.

If you can't make it?
Jump online and check out these websites:
Software Freedom Day
Canberra Linux Users Group
The Open Disc
Open Source as alternative

Or email us at and we'll do our best to help.


Breeding little geeks

I've blogged about generation gaps in the past. What is possibly more interesting, although intrinsically linked, is not so much the differences between generations gone by, but those generations to come. Or at least the currently youngest one. There has been a lot of talk of the 'digital' generation - those who are growing into a world where connectivity is king. These children haven't known a world without internet access as a necessity in every home, without everyone owning at least one mobile phone, without wireless hotspots, txt and mms, torrented movies and tv shows, USB thumb drives, iPods, 22" flat panel monitors, terabyte hard drives, micro-laptops ... the list can make your eyelashes curl.

What absolutely fascinates me about this is the reluctance of some parents I've come across to acknowledge that their children are growing up in a different world to their own. People who think that children will somehow benefit from things like the Barbie B-Smart Learning Laptop, or the Leappad learning system. Well, okay. Perhaps it's not so much that children won't benefit but more that they will benefit more from something else. I see these things merely as toys, certainly not learning aids. The Barbie laptop will do nothing much more than teach them a QWERTY style keyboard layout, and possibly some basic mouse skills. The Leappad? Nothing much at all except for hand/eye coordination with that pointer, which by rights the kid should have more or less down pat by the time they're playing with Leappad.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh. The idea of these things is (as far as I can tell) to teach some basic comprehension skills, simple maths and english games. But what about the technical skills? Kids are craving the buzz they get from technology, and I find it hard to believe that these toys are providing that. I wonder if there's a survey of how many kids own these types of devices, and what proportion of them actually use them on a daily or weekly basis?

I bought Tahlia an Asus Eee PC. About two-three times the price of one of those Barbie jobbies, but consider the benefits: firstly, she gets to use a real computer - she has to negotiate startup and shutdown procedures (albeit simplified thanks to the solid state disk and the nature of the operating system), use a mouse or trackpad to navigate the desktop and click on icons for the programs she wants, she has to answer questions like "continue a saved game, or start a new one?" and "do you want to save this document before you exit?"; she gets to write letters in the word processor (teaching basic keyboard skills as well as literacy), draw pictures in the painting programme, and capture her own image on the webcam, all in addition to the plethora of games available. Secondly, and this to me is the best bit and makes the added expense worth it, the computer will continue to challenge her as she grows: as her reading, writing and comprehension skills improve, she will be able to take advantage of more and better games and more complicated programmes; before long she will be using the internet (supervised, of course) and building essential skills for computing through her lifetime, even as the very face of computing changes before her eyes.

Much as we would probably like to shield our children from what many of us view as the devil in technology, the dangers of the internet and the sheer trickiness of programming and other advanced level tasks, these are things that our children are not just going to need to know some day, but what they are going to need tomorrow. Knowing things like regular expressions, if/then loops and shell scripts are essential to being able to interact with technology at an advanced level - regardless of what software, hardware or configuration you use - and like it or not, our children will be interacting at an advanced level from a very young age. We may not be able to teach these things to them directly (I can only barely handle a regex, and I still consider shell scripts as something pretty close to magic), but we can certainly give them the tools that will enable them to learn it for themselves. Perhaps the greatest gift we can offer our children is the building blocks from which they will be able to learn and grow and, eventually, surpass us in knowledge.

Today, my daughter handed me a letter she had written - in coloured pencil, the words "To Mum" and "love Tahlia" were almost distinguishable from the rest of the random letters. I'm sure she copied them off an old Christmas Card, but my heart nearly burst with pride when my preschooler handed this to me. The day she hands me her very first piece of software, in some programming language I've never heard of, perhaps it will.


I'm not going to say much about this. I'm going to put a link here to this:
Mombuntu: Ubuntu for your Mom

And I'm going to put a link here to this post from July:
Linux for housewives

And I'm going to say this:
Why?? WHY??? But, Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy????

Spring iz Sprung/De Grass iz riz!


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If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

-- Anne Bradstreet (1612 - 1672)

Update: Due to popular demand, the full poem (by Anonymous) is:

Spring iz sprung
Da grass iz riz
I wonder where dem boidies iz
Da little boids iz on da wing
Ain't dat absoid
Da little wings iz on da little boid