My must see list for #lca2014 linux.conf.au 2014

Posted on December 16th, 2013

So, another year has sped around and it’s almost time to head to Perth for linux.conf.au 2014. The schedule has been up for a while so I have no excuse for not yet posting my must-see list.

Kathy’s must see #lca2014 list
Day Highlights
Monday Not being a hardcore sysadmin person, I’m really interested in the OpenGov miniconf, and what it has to offer open source communities in terms of opening up access to government data; but moreover making a difference to the open source mindset of government. Props Pia Waugh for running the miniconf. The Continuous Integration miniconf, run by Stewart Smith, will be worth a look but I’d like to see what’s on the schedule first. Automation of tests and test-driven development is a hot topic, and I’m interested to see what these practices have to offer multimedia and front end production as well as back end development.
Tuesday Haecksen, run by Lana Brindley, is always worth a look, but the schedule isn’t up yet. I’m intending to have a look at Jonathan Woithe’s music and multimedia conference, particularly Silvia Pfeiffer’s talk on node.js and the talk on web animations (which I’m presuming might cover SVG, HTML, JS and CSS).
Wednesday First up, Adam Harvey can talk to me about anything. He’s a brilliant presenter, and I love to learn more about where Android is headed. Writing documentation is fun, so I’ll go to that one too. Then I’ll catch the talk on HTTP 2.0 by Mark Nottingham and then the excellent Karen Sandler’s talk on bringing more women to open source. In the afternoon I’ll catch Pia Waugh on opening government data, and then Deborah Kaplan’s talk on accessible content. Then it will be time for the Linux Australia AGM, where I’ll need to take minutes.
Thursday Thursday morning might be a sleep in, but if I’m up it will be Ashe Dryden on Diversity and @codemiller on Elixir. Nothing really appeals to me for the rest of Thursday.. might go do something social or hallway track it instead.
Friday Friday morning will be Building APIs and VisualEditor for Wikipedia, then Alice Boxhall’s talk on Accessibility and TCP tuning for the web by Jason Cook. Totally bummed that Josh Stewart’s talk on engine hacking is up against VisualEditor.

 

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 BarCampMelbourne 2013

Posted on March 19th, 2013

With huge thanks to Pomke and the team at Small World for lending us their fabulous Causeway House Boardroom venue, BarCampMelbourne 2013 got off to a great start.

Pomke on Angular JS

The talks I got to see where many and varied. First up, Pomke spoke to us about Angular JS and using node.js on the backend – moving processes to the client. This is becoming less of an issue with powerful browsers.

Steve on programmable logic controllers

Steve spoke to us about process control systems – and how they present a number of security risks. PLC – programmable logic controllers – drive inputs and outputs on machinery – essentially replacing buttons and switches and dials. They are programmed in ladder logic, and the PLC scans through the logic continuously – evaluating and acting on logical conditions. PLCs are low end devices in terms of capacity and communications – and could still run on 9600 baud RS232. SCADA systems are generally proprietary and generally only run on Microsoft Windows. There are risks here – such as the Stuxnet virus which was exploited before USB keys. These systems were born in the days before security was an issue, and this means that there are ways to interface remotely with many of these devices – as you have to be able to get into them to diagnose them and repair them if required. Another issue they found was that the equipment was only capable of running at 10mbps – which made it vulnerable to TCP broadcast storms.

Marc Cheong on teaching with engagement

Marc told us the story of how he became an accidental teacher – having started his PhD, falling into a tutoring role, he discovered the knack of engaging students. In his role, he found that students weren’t engaged – they wouldn’t learn anything. When exploring the underpinning causes he found that there is a paradigm shift involved in adult learning – it is self-directed, not spoon-fed. Students felt like a cog in a huge machine, and lecturers weren’t paying them very much individual attention. To remedy this problem he chose to ‘engage with empathy’ – learning everyone’s first name, ensuring icebreakers to reduce the feelings of isolation and building bonds between the class and the teacher.

He explained that the theory chained low motivation with low engagement to result in low marks – so the key to better marks is engagement and motivation – making the learning process fun and making people proud of their work.

Alec Clews on the ICT education crisis

Alec spoke about the challenges of ICT education in Victoria – there is a skills shortage, but the skills people are leaving the education system with are not great. Much of the proposed ICT curriculum should be in other parts of the curriculum and not in ICT education. For instance ethics and being safe online really belows in citizenship, while data interpretation and modelling really belongs in humanities. We need more of a focus on programming – and there was a strong sentitment in the room that visual programming is a copout. We also need more co-ordination between subjects – such as writing databases for humanities. We need to bring hacker skills into woodwork through 3D printing etc – using low cost accessible devices such as the Raspberry Pi. These devices will be a huge enabler for education.

computingatschool.org.au

Trystan on robot design choices

Trystan spoke about robot design choices, and what sort of need or objective your robot was serving and what sort of senses your robot should have. This allows you to make key design decisions so that you can build a robot to your desired budget. Once your robot has sensors, it needs some form of brain to blue all the pieces together. Microcontrollers are one way to make this happen – and you might have to design your own controller using a field programmable array (FPGA).

Lars Yencken on the quantified self

This was one of my favourite presentations of BarCamp, around the quantified self. Lars explained that everytime we use someone’s website to record something they are tracking what we are doing – but it is harder for us to capture this information about ourselves. The ideal situation would be that we have an agent measuring what we do, and providing useful advice such as ‘don’t drink that coffee because it will interrupt your sleep patterns’ based on the gathered data. Lars explained how the key areas he was trying to quantify were food and weight, but one of the challenges he had was balancing the need for bookkeeping with getting value out of doing it.

The key takeaway from me was that the mere act of measuring can serve to change behaviour – such as getting more exercise or eating fewer calories.

He also went into details about some of the glitches experienced in quantifying the self – such as battery life, GPS glitches and difficulties exporting data captured over long time periods.

One tool he mentioned that looks interesting is Huginn - which helps to measure changes in behaviour.

 

A huge shout out to to sponsors No ISP for helping make the day happen – their business model for an ISP co-operative is interesting indeed.

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