Allow me to introduce myself.
As I get older I find that resumes and curriculum vitae are less and less useful as a way of presenting yourself, as it’s you experience that’s more important than posts held and technical achievements, many of which are out of date. In a thirty year career in IT and a few other things one has to accept that however good your past work, most of it will be superceded and replaced within five years. So, while there’s a CV available this is rather more a brief biography to try and capture the range of my experience and who I am.
My name is Doug Moncur and I currently live in North Eastern Victoria.
I’m now retired but previously I’ve lived, worked, or studied, in Canberra, York, Hull, Llandrindod Wells, St Andrews, and Stirling. I’ve had a vaguely eccentric journey through life, and never had a career plan. However it’s turned out pretty well.
I’ve been dealing with computers in one way or another since the seventies. After my degree (Psychology, St Andrews), I started out as research psychologist doing doctoral work in psychophysiology, but ended up working in IT to pay the rent, and strangely I turned out to be good at it and it turned into a career.
My first job was as an IT officer at a field research station in Wales, where I rapidly moved from being the IT guy to doing something that looked like project management running field survey teams, collating data and publishing results.
After Wales I moved to the University of York where I built their first desktop computer managed environment, did a lot of work on IT contracts for the supply of equipment and services, managed a file conversion service and experimented with thin client computing.
I’ve also done a lot with backup, file archiving, and rights and access management including the implementation of major backup solutions at both ANU and York, as well as a redesign of they active directory infrastructure at ANU and work on the provision of a managed printing solution at York.
The York managed desktop solution was more interesting than it sounds as we built it from non mainstream technologies, using an nfs implementation to provide the basic networking, NIS to provide authentication, small Sun servers for remote boot and Network Appliance servers for filestore which gave us a common filestore between the Windows and Unix worlds. We also integrated Apple computers but with less success.
The desktop environment we provided was not quite mainstream either – it was designed to be Microsoft-lite to reduce licensing costs by selecting and deploying alternative but compatible applications where possible. It’s important to understand that this was a pragmatic, not ideological decision and was based on a cost containment model.
As part of the cost containment strategy I also looked at the reuse of old legacy hardware both as thin clients and as dedicated solutions. One of the simplest, but most successful, was to take a set of old computers, remote boot them with a minimalist operating system so that they were stateless, throw up a terminal window and have students log into a captive process that allowed them to authenticate and read their email.
I also helped set up a student computer recycling scheme whereby student volunteers would strip, wipe and rebuild ex university machines which would be resold to students or local schools for reuse for a fairly nominal cost, and allowing the university to reduce its disposal costs for the equipment, while allowing people and groups who could not otherwise afford reasonably new machines to purchase recent hardware. The machines involved were between 3 and 4 years old and normally supplied with Linux to avoid licensing issues.
I’ve continued this interest in reusing old computers by building various linux based systems out of scrap over the years as well as experimenting with the use of linux to extend the useful life of old PowerPC based Mac computers for which Apple no longer provide support and latterly with older slower laptops and netbooks which were not worth upgrading to a recent Microsoft operating system.
I initiated an informal windows user group (Windows-UK) within the UK university computing community which allowed the community to engage with Microsoft in a more structured manner. I’ve also been chair of UCISA’s systems forum and served on the steering group for the nationally funded UK Mirror Service.
Later on I worked in information technology in that area which we can loosely call digitisation and digital archiving, both for ANU implementing a data capture and data management solution and for AIATSIS on a digital asset management solution. The latter was interesting, as AIATSIS is effectively cataloguing and preserving preliterate cultures all of whose patrimony is preserved in stories and songs. This meant that to preserve a culture, rather than dealing with physical artefacts and written records we were dealing with recordings and transcriptions.
It’s not just been pure IT related work – for example I’ve worked on a UN Famine Relief project to train local people to use computers to manage food distribution more effectively and helped a couple of relief organisations appoint staff to work on IT related projects in West Africa.
Along the way, there’s also been some fun stuff as well. When I was a psychologist I was never a human psychologist, instead I had a real passion for ethology and neurobiology, but as with all passion where you can’t feed the fire it withered and died in time. The passion that has kept with me is one for classical and medieval history. I even managed to combine the two when I worked on a bat conservation project. Bats of course love old churches – and old churchyards – when they are unmanaged the long grass and flowers make an insect (and bat) heaven.
For some reason I’ve always had a fascination for that nebulous period that we could call late antiquity/early medieval when things changed in some very interesting ways.
I don’t have an explanation why this fascinates me so much, except it goes back a long way, to second or third grade when I was asked to be what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied ‘an archaeologist’, which kind of confounded my teacher who probably expected something a little less exotic.
All the way through I was always interested in old documents, something that really got me started in digitisation. This goes back to when I was kid in Stirling, Scotland and the main library used to have this display of the town records and transcriptions. And one day I realised that all this stuff about people being fined for having dungheaps where they shouldn’t actually told you stuff about how the town was laid out and how it functioned – something that gave me a great deal of insight into digitisation preservation and reuse.
Besides this I’ve travelled in South East Asia – principally in Thailand and Laos, as well as travelling around archaeological sites in Greece and Turkey, been mountain biking in the High Atlas of Morocco, learned to sail ocean going yachts off Gibraltar, as well as spending a fair amount of time in France, Spain and the Netherlands.
Latterly my interest in history been turning more and more into an interest in British colonial history, if for no other reason than in Australia we’ve rather more of it than we have of Roman or medieval history. And just to add to the pot, as I studied some Russian along the way I have an ongoing fascination with that amazingly chaotic period after the October revolution …