Wow. I think this is the first time I get to create a daylog nodeshell myself for the current date, and now I somehow feel responsible to fill it too.
Tomorrow I'm going to be going for the very first time to Vancouver (Oh, Canada!), for a maths camp or maths conference called GIMMC, Graduate Industrial Mathematical Modelling Camp in Simon Frasier University, which has an Industrial Problem Solving Workshop (PIMS) bundled for free. I'm very excited about the idea, especially since I've always wanted to see a bit of western Canada, although I admit I have some reservations about the idea... I have a certain prejudice where I expect Vancouver to be somehow less Genuinely Canadian™ than, say, Montréal, due to its proximity to the U.S. I really hope I'm mistaken, and if I'm not, I hope I can absorb some of the Vancouverite culture without any misgivings.
I have contacted via instant messaging services (I can't even remember which one, but I used GAIM, which is a client that does a bunch of protocols at once) that old e2 legend, none other than Pseudo_Intellectual himself. I was hoping he could hook me up with a roof for a couple of nights so that I could see more of Vancouver before I went to SFU, but he couldn't help me with that on such short notice (drat, I should have planned ahead on this). Instead, he just gave me lots of friendly advice on how to get around town, and it seems that I'm in luck, for I will be arriving in time for a free outdoor festival, "take back the streets" or something like that. Apparently it's one of the biggest events of the year in Vancouver. P_I himself is going to be playing an accordion, as I understand it, and although we haven't made specific plans to meet, there's still a small chance that we will.
As for GIMMC itself, it looks like it's going to be an awesome learning experience for an apprentice applied mathematician like I am. I'm really looking forward to working with smart people from Canada and elsewhere on mathematical modelling problems. One thing bothers me, though, and that's that apparently the folks at IRMACS, the specific school in SFU where the workshop will take place, doesn't have any free software installed on its machines. They have G5 PowerMacs, presumably with MacOS X installed on them.
The idea of using non-free or proprietary software to get serious academic done makes me extremely uncomfortable, especially since except for my deep, dark secret of my sinful use of Waterloo Maple (slowly trying to switch to free Maxima, but some addictions die hard), I haven't used any non-free software academically since 2002 when I first installed GNU/Linux on Sophia, my trusty 1998 desktop computer. She was already old when I bought her in 2002, and she's even older now, but with the goodness of free software, she can still help me do work of excellent quality. Heck, 200 Mhz of processing power should be enough for anyone. Ha, show me 1998 hardware that can still run Bill's or Steve's software, and I'll show you a computer architecture that can't run Debian GNU/Linux.
I pondered various ways to get around the issue of using the non-free software installed in the IRMACS PowerMacs. If I suggested that they install free software on their computers, I'd be dismissed as a fanatic nut, especially since I'm only a visitor spending a little over a week at their facilities. Who do I think I am? Then I thought about using their software, but making a big scene out of it, say, by requesting that my name be removed from any of the resulting work I may collaborate on. That would make me look like a fanatic too. Then I thought about using it as little as possible, nothing but the essential in order to ssh into my still existent Debian account in the McGill computers and relying on the miracle of X Forwarding. That would be moderately ok, except that it would probably be unwieldy and slow to run software across a network connection stretching over almost the entire width of Canada, and I would still be using at the very least the non-free Mac implementation of the X Window System or perhaps a non-free version of ssh.
I think I found the solution with a Live CD. This is what I normally do anyways. I always carry with me a Knoppix Live CD and save my personal configurations in a usb pendrive. This is ok for most of the world's computers based on the Intel i386 architecture. The world's computers are my hardware bitches, and I get to run my free software on them, with all of my customisations in them (in fact, I'm doing exactly that right now with my brother's computer), and when I'm done, pop, out comes the CD, and everything is back to normal like at the end of an episode in a TV sitcom. The only problem is that Knoppix doesn't come in a flavour for the PowerPC architecture.
Finally, then, I dug around, and it turns out that Ubuntu does have a PowerPC Live CD, and since I'm a big fan of KDE (let the desktop wars begin!) I'll be using Kubuntu. This should work ok, provided that the sysadmin at IRMACS doesn't think too much about letting me reboot their boxes into a free operating system. I may have to explain that I won't be touching their hard drive, just using their hardware in a completely harmless way. Le sigh. Some day, my great dream of free software and free software philosophy being as common knowledge as usage of Microsoft Office will be a reality. Small steps and guerilla tactics, but we'll get there.
I've been uneasy in the past about using Ubuntu, because I was raised on Ubuntu's daddy, Debian, but I'm glad that at least I have the freedom to be able to quickly burn a Kubuntu image to a CD, pop it into a Mac, and run the software of my choice in it. I may have to apt-get a few key pieces of software, such as Octave and Emacs, but with a decent university internet connection, this should be a very minor hassle.
Free software is quixotic, I know, and it's difficult sometimes to stand by ideals in a polite, sensible, and open-minded way, acutely true of someone as outspoken as me. Nevertheless, I aspire to always be the impractical idealist if I can justify to myself the righteousness of my beliefs.
Yes, I am aware and afraid of the possibility that I'm completely mistaken in supporting free software at an ideal level, never mind pragmatics. Should that be the case, you'll let me know, won't you?
... won't you?