Saturday, 8 September 2007

Back to the Conservation Community, and our First Abject Failure

Hmmm. It would seem that my subconsience has been censoring me, probably to prevent embarrassment to both of us. I did in fact write this up a month ago and somehow have just not posted it...

The SCGIS conference back in July brought two important potential follow-ups for SDI-EA, one being with Kenya Wildlife Service to get them to start spinning their protected areas data into the World Protected Areas database (a long-standing goal, yet to be realized), and the second with the Africa Conservation Centre. ACC support SCGIS and are motivated players in the SDI game, and I see them as a potential lynch-pin on regional SDI service targeting the conservation and resource management communities.

So, John and I are off to Lan'gata to meet up with Lucy Waruingi and other friends. And, lo!, they have a little linux (Fedora) server running as their relay for e-mail via and always-on satellite link and with a static IP address. Looks like a piece of cake to get the geoserver in place and set up a Geonetwork node for them, avoiding some of the pitfalls we struck with ICRC. Wrong.

You think you've covered all that bases, that you've planned for all the hardware wrinkles and variants, which you have a good flexible toolkit able to provide the work-arounds you need. More wrong.

We have all our installation software on USB devices. Obviously. So convenient. Does Lucy's server see the USB ports? Of course not. Shoot. Do we know ho to get Fedora to mount the USB ports? Of course not, we only ever cut our teeth using Mandriva and the commands it provides are not the real, low-level unix ones and so we get caught out. Who knows: maybe the server, being intended solely as a mail relay, has some minimal kernel not built with such luxuries as hotplug support. The point is that John and I should better anticipate these realities. Once again, going back to first principles is shown to be the wise move and, once again, we get caught when we cut corners.

Yes, of course, plugging this knowledge gap should take 10 minutes on the net with Google but it's late Friday afternoon and everyone wants to go home and we look like donkeys anyway. Not the best of time for thinking straight. I still think it will be a great face-saver if the USB ports turn out to be kaput anyway, but I have no faith in this.

Oh well, no problem, I've got all the software on DVD as well. But: why won't Lucy's server read the DVDs? Shoot, again! It's not a DVD reader, is it? It's a CD-ROM reader, and of course the UNEP Brains Trust does not have the software on CD. Total frustration. Go home and drink beer.

So, of course, no we're well equipped with many copies of software on CD-ROM and low-level knowledge of how to talk nicely to USB ports on all sorts of linux systems, and look forward to mounting a triumphant return expedition to ACC to rescue our sullied reputations. But I can't help but wonder "What's going to catch us next time?"

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