Air traffic control and Somalia

I was moved to blog this evening by two inspiring conversations I had whilst travelling to Melbourne. Both fascinating for very different reasons!

Firstly, on the plane from Canberra to Melbourne I sat next to a guy who works in the air traffic control systems industry. It was fascinating because it is an industry with only a few major players (about 4 or 5) who over the years have absorbed most of the small players. As a result most people in the industry know each other and because as he put it “a lot of the crap tech was discarded”. There is a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants, of building upon existing awesomeness rather than reinventing the wheel. It was interesting to hear as a person who has been in the tech industry for years to observe the consequences of less, large, quality players in a niche industry.

He also talked about the tech. It was interesting to learn that pretty much all air traffic control systems have become Linux based over the last few years (usually a forked and heavily modified Red Hat distro apparently), and that they take the Battlestar Galactica approach to security whereby they don’t have the systems networked or easily accessible and hence massively reduce the risks of cracking. Simple, low tech and extremely effective ๐Ÿ™‚ A nice reminder that security doesn’t have to be overly complex, just well considered andย  thought through.

The second conversation was with a cab driver in Melbourne, a lovely guy from Somalia with whom I got into a conversation about what is happening in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and Africa. He was happy for Egypt, but he was concerned because he thought the people’s uprising in Somalia didn’t result in a system that represented the needs of Somalians but rather split the country and rendered the government less capable. It was an interesting personal insight and I’m going to go and do some more research of the political histories of African countries. We also chatted about aid vs investment, and the challenge of generating wealth in a country vs just bringing external wealth in.

Lots of food for thought. I’m going to try to start blogging more again, even if it is just short pieces every week or two. It’s been far too long and I know I owe a few blogs I promised to do months ago! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be doing a blog about data vis later this week, and a long overdue one about 2011 next week.

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