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Deep desert XP-ocalypse averted as Reg man returns

PLUS: We learn how to cook BUDGIES

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Yesterday was day three of my XP-ocalypse aversion mission to upgrade the PCs at the remote Wirliyatjarrayi Learning Centre.

The day started with the dew on the ground and the desert sun struggling to penetrate a low, hazy, layer of cloud. The air was just a tad sticky and I wondered if it might rain. I hoped not: the road to the remote community of Willowra is treacherous enough without water flowing over the several creek beds it crosses.

What I was coming to appreciate, on my third day in the desert, is that there's water out there. Just not accessible water. Why else would a small frog have hopped across the doorstep of the house I was staying in? And why would the desert sport the occasional small flower, and many tendrils of new grass running down the side of the road bother, if not for the presence of some H2O?

But I digress. On my return to the Learning Centre my first task was to pull the spare PCs out of the store rooms. One was needed to replace a dead PC. The other needed an upgrade to Windows 7 against the day it would be pressed into service.

The new PCs came out of their boxes in a shower of crusty insect shells. Which was pleasant.

By now I had a routine down pat. Install Windows. Install anti-virus. Install WiFi driver. Go online. Update anti-virus. Run Windows update from WSUS offline DVD. Install apps. Validate Windows and Office.

As I was scooted around the Learning Centre on my chair, the cloth book workshop continued. One of the women in attendance brought in a budgerigar. I made inquiries: it was a baby and had been found in a creek bed outside town.

It was also probably destined to become someone's dinner.

A baby budgie in the Wirliyatjarrayi Learning Centre

I asked locals how to cook a budgie? The recipe is simple: pull out the feathers and throw it on a fire. Then eat when cooked.

I wasn't game to ask how the poor creature would be sent to budgie heaven. The one I saw was so trusting of humans that it would not have been hard to commit an act of violence upon it. I did learn there's no need to remove the viscera before eating.

Learning that budgies are on the menu in Willowra was a shock. Yet the signs of moisture I'd seen in the early morning had long since burned away. By 10:00 AM the sun was high in the sky, a wind was blowing and the temperature had reached the mid-thirties celsius. Those conditions prevail for weeks and living in them means taking nourishment where you can.

To my soft, city-bred sensibilities, budgies are pets and knowing the small creature was not long for this world was confronting. In Willowra, budgies are a resource locals have been using for untold years. Continuing to do so means one aspect of the Walpiri peoples' culture endures.

But it also became clear to me on this trip that that internet access is becoming an increasingly important local resource. Kerrie, the centre's usual operator, was not able to be in Willowra on this trip. In her absence and during my work the computers were off-limits. This was a problem because people came in needing to pay their bills. There's no bank in Willowra and the mail plane only comes once a week, so doing so online was their preferred method.

It dawned on me that many service providers now more or less expect their customers to be able to transact online. Australia's government has signalled it intends a mass migration of services to the online world.

Other channels will doubtless remain in place, as is the case for most service providers, but in my experience once people use an online channel they don't go back. Keeping the Learning Centre's machines healthy therefore means the Willowra community can keep up with the pace of change without leaving the land and therefore being removed from cultural practices like eating budgies.

Talking of culture, I managed a lunch break on day two and popped into the town store. The permit under which I enter the central desert means I am not allowed to photograph houses, but the images below of the shop are typical of the scenes around town.

The Wirliyatjarrayi Store

The Wirliyatjarrayi Store


Petrol behind bars in Willowra

Willowra petrol station: customers must pay before the cage is unlocked

After a warming pot noodle which as always evoked memories of student days, I created a “standard” Windows account on each machine and made sure Windows would boot into it. A little Netplwiz action made that happen and left me with the task of arranging useful shortcuts on the new accounts' desktops.

Next, I drew up a checklist to ensure each machine had all it needs. I'd managed to forget the Office installation computer 6, but was otherwise good to go.

One last check: would every machine boot up, into the correct account and go online?

Here's the photographic proof of my success!

Willowra PCs, upgraded and showing The Register

Success! Four upgraded, secured, network-capable PCs

I was able to hit the road at 2:00PM and made it to Alice Springs about 6:30. I wrote this story in town the next day.

If I were to do this again I'd use Ninite Pro again in a heartbeat. It was a marvel, installing more than a dozen apps with a single click, but choking on Apple's QuickTime. I figured that wasn't a problem because VLC did install and it will play anything!. WSUS Offline was also useful, saving lots of bandwidth and providing a one-click inoculation for Windows, but behaving a little less predictably for Office.

Comments on yesterday's story pointed out some things I could have done better on this trip. Thanks for that feedback. If I were a more skilled operator and had some of those suggestions to work with, I imagine the driver dramas could have been avoided and this job would have been a solid day's work, plus an hour or two of finishing things off.

That it turned into one very busy day and five hours of solid work on day two wasn't an entirely bad thing because it meant I could learn more about the community.

It also meant I could get a really good look into the Learning Centre's network cabinet. Knowing whats in there, plus my enhanced understanding of the community, will inform our next project. Which I'll explain – and ask for your help with – in weeks to come. ®

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