Picks from #fosdem2020

Although I’ve never managed to get to Brussels for FOSDEM (yet), it remains one of the biggest open source and free software events on the calendar. The videos are now online – and here are a few I found insightful.

Daniel Stenberg (@bagder) on HTTP/3

HTTP/3 has been in the works for a couple of years now, and Daniel’s talk was an excellent overview of how HTTP/3 differs markedly from its predecessors, HTTP/1 and HTTP/2. The key change that I took away from this talk is that HTTP/3 runs over UDP, rather than TCP, which eliminates the header blocking issues seen in both HTTP/1 (http header blocking) and HTPT/2 (TCP header blocking). This is achieved through an as-yet unstandardised new protocol called QUIC.

There are some drawbacks, however;

  • Many networks block UDP traffic because it is often the transport protocol used most for hacking or penetration attempts against networks
  • And to a firewall, QUIC traffic often looks like a DDOS attack.

So, it is likely to be a few years before HTTP/3 sees widespread adoption.


Esther Payne (@onepict) on RFC1984 and the need for encryption and privacy

Drawing on historical examples such as Ovid and Bentham’s panopticon, Esther outlined trajectories and through-lines of privacy and surveillance. She called upon the technical community to be aware of RFC1984, penned in 1996 by members of the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Engineering Task Force, and put themselves in the shoes of those who are surveilled. She outlined how RFCs are not universally observed and implemented, particularly by Big Tech, who have the reach and network power to implement their own standards.

Moreover, many governments around the world – including the Australian government – are seeking to implement backdoors into systems, allowing cryptographic measures to be subverted and privacy to be impugned. Data is being used against classes of citizens such as immigrants.

She called on tech communities to help our friends and families to realise that we “are the cow” being surveilled.

Side note: There were significant parallels between this talk and Donna Benjamin’s keynote at #lca2020, “Who’s watching?”.


Reuben Van der Leun (@rvdleun) builds smart glasses with Javascript

I have to admit, I’ve always been a fan of smart glasses, and was a little surprised that Google Glass didn’t take off over 10 years ago. In the interim, there seems to have been something of an augmented reality “winter”, with AR and VR type goggles being constrained to industrial and experimental usage, rather than being adopted into the consumer mainstream.

Reuben’s project – a DIY approach to augmented reality glasses using a bunch of Javascript APIs and open hardware – may be the harbinger of the “next wave” of augmented reality glasses, powered by freely available APIs for facial recognition, contact management and even speech recognition.


My talk picks for #lca2020 – Who’s Watching?

Wow! It’s that time of year when linux.conf.au has come around, and this year, for the first time, it’s in the stunning Gold Coast, 13th-17th January 2020. After having a read through the schedule, I’ve made a plan for which talks I’d like to see.

Monday and Tuesday – Miniconfs

Monday and Tuesday of conf are Miniconfs – essentially special interest groups in different areas of open source. The schedules aren’t all up for Miniconfs at the time of writing, but on Monday I’ll probably be somewhere between Creative Arts, Documentation and Sysadmin. On Tuesday I’ll be between GO Glam (top work, Sae Ra Germaine and Hugh Rundle!) and Identity, Privacy and Security (likewise, Ben Dechrai!). In particular, I’d like to hear William Brown’s talk on the psychology of multi-factor authentication. I heard William talk at PyconAU lightning talks earlier this year and he’s an excellent presenter.

Monday night is the Linux Australia Annual General Meeting, which I’d like to attend. Voting is open for the elections, if you’re a member. You’re not member? You should be. It’s free as in beer, and free as in freedom.

Wednesday – Main conf

I’ll be giving my talk on Wednesday about SenseBreast – a mastectomy prosthetic that was developed as a student project as part of the Masters in Applied Cybernetics at the 3A Institute earlier in the year. Apart from that, I’d like to see Karen Sandler’s talk on how to understand the intentions of others and build stronger communities. Karen is amazing, and I always get something out of her talks.

Keith’s talk on his new Snek Python-based language for embedded devices will be great for the Pythonistas, but I’m also worried that the fragmentation in this space – Micropython is a clear leader – will actually make adoption of Python on embedded devices and micro-controllers harder. I also don’t want to miss Daniel McCarthy’s talk on building hexapod robots – I know Daniel from the two years I spent leading GovHack Geelong and he has an incredible mind.

Dr Peter Chubb is always an excellent presenter, and his talk on electronics from household components promises to be entertaining. David Tulloh is always a leader in the “crack track” of LCA (his Linux microwave talk from Geelong 2016 is unmissable), and I had considered going to his presentation on KiCAD PCB-drafting software, but I think it will be over my head. Those in the HPC space might want to consider seeing Hugh Blemings’ talk about the OpenPower stack and ecosystem, which focuses on open hardware for HPC, which is a relatively new development.

Thursday – Main conf

On Thursday, I want to see Marissa Takahashi’s talk on an ethical data infrastructure, and Christopher Bigg’s talk on privacy-preserving IoT, but they’re scheduled together.

I definitely want to catch Opal Symes’ talk on collecting information with care. She has a rich, and challenging narrative to share and we all stand to learn a lot from her journey. Nicola Nye’s talk seeks to challenge the prevailing opinion that capitalism and ethics can’t co-exist, and I want to hear more on this.

Friday – Main conf

On Friday, I’ll be giving a tutorial on Scribus, and will probably need a break in the morning, but I do want to catch mnot’s talk on security internet protocols, and the work that’s left to be done in this space – particularly given how antiquated TCP/IP is now, and that Australia doesn’t have good penetration of IPv6 yet.

What are your picks? Leave your comments below.

Book review: The Reflective Practice Guide by Barbara Bassot

The Reflective Practice Guide: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Critical Reflection

The Reflective Practice Guide: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Critical Reflection by Barbara Bassot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an accessible, well-structured guide both for those new to reflective practice, and those guiding or instructing others in the discipline of reflective practice.

It provides solid, but not overwhelming, theoretical foundations for different approaches to reflective practice, and pragmatic, easily-implementable strategies for structuring reflecting writing, responding to emotions in reflective ways, and understanding the role reflective practice plays in life-long learning and professional development.

I only wish this book had been recommended to me much earlier.

View all my reviews