Monday, January 29, 2007

Complexity and uncertainty

It's now a week since I bought a replacement for my horribly noisy desktop computer. Thankfully, the new one is quite quiet, and having a larger high resolution screen is proving beneficial. It was the sort of bargain that's commonplace at the moment with shops clearing their shelves of kit in order to display (on much the same hardware) the new Windows Vista operating system. I've already decided that I don't want to use Vista. If I wanted something with equal or better capabilities, I'd save up and buy a Mac, or else just continue using Linux, as I often do now, for the pleasure of using something different that works very well and looks good.
It's taken most of my spare time during the week to get Windows XP under control, rid the system of software I don't want to use, install software I do want to use, and transfer my entire filing system intact, so that I can carry on with my workspace as I have evolved it over the past five years. In principle there is a Windows program that enables you to automatically do all these things for you. However it presupposes that you use your computer in complete subjection to Microsoft's not always helpful way of arranging things, and use all their software. Also, for reasons of its own it stops working quite arbitarily if it thinks you don't have the right to transfer files. As one commentator said recently: "It behaves like it's like that Microsoft owns your computer, not you." There's no guarantee it will transfer everything you want, or leave you with the complete working system you need. So it's been a week to practice patience and determination, to show Microsoft who owns my computer, and painstakingly transfer everything I need, while keeping up with daily routine.
It's been quite a useful reminder actually of just how complex a process change can be, never as straightforward as the vision proposes, and even when planned out very carefully, there are always elements of the unforeseen that creep in.
The hoardings are up around the south churchyard, and the excavators at work creating a new churchyard path. This stage should have been reached about eighteen months ago, but has been postponed time and time again as the developers kept encountering other obstacles impeding the progress of the whole city centre redevelopment project. Long planning enquiries and appeals, question marks about design traffic, parking, how to keep the city running whilst half of it is a building site. So many twists and turns unforeseen when the presumed irresistible grand retail vision for Cardiff was first laid out over four years ago.
Even now the bulldozers are busy turning shops, offices and library into rubble to take away. As interest and excitement slowly begins to grow, doubts are still being expressed about the long term impact of the development on Cardiff's independent retailers and small shops - whether or not economic recession will undermine the capacity of this project to deliver a return on the investment, and generate the promised extra 2,000 jobs in the city centre.
The complexity of this project is vastly greater than one man's PC operating system, and it's truly impressive the way in which so many creative minds and high powered resources are set to work, rising to the challenge. Trouble is, inevitably it turns out to be even more complex to handle than anyone ever anticipates. The 2008 original completion deadline slipped to 2009, possibly 2010. Despite all our scientific and technological resources, fingers will still be crossed until it's finished. By which time I'll be retired and have either converted to using a Mac, or thrown my lot in entirely with the Linux and free software community.

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