Desert Island Hard Disks: Neil Geddes

DIHDBy Neil Geddes

You find yourself stranded on a beautiful desert island. Fortunately, the island is equipped with all the basics needed to sustain life: food, water, solar power, a computer and a reasonable network connection. Consummate professional that you are, you have brought the software packages you need to continue your life and research. What software would you choose and - go on - what luxury item would you take to make life easier?

Today we hear from Neil Geddes, Director of STFC Technology at the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

I can’t believe that I actually agreed to do this. Being asked to provide some desert island insights seemed like such as honour at first, but then the scientist’s sceptical paranoia sets in: exactly how am I getting the electricity? Does the computer come with an OS? Do a language and a compiler count as two? Do I need libraries? What sort of internet connection is it? Am I allowed to download stuff? Will my choices look weird, stupid or just ill-informed? Am I really being sent to a desert island?

Calm down: don’t over analyse; and get into the spirit. If I had to rush out of the office right now, I think that this would be surprisingly easy. I’d grab my web browser, pick up my python IDE and I’d be off. I guess that the browser is sort of cheating since I am assuming that it gives me access to essentially everything else I could think of, probably including the Python. However, this choice is also indicative of exactly how online my everyday life now is. Despite resisting the draw of online free services and social media for several years (it’s the paranoia again) it is increasingly convenient, almost essential, to buy into this world for everything from email to banking. I am clearly less concerned about abuse of my personal data from the desert island.

Which browser would I take? It would have to be Chrome. I switched to chrome shortly after it was released and loved the simple interface and how it performed. It has grown a bit resource hungry in recent years, but with careful management it remains my most used application by far. Despite taking the browser, I automatically assume that I would want the ability to write my own software. Hence the Python IDE. I haven’t done any serious programming for a decade or more but Python was the last language I learned. For me it remains a practical blend of rapid development and extensible structured programming. 

If the computer really doesn’t come with an OS, I’d have to plump for MacOS as my third choice. It’s the system I am currently most familiar with, has good old Unix underneath. It also implies that I get a decent computer as well... If the OS came for free, then I gave some thought as to what my third software choice would be. I quickly discarded the packages I currently use most often: I’ll be quite happy to have a break from spreadsheets and document writing for a while. After that it would be a toss-up between mapping software, scrabble and kindle reader, which are by far my most frequently used applications outside work. If forced to choose, it would probably be the kindle software on the assumption that the browser would work fine for the others!

The luxury item is easy. Ever since I got my first radio, aged 10, I have been a complete addict. I am never without a radio (usually several) and there is rarely a day, or night, that doesn’t include several hours of radio listening. Today it could just as easily be an App as a separate device. Give that there is internet available on the island, an internet radio is definitely my luxury of choice.

Posted by s.hettrick on 10 March 2017 - 10:00am