Software Freedom Day Melbourne 2013 – Free software in a free society

Posted on September 22nd, 2013

Andrew Pam on content creation with free and open source software tools

Although Jon Lawrence of Electronic Frontiers Australia was billed to start the day, Andrew Pam kicked off after Lev Lafayette opened the session. Mirroring a presentation given at linux.conf.au in in Canberra in January 2013, Andrew explored many of the free and open source software tools available in rich media content creation. He introduced the topic by demonstrating how the concept of FOSS has extended beyond software development into content creation, and showed how open tools are sometimes ahead of the proprietary ones – particularly in the 3D space.

Andrew also outlined how open formats are even more important than open software, using the example of not being able to open a file in several years time because the software used to produce it no longer exists. This was a very strong point in the digital design arena, where players like Adobe set file standards – such as .psd and .ai early on, and other software has had to follow suit.

Text editors

Andrew explained that one of the early drivers behind FOSS text editors was the need to represent non-Roman characters. This spread to tools for translation, and even for script editing and producing. This sparked a discussion on whether HTML5 should be the basis for all documentation in the future – separating the content and the markup – as many other tools are simply leveraging HTML5 content for other display or output formats. Specifically, web browsers are moving into the presentation space, particularly with the animation capabilities of HTML5 and CSS.

One of the poignant examples of this talk that underlined the social justice aspect of the free and open source model was that of LibreOffice. LibreOffice is available in many smaller languages – such as Icelandic and Welsh because the tools are freely available to translate this product into those languages. While it doesn’t make business sense for Microsoft to translate Office into Icelandic, it’s been done by end users because the tools are available to do so.

Images

Andrew briefly covered the difference between vector and bitmap graphics, and then explained some of the FOSS tools available for photography and fonts such as;

  • fontforge.org
  • digikam.org

One of the great examples of FOSS here was that of open source Canon firmware; Canon hardware allowed for two exposures to be taken at once – perfect for rapid action shots (instead of just bracketing the exposures). The Canon firmware did not take advantage of the hardware capabilities and so open source firmware was developed which provided this functionality.

Audio

Andrew covered the tools available for audio by branching them out into recording and editing, creating and performing, typesetting scores and sampling. One of the great tools here is the ability to leverage free and open sound libraries, which can be remixed for new compositions.

Video

Andrew explained how hand animation has fallen by the wayside, yielding to several advanced tools in the space. One of the problems remaining to be solved here is the concept of distributed rendering. by farming out frames to different nodes to divide up the processing power needed for video animation. Luckily there is an open format available that can be used.

Libraries and distribution

Andrew walked us through a number of libraries for content creation, including Creative Commons and CC-licensed content on flickr. There are also a number of other open media libraries available for adoption and re-use, including freesound.org, artistx.org and Open Symphonium.

This lead to a great discussion on the crowdsourcing of media production and movie production – a model which does not sit comfortably with some studios.

Patrick Sunter on the importance of FOSS in public decision making

Patrick, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, outlined the concept of ‘democratic autonomy’ – and how many of the principles of science, embodied in the free and open source software movement, can also be applied to public decision making. In particular he highlighted the concepts of

  • reproduceability (of results)
  • contestability (for instance, if a model is transparent the flaws in the model can be contested)
  • peer view (open and transparent data means that it can be better reviewed)

He opened with the example of climate change, questioning whether if the data and models used in so-called ‘Climate Gate’ were made open to scrutiny and reproduceability whether the scandal would have erupted. This parallels the free software concept of favouring the ‘bazaar’ – many contributions by many people versus the cathedral – power held by a small number of members.

He covered a number of tools that were useful to researchers for opening up models including;

  • Madagascar
  • Kepler
  • Nimrod
  • SAGE

One of the very interesting discussions as part of this talk was whether it should be a requirement of research funding that the research output be released under a FOSS license, particularly given that much research is publicly funded.

The example of the East West link proposal was also discussed, particularly in light of the model used for estimates – which is closed and proprietary, and therefore not open to the same level of public scrutiny. This example was illustrated with some excellent visualisations, based on the GTFS format (for travel and transport timetables) and open street map – showing how combining open data sources can provide new insights to drive informed decision making. This sort of data also provides better opportunities for the development of ecosystems, such as consulting, review, and widens participation in policy debate.

An excellent presentation.

Adam Bolte – protecting yourself online

Adam’s presentation focused on a number of online vulnerabilities and the software tools that can be used to prevent them. Firstly, Adam facilitated a discussion on privacy, making the point that people don’t realise the value of privacy until it’s too late. In short, even though data about you may not be damaging, it’s nobody else’s business to know about it. This point was underlined by the http://pleaserobme.com/ example – which uses FourSquare data to predict whenyou’re not at home.

Adam also gave an overview of GPG encryption for email, and keysigning for public key infrastructure.

He guarded against the growing trend of software as a service (SaaS), arguing that the software is owned and managed by someone else – that someone else also owns the data. Similar arguments were made against centralised networks such as Facebook and Google +.

Adam gave a great overview of privacy and security protection tools available in browsers (with his favourite being Firefox), including the proper use of passwords, not installing third party toolbars, and request policy setting to see where websites are sending your data. In particular he recommended the use of HTTPS everywhere, GreaseMonkey, User Agent switcher and No Script.

In the instant messaging and videoconferencing sphere, he argued that giants such as Microsoft/Skype were reading your messages, and than open source alternatives were better for confidentiality and privacy. He also argued for the use of TOR and Bitcoin.

 

Wrap up of linux.conf.au 2012

Posted on January 23rd, 2012

Although there’s lots of amazing presentations at linux.conf.au, it’s also the people and passion involved that makes it such an amazing event.

People

One of the great conversations I had at linux.conf.au 2012 was with Paul Fenwick, around human interactions. We all have different communication styles and preferences, and it was thought-provoking and mind-nourishing to chat with someone who was both familiar with the area, and who had novel ideas. Paul also introduced me to Anki, a free and open source flashcard tool designed to help you study things like characters, vocabulary, music and so on – basically any field of knowledge that requires commitment to memory. Even better, Anki has a number of pre-prepared decks available for download – including things like the NATO phonetic alphabet and SAT vocabulary tests.

I was also privileged to spend a small amount of time – much less than I would have liked to – with Jason White. Jason has recently completed a PhD thesis in philosophy, around semantic theory, and it was fascinating to hear the details of his thesis topic. Jason is also an accessibility advocate for WCAG, and his Lightning Talk highlighted the Gnome Accessibility project.

The Speakers’ Dinner was a particular highlight, and I was afforded the opportunity to meet Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the Gnome project and previous counsel at the Software Freedom Law Centre. Karen’s keynote at linux.conf.au – ‘Free software in my heart‘ – was a compelling and engaging story about the ubiquity of technology, and how important it is to have control of the software which (literally) supports our lives. Again, I regret not having more time available to listen more to Karen’s journey. An incredible, inspiring, down to earth and approachable lady.

It was also inspiring to meet the wonderful Selena Deckelmann, whose presentation on ‘Mistakes were made‘ was an eye-opener into change management and planning.

One of the highlights for me personally was also the amazing dress created by Jenna Downing – wonderful stuff!

Jenna Downing at linux.conf.au 2012 with t-shirt dress she handmade. Credit: Brett Jamess CC-BY-NC

Jenna Downing at linux.conf.au 2012 with t-shirt dress she handmade. Credit: Brett James CC-BY-NC

Presentations

Of course, the star of linux.conf.au are the presentations made by Speakers. Some of my favourites from these year were;

  • Leslie Hawthorn gave a well delivered talk on “Mentoring – we’re doing it wrong“, and provided helpful tips for where best to spend your time when working or volunteering in a mentoring role. Sage advice for would-be mentors and mentees alike.
  • Dario Freddi gave an informative talk on “Social Applications over XMPP“. This underscored that XMPP / messaging is the killer app of the future. Email is definitely in decline – and messaging will take up the slack here. In the Speakers’ room, Dario showed me an implementation of a boardgame – over XMPP! Definitely a technology to watch out for, particularly with the Unified Communications implications it has.
  • Henare Degan presented on “Guerilla Data Liberation“, showcasing the ScraperWiki tool. Henare is one of the key developers behind Planning Alerts, and it was great to hear how councils, instead of claiming copyright, are engaging with Open Australia to make more data publicly and openly available.
  • Allison Randall gave what I thought was an informative talk on “Desktop home hacks”, using Arduino and other componentry for home automation. What struck me with her perspective what the thought that had gone into making the technology “gentle” – such as a plastic egg which has multicolour LEDs for different alert types, allowing the user to be interrupted in a gentle, graduated way. She also showed how products like Supa Sculptey and InstaMorph for embedding LEDs in objects.

Passion

Of course, the event wouldn’t happen without some amazing folk volunteering their time and energy. Conference Director Josh Stewart had a relaxed leadership style, and helped keep our spirits up through what was a tiring, gruelling, exhausting, but ultimately incredibly rewarding week. Sae Ra Germaine is just amazing to work with. She’s an incredible people person, and looked after all our mental health, and helped smooth out the inevitable team conflicts. Cameron Tudball was super organised, a perfect choice for our Treasurer. Thorne Lawler was brilliant, and helped to train and co-ordinate our volunteer team and their tasks – a superhuman effort. Erin Hatherell served as our Team Doctor, keeping us all sane with her great humour, and flair for finding lovely gifts (the “I’m so offended” t-shirts were epic). Our AV setup was simply outstanding, with thanks to the efforts of Tristan McArdle, and the network was the hard work of LT and his offsider Steve “Evil” Walsh. Our sysadmin, Duncan McNeill, did a brilliant job of administering our troublesome conferencing system, ZooKeepr.

An amazing experience.

 

 

 

 

 

linux.conf.au talk – ‘The best event in the world and how you can do it too!’

Posted on January 22nd, 2012

Based on my experiences helping on the Software Freedom Day Melbourne team for several years, and the successful BarCampGeelong, I responded to linux.conf.au’s Call for Papers (CfP) with an outline of a talk around running outstanding events in the free and open source software community. The aim was to provide the skills, resources and techniques that budding organisers would require in order to manage a successful event. Fortunately, the CfP was accepted and as well as being part of the Core Team for linux.conf.au 2012, I had an extra action item – preparing an awesome presentation!

Instead of using Impress for slides, I wanted to find something a little different. At the August WordPress Melbourne meet up, Vernon Fowler used Prezi for his BuddyPress case study. Prezi, while producing impressive slide decks, is proprietary and closed. Something told me this would be unpopular with the linux.conf.au crowd. Having used Inkscape heavily, I was directed to Sozi, a free and open source software tool that creates SVG files and Javascript from Inkscape. This tool is amazing – as you’ll be able to see from the slide deck below. The only drawback I found was afterwards – when trying to upload the Sozi-created SVG file to MediaWiki, it’s detected as a potentially dangerous file because the SVG contains HTML.

After delivering the presentation (link to video below), I received lots of constructive feedback. In particular, Karen Sandler, one of our keynotes for linux.conf.au, let me know that she doesn’t use the camera on her smartphone – because it uses proprietary software. Of course, this meant that all the QR codes I’d included in the slides were effectively useless! So, the slide deck below has been updated with printed URLs.

One of the more positive pieces of feedback received was around the fact I produced and printed a transcript for the presentation so hearing impaired people at the presentation could have a more equivalent experience.

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