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.

Open Source Systems – Keynote #6 – Carol Smith on Google’s Summer of Code programme

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Carol Smith opened her keynote talk by providing a brief history of her life with Google; she started as a journalism graduate, and now runs the Google Open Source Programs office, which oversees all open source code used internally at Google, ensuring compliance with the relevant open source licenses. Part of this role is to undertake outreach programs to open source and student communities, and to maintain a relationship with the open source software organisations external to Google; of which there are many.

She is very interested in open source software and the motivations that drive people to contribute to the open source community. She walked the audience through a number of concepts from Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us‘. As she explained, Pink has analysed motivations around the world, with the conclusion that for tasks that are straightforward or repeatable, money is an appropriate motivator. Pay people more, and they will work harder or better. However,  for tasks that are conceptually oriented (like programming, let’s say), money is not an effective extrinsic motivator. So, what drives us?

  • Autonomy – our desire to work independently on a task and to feel ownership of it
  • Mastery – our urge to get better at things. This is why people have hobbies
  • Purpose – in CS opinion, is a sense of making a contribution to a cause – humans want to feel part of a bigger cause

If you pay people enough that they’re not worried about paying their bills and feeding themselves, they work to do the things that enrich them and that they enjoy. As Smith explained, open source software development lines up really well with these motivations. People are even willing to work for free on open source software because it enriches their lives.

Carol explained that universities are where students get lessons on independence; tools that enrich them for the rest of their lives – where they learn to feel ownership of their work – often in collaborative environments and through group work; but whether they pass or fail is their own responsibility. This is a lot like what motivates us; and a lot like open source.

However, we aren’t teaching open source in universities.

Some students are getting introduced to open source software in their university, but we could be doing a lot better. teachingopensource.org only lists 15 universities with programs in open source. Enter the Google Summer of Code program.

GSOC is a fully online, international program encouraging uni student participation in open source development. Interestingly, around half of students who participated in GSOC in 2012 listed something other than computer science as their major. To me this indicated the wide use of open source software in many fields – from graphics to humanitarian FOSS, astronomy, science and gaming. GSO inspires students to begin participating in open source development while providing an attractive alternative to other menial summer jobs  and also yields critical workplace experience. There are also benefits for the open source community and larger society in general through having more contributors to open source, and having more code released under open source licenses.

Carol encouraged other organisations to adopt the GSOC model, even if they could not be part of the program as a mentoring organisation. She also encouraged us to help get our universities to teach open source as part of the computer science curriculum.  She also noted that GSOC has around 12-13% female participation, and this is a statistic that she would like to change in the future.

Open Source Systems – Keynote #4 – Mark Gayer on Microsoft’s Open Source Initiative

Posted on September 12th, 2012

Mark Gayer opened his keynote by stating that it was unusual for Microsoft to be at an open source conference; he then went through a number of slides outlining how Microsoft is engaging with the open source community. Mark’s job is to travel the world, speaking and helping people understand how to use Microsoft technologies with open source and other non-Microsoft systems.

Mark took the audience on a tour of where Microsoft has contributed to the open source community;

  • They have made significant contirbutions to the Linux 3.0 kernel (a later audience question queried which areas of the kernel Microsoft were contributing in; it’s mainly around drivers). They are the 5th large corporate contributor to the Linux kernel.
  • They have done a lot of work in getting open source software such as WordPress and Joomla to work well under Windows – one of my key frustrations with the LAMP stack was that the WAMP stack used to be such an inferior cousin. Mark stated that there had been 400% growth in pen source applications running on Windows – and that 23 of the top 25 most downloaded OSS projects run on Windows. This is facilitated by tools such as WebMatrix.
  • Microsoft is also investing in standards – and they are a member of more than 150 standards organisations. Interestingly, they are a platinum sponsor of the Apache foundation.
  • Mark talked us through other contributions M$ have made – particularly in the VM space, and with Java on Azure, support for node.js, and in the PHP community.

Generally, his key takeaway was;

‘across the technology stack, Microsoft is working hard to make sure our products work will with government, education and enterprise’

Mark advocated that Microsoft was strong in the research, academic and scientific community, and attempted to make their code base available under open source licenses wherever possible here.

  • Zentity – allows data mashups across research databases
  • f # is a new development language
  • Chronozoom – was a very interesting tool developed jointly between Microsoft, Berkely and University of Moscow that shows the history of all time. This was an amazing product – with lots of potential in education.

Mark also demonstrated the work Microsoft had done with the Open Government Data Initiative and how this was being used to foster transparency and openness of government in countries such as Colombia. The source is available on GitHub.

Full disclosure: Microsoft Research were a main sponsor of the OSS2012 conference, a fact that the audience were reminded of before Mark began his keynote. I interpreted this as a hint to ‘go easy’.

I did however ask Mark about Microsoft’s position on UEFI secure boot; he stated he would follow up with a blog post – I will post it here when received.

UPDATE: Mark has blogged about his experience in Tunisia here;
http://blogs.technet.com/b/openness/archive/2012/09/14/oss-2012-tunisia-microsoft-open-source-and-the-cloud.aspx
however it does not mention UEFI secure boot at all.

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