Two surprises during my break out east

For the last couple of months I’ve been on a mammoth trip to the east, or east as far as my home in the UK is concerned, to relatives in Malaysia. As they live in the more rural areas of the country, internet connectivity was not as good as I’m accustomed to and was quite unreliable. So, therefore, I wasn’t able to keep my blog as up-to-date as I would have liked. That’s my excuse anyway, and it sounds so much better than “I was having such a great time I simply let things slip”.

While I was out there, I had a couple of genuine surprises. The first was on my journey out there on an Air Malaysia flight. Not being a millionaire we traveled in the back of the plane in the small seats and the plastic food service. Air Malaysia, to give them credit, supplies a small screen in the back of the seat in front for you to watch movies during the flight. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was an “on demand” service in that I could choose from a relatively large number of movies (about twenty I would say) and could view them when I wanted and was able to pause it when the stewardess asked me what type of plastic I would like to have for dinner. I haven’t flown on international flights for a while so I don’t know if this is standard in all/most international airlines or not and I have to say it did make the journey less painful and I compliment Malaysian Airlines for installing it. The real shocker, though, was yet to come.

In the middle of the flight my particular screen developed a fault that I attributed to my amazing magnetic personality. It re-booted. To my surprise, as it did so, there was Tux! This impressive system runs GNU/Linux! I know I should not be surprised to see this as myself, and many others, are aware of the advantages of using free software in such implementations. But, I was. It’s really nice to see the IT world evolving in the right direction.

Cynics would say at this point that if the system was so brilliant then how come it crashed on me? As a programmer one of the advantages of free software is that you can view the source and fix the problem. However, when flying at god-knows how many feet in the back of a 747 sandwiched between a reclined gentleman in front and children playing charades behind “amending the source code” is not really feasible. But, there was, in fact, no need: after I told a stewardess, she disappeared into a cubby-hole, pressed a magic button in a control panel and my entertainment system worked perfectly for the rest of the journey. I don’t know if proprietary, closed source entertainment systems could be fixed as easily.

The other big surprise I had was while I was out there. As I was flying about ten thousand miles east on my birthday and had to put my watch forward denying me seven hours of it, I decided to buy myself a present: a new laptop. As on this new toy I had no intention of ever running any Microsoft software, I asked for one without their operating system and for them not to charge me for it. They asked me what I was going to install, and I said “Ubuntu GNU/Linux”. Then came the surprise: they supplied me with an off-the-shelf laptop with GNU/Linux preinstalled. The distribution was “Linpus”, an eastern made one I believe, it was quite old and X was not installed and was not very useful. My suspicions are that they stock these laptops so they can supply to customers who install pirated versions of MS-Windows rather than expecting people will use GNU/Linux itself. Never the less, it was nice to see Linux pre-installed on a computer from a high street shop. I later installed Ubuntu Dapper Drake and it works fine (except for the internal modem, which I am sorting out).

I’ve now come back to the grindstone from what started out as a “working trip to relatives of my wife” and ended up as “an undeserved mammoth holiday in the far east”, with a new laptop and reassured confidence in the success of free software, be it here on the ground or high in the heavens.


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