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.