Anxious before the trip

Only seven hours or so before I set off to Boston. I wish I were more excited, but right now it hardly seems real. America, planes, Toad… All I’m feeling now is anxiety, and anticipation of how much I’m going to miss Abi and Alex. I love you, guys.

If not war, then what?

This is the question that those of us who oppose the war get asked. And we must ask it of ourselves, too.

As a socialist, it pains me to say that capitalism is probably a large part of the solution. Drop the sanctions. Resume trade with Iraq.

Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that capitalism and free trade may be the most efficient way of quickly raising the standard of living for the poorest people of the world. (No really–this does keep me awake. Ask Abi.) Capitalism in itself is no guarantee of the American ideal of “liberty” that everyone seems so worked up about, but it does bring about wealth. And wealth buys you clean water, sanitation, and healthcare. And that means you don’t have to worry that your baby is going to die from malnutrition, or diseases so curable the Western world has practically forgotten how to spell them.

At the same time, if we’re genuinely worried that Saddam Hussein poses a military threat to the rest of the world, we need to practice aggresive containment. By all means provide military aid and assistance to Iraq’s neighbours, but only so long as it is clear that the forces are for defensive purposes. Make it clear that attacking one of them is not a good idea.

But that won’t happen, because this war is no longer about oil. It was, once, but now it’s about stupidity, and machismo. Last year, Bush pursued a political strategy so aggresive that he left himself no way out. He has no way of backing down without losing face, and admitting he was wrong. For him, there is no choice any more. “No war” is just not an option.

And that’s just plain stupid. As all competent strategists know, and as Q summed up so clearly in The World is Not Enough , “Always have an escape plan.”

Petabyte hard drives

In the article Petabyte Disk Drives in Seven Years–What Does That Mean for You?, Dr. Joseph Mercola talks about the prospects of having hard drives big enough to fit an entire lifetime’s worth of documents, books, photos, music and video. (Via The Shifted Librarian)

Great idea, but after last year’s Dead Disk Incident I don’t even trust current hard disk technology to keep my personal data safe. What was it Mr Scott said on Star Trek III? “The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” I worry that smaller, finer, nano-scale components means that there’s more chance of something breaking. If a petabyte disk can detect magnetic fields a thousand times weaker than current drive technology, does that mean that the disk is a thousand times more susceptible to magnetic interference or other disruptive effects? How long do the magnetic regions (i.e. your data) remain stable before they decay and blur into a uniform, blank slate?

I think it’s useless to harp on about all the wonders this kind of storage technology will bring, without also wondering about the dangers of committing our entire lives to purely digital media. The main danger lies on having so much valuable data (remember: we may be talking here about all of the photographs you’ve ever taken, all of the emails you’ve ever sent or received) in one place. Bad idea. Really bad. It’s not a question of whether your hard drive will fail, it’s a question of when.

If you have any kind of attachment to your data at all, you ought to have backups. But backing up a petabyte drive (1,000,000 GB) onto DVDs (4.5GB capacity, or even 27GB with future Blu-ray technology) is the equivalent of backing up a 50GB drive to floppy disks. Even moving it all over a Gigabit ethernet connection to a remote server would take about three months.

Personally, I’d much rather see some big advances in data reliability engineering, or in personal backup solutions. Entrusting your precious data to a single hard disk without backup is like driving a car without a seatbelt. Don’t risk what you can’t afford to lose.

Holiday this weekend

It’s only three and a half days until Scott and I are off to Boston to see Toad The Wet Sprocket in concert. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also quite apprehensive. We’re going to be away for four nights, and I’ve never been apart from Alex for that long. It’s been a good few years since Abi and I have spent that much time away from each other, too.

I’m not even sure who I’m most concerned about: Abi, for having to take sole charge of him for that long; Alex, because he’s going to realize that I’m not around, and is going to spend a certain amount of time going “Dada! Dada!” while looking around the house; or me, for missing them both.

We bought our new digital camera partly with this Boston trip in mind. It’s slips into a trouser pocket, and so is much easier to carry around than the Olympus. The plan is to take lots of photos, and find a web cafe in Boston where I can upload some of the best snapshots and email them back home. Likewise, Abi will have the Olympus at home, so she can take pictures of Alex and email them to me, so I don’t have to be denied my daily dose of boy.

Also, Alex is now willing to talk on the phone. Most of the time he just says single words, “Dada”, “Mama”, “head”, or “Po”, depending on how you prompt him, but even that little amount of contact is going to make me feel close to him. (Occasionally Alex even asks for the phone himself, if he want to speak to his mama. “Mama phone!”)

I’m sure the trip’s going to be great, though. We don’t have any plans apart from the gig on Saturday evening. We’re planning to just hang out, wander around, see some sights, do some shopping, and probably stuff ourselves silly with holiday food. In fact, the holiday food is going to start when we hit Schiphol airport on the outward flight. Café Amsterdam, one of the many dining facilities there, does a mean portion of Saté with frites. You just can’t get decent Saté in Britain, so I’m actually looking forward to this part of the journey almost as much as the concert itself.

I’ve got the tickets lying on my desk. I’m copying all of my Toad CDs to MiniDisc. Abi bought me the BBC Radio adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and that’s going onto MiniDisc as well. I’m still in the middle of Sue Grafton’s Q is for Quarry, and probably won’t finish it until Thursday, so that means that The Last Detective is going to come with me as well.

So much to do, but I love travelling for its own sake, too, so I’ll probably be spending a certain amount of the journey just sitting on the plane, looking out a window, or just enjoying the simple sensation of being on an adventure.