Category Archives: justblamepia

Where’s the video?

I prom­ised way back in Janu­ary that we’d release a video of that month’s SLUG meet­ing — our up-​​close-​​and-​​personal with Microsoft. We did just that a month ago, but I totally for­got to men­tion it here.

I know, I suck.

Any­way, you can get the video and slides here (the links in the ori­ginal announce­ment are no longer func­tional). It’s been poin­ted out to me that the slides in the video vary slightly from the PDF, but the dif­fer­ence is min­imal. It’s three months old now — so don’t expect any rev­el­a­tions — but it’s still an inter­est­ing watch.

LotD: Save money by buy­ing dir­ectly from the USA (for Aus­trali­ans only)

A fabulous fortnight

The last two weeks have been quite event­ful. Each of these prob­ably deserves its own blog post, but since I don’t have the time to write them all I’ll just give a summary.

Doc­u­ment Free­dom Day, 26 March

The first annual Doc­u­ment Free­dom Day (inspired by Soft­ware Free­dom Day) was cel­eb­rated glob­ally. In Sydney, the cel­eb­ra­tions were hos­ted by Google at their offices, sup­por­ted by the Inter­net Soci­ety of Aus­tralia and the Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG). As the SLUG rep­res­ent­at­ive, I was asked to say a few words about our organ­isa­tion and its rel­ev­ance to doc­u­ment free­dom. Not hav­ing time to pre­pare, I man­aged to ad-​​lib a speech, draw­ing on memor­ies of what I had writ­ten before on the Domes­day Book and Domes­day Pro­ject. I’m not an exper­i­enced speaker, so I’m very glad that it came out well.

Sen­ator Kate Lundy and David Vaile delivered great talks that made us think about open­ness of inform­a­tion and their import­ance to soci­ety. For the most part, we didn’t men­tion the war (which unfor­tu­nately has been lost), but there was no escap­ing acknow­ledge­ment of the Waughs. Any­one dis­il­lu­sioned at the state of polit­ics in Aus­tralia ought to speak with Kate. Even after 12 years in par­lia­ment, she is still inspiring.

All in all, it was a fant­astic night. Thanks to Alan Noble, Andrew McRae and the other folks at Google for mak­ing it hap­pen. Andrew and Sarah Mad­dox have writ­ten good sum­mar­ies of the evening.

I would have loved to have taken Kate up on her invit­a­tion to join her ‘Found­a­tions of Open: Tech­no­logy and Digital Know­ledge’ local 2020 Sum­mit, but alas a trip to Can­berra for one day was a bit much. I’m glad to see it all went well, though.

Sydney Linux Users Group Annual Gen­eral Meet­ing, 28 March

What can I say? Thanks to every­one in SLUG who sup­por­ted my can­did­acy for the role of Pres­id­ent. The new Com­mit­tee looks like a great mix of tal­ents, and we already have some good ideas in the pipeline. The next twelve months is look­ing to be excit­ing indeed.

We had the first gath­er­ing of the new Com­mit­tee on Sunday. It was a han­dover meet­ing, with the old Com­mit­tee mem­bers present to pass on their wis­dom and exper­i­ence to the new. My sin­cere grat­it­ude goes to the depart­ing Com­mit­tee mem­bers. I feel truly hon­oured to have worked with them over this past year.

Aus­tralian Open Source Industry & Com­munity Report 2008 launch event, 1 April

Free soft­ware and free beer! It appears that with FOSS, you can have your cake and eat it too ;)

Note: there was no cake — but there were Iced Vo Vos! Sweet!

It’s great to finally have some author­it­at­ive stat­ist­ics to back our cause. Com­mon myths were dis­pelled, and we had con­firm­a­tion of things that seemed so obvi­ous to us but might have been less so for others.

Bar­Camp Sydney, 56 April

Bar­Camp 3 was not­able for expan­sion to two days of rev­elry. The venue migrated from UTS for the first two Bar­Camps to the UNSW Round­house for the third, which des­pite the longer com­mute I feel was a good move. Attend­ance did seem thin­ner than in pre­vi­ous years. This was prob­ably due to vis­it­ors spread over a lar­ger venue and across two days. One thing I like about Bar­Camp is that I get con­tact with people and ideas that I oth­er­wise wouldn’t notice from FOSS gath­er­ings like SLUG. Bar­Camp has con­sid­er­ably more pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware developers and entre­pren­eurs. Less Google, more Microsoft. As much as I love FOSS, I do like to see what’s hap­pen­ing in the rest of the ICT universe.

I made an effort this time to attend talks that were less tech­nical and more busi­ness or per­sonal devel­op­ment ori­ented. Stand-​​out speak­ers included Nick Hodge, Matt Moore and Richard Hayes.

Per­haps the high­light was the Sat­urday even­ing. Mike from Atlas­sian led us through a few rounds of Were­wolf, a vari­ation (and an improve­ment, IMHO) of the clas­sic Mafia game. I still can’t believe that we didn’t deplete the bar tab that Mike set up for us. We’ll have to have SLUG’s Deb­SIG present at Bar­Camp 4 ;)

LotD: Open​Of​fice​.org en masse in NSW schools!

Dancing with the Devil in the pale moonlight

Last night, SLUG’s monthly meet­ing played host to four rep­res­ent­at­ives from Microsoft:

  • Sarah Bond, Plat­form Strategy Man­ager. Sarah was present to talk about Microsoft’s cur­rent pos­i­tion with OOXML, espe­cially with regards to the inter­op­er­ab­il­ity with Linux.

  • Amit Pawer, National Tech­no­logy Spe­cial­ist. He spe­cial­ises in Win­dows Server technologies.

  • Alistair Speirs, Tech­no­logy Spe­cial­ist — Office. His back­ground is in Java and .NET development.

  • Rose­mary Stark, Product Man­ager, Win­dows Server and Infra­struc­ture Products.

This unsur­pris­ingly caused much con­sterna­tion and con­tro­versy within the Aus­tralian FOSS com­munity in the weeks lead­ing up to the event, and I (being its organ­iser, and hence the tar­get of much vit­riol) ended up spend­ing much time gauging and respond­ing to the opin­ions and ideas raised.

We wanted this to be an open community-​​led Q&A ses­sion, and to their credit Microsoft were obli­ging. Admit­tedly, I would have saved much san­ity and hours of work if people had pos­ted to the wiki as asked, but hav­ing to tran­scribe from the mail­ing lists to the wiki allowed me to think more about the ques­tions and how they should be worded and ordered. I need no reminder of Microsoft’s trans­gres­sions, but I made sure to keep IBM in mind (as a com­pany that was once con­sidered an ana­thema to soft­ware free­dom but has now largely reformed) and take an optim­istic approach.

Pia was of great help here (as always!). With so many ques­tions and only an hour and a half in which to ask them, we decided to cull the non-​​constructive, accus­at­ive and just plain trolling ques­tions. By the end, Pia had com­piled a list that was fairly encom­passing of the major issues con­cern­ing sup­port­ers of com­pet­i­tion, tech­no­logy and freedom.

As I arrived at the venue, I found that our guests had beaten me and were act­ively help­ing to get the fur­niture into place. This allowed us to get bet­ter acquain­ted before the meet­ing. It was clear (and they openly admit­ted) that they had been fol­low­ing our open dis­cus­sion pro­cess on mail­ing lists and the SLUG wiki. Really, they would have been daft not to do so :)

I handled the intro­duc­tion, then turn­ing the micro­phone over to our guests to intro­duce them­selves. Sarah Bond launched into a present­a­tion on OOXML, in the pro­cess answer­ing sev­eral of the ques­tions we had on the wiki. I left Pia to offi­ci­ate most of the meet­ing, but I chimed in on occa­sion with both poin­ted and irrev­er­ent ques­tions and com­ments that were not on the list.

We will be releas­ing the video of the meet­ing as soon as we are able, so I shan’t explain its con­tents too much. Some inter­est­ing points though:

  • In the list of rules for the meet­ing, I put ‘Ask­ing “Why do you eat babies?” doesn’t help any­one.’ I ini­tially felt bad when I met Sarah and real­ised that she is preg­nant! She was a good sport about it though, and we all had a good laugh :)
  • In her present­a­tion, Sarah men­tioned that Microsoft will be releas­ing the specs to their bin­ary Office file formats in mid-​​February (UPDATE: it’s con­firmed!). I’m still not sure if I heard this one right (it’s a lot to swal­low!), so if someone can con­firm this I’d appre­ci­ate it. They made no bones about this being part of their drive to pro­mote OOXML acceptance.
  • Not new, but news to us, is the fact that Win­dows 2003 has a DRM infra­struc­ture which they call RMS, short for Rights Man­age­ment Ser­vices. I did cheekily ask them if the name was delib­er­ate, and their attempts to ser­i­ously and politely address the ques­tion was price­less :)

Like with any other SLUG meet­ing, we went out for Chinese food after­wards. Three of our guests joined us (it’s a shame that Sarah couldn’t come, but being preg­nant isn’t easy). Did we have din­ner with the Devil? It cer­tainly didn’t feel that way. Once we put our dif­fer­ences aside, we real­ised that we have an awful lot in com­mon. We are all geeks at heart, and some of the MS people have and con­tinue to dabble in Unix and FOSS tech­no­lo­gies such as Python.

Were we suc­cess­ful? It depends on how you look at it. From my per­spect­ive of try­ing to build trust and under­stand­ing, without dwell­ing too much on (but cer­tainly not ignor­ing) the past, I think so. Ask­ing loaded ques­tions and mak­ing our guests feel uncom­fort­able might have brought some short-​​term sat­is­fac­tion to some of us, but would it have achieved any­thing? There were some inap­pro­pri­ate com­ments from the audi­ence going in both dir­ec­tions (one of the loudest people actu­ally seemed to be pro-​​Microsoft), but those people were eas­ily out­numbered by the more sens­ible major­ity. My ori­ginal fears of the crowd devolving into a sense­less rabble dis­sip­ated rap­idly, and I am very pleased and proud of our com­munity for that.

I was ini­tially dis­ap­poin­ted by our turn out, but that feel­ing changed as the meet­ing pro­gressed. Due to it being Janu­ary, linux​.conf​.au being just around the corner (which siphoned a lot of our best and bright­est) and the sens­it­ive nature of the sub­ject mat­ter, we had a crowd that was smal­ler than expec­ted, but felt more con­ver­sa­tional and manageable.

If you were at the meet­ing, please let me know what you thought of it by post­ing a com­ment.

Sarah will be speak­ing again at LUV on Feb­ru­ary 5. If you’re in Mel­bourne for linux​.conf​.au, it might be worth extend­ing your trip by a few days to see it. I would also sug­gest that you take inspir­a­tion from the list of ques­tions that we have com­piled. If our video is out by then, watch it to avoid repeat­ing the ques­tions that we’ve already asked (or pose follow-​​up questions).

My warmest thanks go to:

  • the rest of the SLUG Com­mit­tee (Lind­say Holm­wood, Silvia Pfeif­fer, Matt Moor, Ken Wilson, John Ferlito and James Dumay), for their sup­port throughout
  • Pia Waugh
  • Anna, Matt and every­one who helped with set­ting up, pack­ing up, record­ing and so on
  • our guests from Microsoft, for being such good sports
  • and of course, our community

P.S. Happy Inva­sion Day to Aus­trali­ans, and happy Anti-​​Invasion Day to Indi­ans :)

Software Freedom Day 2007: Sydney report

It’s been indic­ated to me that I never put out a report on Soft­ware Free­dom Day in Sydney. Well, bet­ter late than never :)

Advoc­ates of free soft­ware cel­eb­rated at the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales on 16 Septem­ber for the fourth annual Soft­ware Free­dom Day. Mem­bers of SLUG, Ubuntu-​​AU and the gen­eral FOSS com­munity col­lab­or­ated to spread the mes­sage of free soft­ware to the gen­eral public.

Interest and buzz was gen­er­ated in the days leading-​​up to the event through a poster cam­paign across the cam­pus. At the UNSW Com­puter Fair, we piqued the curi­os­ity of many com­puter users with our dis­plays, screen­casts and spiels. Those who were enthu­si­astic migrated to our room in the nearby Law Build­ing, where we could explain and demon­strate in greater detail. Not only did we have many expres­sions of interest from new­comers in free soft­ware and the free soft­ware com­munity, we also suc­ceeded in bring­ing those who already use FOSS into par­ti­cip­a­tion in the local community.

Regret­tably, I was not able to take any decent pho­to­graphs of the event. If any­one has pic­tures, I’d be grate­ful if they could be sent to me.

I would like to give a big word of thanks to every­one who helped on the day:

  • Andreas Fisc­her
  • Brendan Puck­eridge
  • David McQuire
  • James Dumay
  • Jim Tsao
  • John Ferlito
  • Ken Wilson
  • Lind­say Holmwood
  • Matt Moor
  • Peter Baker
  • Pia Waugh
  • Rodger Dean
  • Silvia Pfeif­fer
  • Any­one else who I may have for­got­ten (if I have, sorry!)

In addi­tion, I would like to thank those who provided resources in sup­port of our efforts:

  • Com­puter Fairs Aus­tralia (tables at the com­puter fair)
  • David Vaile, Abi Para­maguru and Alana Maur­ushat at the UNSW Cyber­space Law and Policy Centre (room in the Law Building)
  • John Schilit (IBM and Rob­ocode materials)
  • Solu­tions First (Unwired modem)
  • Ubuntu Screen­casts Team (screen­casts and subtitles)
  • Canon­ical (Ubuntu CDs)
  • The world­wide free soft­ware com­munity :)



LotD: Sign the peti­tion for a Free Soci­ety and against Digital Restric­tions Man­age­ment and Treach­er­ous Computing

Software Freedom Day: a ‘press release’

Whilst codi­fy­ing the plans for Soft­ware Free­dom Day in Sydney, I decided to put together a mock press release. A little of the con­tent is lif­ted from the SFD Web site. Feel free to modify it for your needs (loc­al­ised to your city, etc.) and redistribute.


For the second time run­ning, The Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales (UNSW) has been selec­ted to form the centrepiece of Soft­ware Free­dom Day in Sydney.

Soft­ware Free­dom Day (SFD) is a world­wide cel­eb­ra­tion of Free and Open Source Soft­ware (FOSS). Our goal in this annual cel­eb­ra­tion is to edu­cate the world­wide pub­lic about of the bene­fits of using high qual­ity Free and Open Source Soft­ware (FOSS) in edu­ca­tion, in gov­ern­ment, at home, and in busi­ness — in short, everywhere!

Have you ever had your com­puter soft­ware crash, lose data or get a virus? Ima­gine if after only a few years that the thesis that you worked on for ages was no longer read­able, or that your pre­cious home movies were no longer watch­able. If you com­plain to the soft­ware com­pany, they try to talk you into spend­ing yet more money on an ‘upgrade’, which only turns out to be slower and bug­gier than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. Ever bought a new music player, only to find that it refuses to play the music that worked just fine on your old player?

Unfor­tu­nately, most people are liv­ing in this world today.

Soft­ware Free­dom Day exists to show the gen­eral pub­lic that there is a way out of this vicious cycle. Through the use of free soft­ware, you regain con­trol over your com­puter and your data. Every per­son has the free­dom to par­ti­cip­ate in and use free soft­ware, whether it be on a totally free oper­at­ing sys­tem like Linux or on a non-​​free plat­form like Win­dows or Mac OS.

This Sunday, the Sydney FOSS com­munity will demon­strate how easy it is to install and use free soft­ware to achieve a vari­ety of tasks. Our activ­it­ies shall grav­it­ate around two ven­ues in UNSW:

  • At the com­puter fair in the Round­house (10am-​​3pm), we will be demon­strat­ing FOSS tech­no­lo­gies to vendors and visitors.
  • In Law Room 203 (8am-​​5pm), we will be host­ing a series of talks and tutorials.

We will also have people roam­ing around cam­pus spread­ing the news. We will be happy to answer any ques­tions that you may have per­tain­ing to FOSS. We will have CDs and other items to hand out, to get you star­ted. If you bring (or buy at the fair) a USB drive, we can trans­fer free soft­ware onto it for you.

If you’re buy­ing hard­ware at the fair, we can help you to get it run­ning with FOSS. If you’re a stu­dent, or just plain curi­ous, we can show you how you can max­im­ise the poten­tial of your com­puter, all at no cost to you.

Unlike with non-​​free soft­ware, FOSS is typ­i­fied by extens­ive com­munity net­works that are able to provide detailed sup­port should you need help. Examples include the Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG), which hosts e-​​mail lists, monthly meet­ings, and other events for people of all skill levels.

With the fin­an­cial sup­port of IT mar­ket lead­ers like IBM, HP, Dell, Intel and Google, as well as count­less gov­ern­mental bod­ies and com­pan­ies in other indus­tries, FOSS is grow­ing from strength to strength at a phe­nom­enal rate.

If you have any fur­ther ques­tions, please see our list of resources below. Oth­er­wise, come and see us on Sunday, and we’ll show you in person!

If you’d like to get involved as a volun­teer, read our plans for the day (linked below).




LotD:  I never got around to writ­ing about the Edu­ca­tion Expo, so I’ll point to Pia’s writeup

Coming up next… Software Freedom Day!

Tighten your belts and buckle your shoes, for Soft­ware Free­dom Day is just around the corner! This year, the Sydney team is host­ing their event one day late (on Sunday instead of Sat­urday), to take advant­age of the com­puter fair at The Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales. We’ll have a couple of tables, which we shall be using to show off the won­ders of FOSS to con­sumers, stu­dents and other vendors.

I have chron­icled our plan at the Soft­ware Free­dom Day wiki. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch with me.


LotD:  Get­ting in Bed With the Cus­tomer (an oldie but a goodie)

It’s about education, stupid!

There appears to be much con­fu­sion amongst the press and the gen­eral popu­lace regard­ing the One Laptop Per Child Pro­ject, which I blogged about earlier. This art­icle in the Mur­doch press, for example, has stim­u­lated some of these mis­con­cep­tions. They stem from the false assump­tion that the OLPC is a com­put­ing pro­ject. “Don’t these kids deserve food, water, cloth­ing and shel­ter first?”, some people ask.

The fact is that the OLPC is far more than a simple com­put­ing pro­ject. It is an edu­ca­tion pro­ject, or more broadly, a devel­op­ment pro­ject. The com­puter is merely the tool to enable edu­ca­tion and cre­ativ­ity. How can one learn when a text­book costs more than an aver­age weekly wage? Ima­gine if you could inter­act with your text­book, in the form of games and exer­cises. Ima­gine if you could learn to write your own soft­ware for this device, and dis­trib­ute it to help oth­ers in your com­munity. You can cre­ate your own art­works, write your own novel or make your own music. Wire­less mesh net­work­ing allows the dis­tri­bu­tion of data between com­puters, and even the shar­ing of one Inter­net con­nec­tion across a vil­liage. For many house­holds, the key­board lights will be the only form of arti­fi­cial light­ing. The pos­sib­il­it­ies are effect­ively limitless.

The point that I am try­ing to make is that it is not the com­puter that is import­ant, it is what you can do with it that truly mat­ters. The com­puter is an ena­bler, a tool that allows people to ulti­mately cre­ate their own live­li­hoods and futures. There’s no point in keep­ing people depend­ent on handouts. Let’s encour­age them to stand on their own feet.

Back in the developed world, I was able to attend a panel dis­cus­sion for NSW ICT for the forth­com­ing state elec­tion. Pia made some good ana­lysis of the event. In sum­mary, the rep­res­ent­at­ive for the Lib­eral Party was com­pletely and utterly use­less when the ques­tion turned to open stand­ards and FLOSS. Moreover, both sides (Labour and Lib­eral) would seem­ingly delib­er­ately con­fuse open stand­ards and open source when ques­tioned about them. The key when ques­tion­ing such people is to not men­tion open stand­ards and open source together. Force them to address the issues sep­ar­ately, or they will con­flate the two. The City of Munich was dis­par­agingly referred to sev­eral times as an extreme case. What dis­turbs me is that there was spe­cific­ally strong emphasis on NSW as a pro­curer and con­sumer of ICT, rather than as a pro­du­cer. So while pro­jects like the OLPC can pro­mote local edu­ca­tion and industry, the NSW gov­ern­ment wants to keep us depend­ent upon for­eign providers.

linux​.conf​.au (AKA: The January Chronicles, Part I)

Is it already Feb­ru­ary? Janu­ary must have been the busiest month of all time for me. My birth­day was on the 6th, and I still haven’t been able to do any­thing about it. My fam­ily and friends have been bug­ging me about it since Decem­ber. If any of them are read­ing this, I’m sorry.

The chaos of Janu­ary has car­ried into Feb­ru­ary, I’m afraid. This write-​​up of my Janu­ary escapades would be best split into sev­eral parts, so view this post as one of a few.

linux​.conf​.au (LCA) was extraordin­ar­ily enjoy­able. I had volun­teered to help with a few activ­it­ies, and most of my time was spent as part of the Audio/​Visual Team. My job con­sisted of sit­ting in lec­ture theatres and encod­ing video (passed to me in the form of DVDs) to Ogg The­ora on my laptop. The exer­cise was a tre­mend­ous stress test of some of the hard­ware, and I’m glad that it passed with fly­ing col­ours. ffmpeg2theora doesn’t take advant­age of SMP, so I engaged my Core 2 Duo CPU with two video streams in parallel.

Unfor­tu­nately, I was so focused on transcod­ing that I was not able to appre­ci­ate the present­a­tions occur­ring dir­ectly in front of me. I’ll have to go back and watch the videos of those talks, which were likely transcoded by myself. On a pos­it­ive note, our transcod­ing efforts meant that we were able to make video avail­able online even before the con­fer­ence was over. There was plenty more to transcode after the event, so my duties didn’t sud­denly end on the 19th of Janu­ary. It’s amaz­ing to see that only two weeks after the clos­ing of LCA we are on the cusp of final­isa­tion. All that’s left are a few ‘prob­lem’ videos and some doc­u­ment­a­tion writing.

Silvia expertly man­aged our rag-​​tag team of volun­teers to deliver some first-​​class res­ults. I hon­estly feel that we set a bench­mark for future free soft­ware events, not just in Aus­tralia but also around the world, and I am very proud to have been a part of it. Through Linux Aus­tralia, we have pur­chased equip­ment and for­mu­lated meth­ods that will be car­ried on into the future. We have proven that qual­ity video pro­duc­tions can be achieved on a mod­est budget, using entirely free software.

Aside from other mis­cel­laneous volun­teer duties at LCA, I took part in the Open Day, spend­ing most of my time at the Ubuntu-​​Au stand. I also briefly covered for Chris Smart at the Make the Move stand. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Pia and com­pany, Open Day was a resound­ing suc­cess. I believe that it has firmly estab­lished itself as a per­man­ent fix­ture at future LCAs. It was truly encour­aging to see luminar­ies like Keith Pack­ard and Jim Gettys as exhib­it­ors, inter­act­ing with the gen­eral populace.

Events like LCA are always spe­cial because of the people you meet. I had the priv­ilege of inter­act­ing with many people for whom I hold a great deal of respect. Pla­cing faces to IRC nicks is always fun, as is catch­ing up with friends whom I don’t see often.

No write-​​up of LCA would be com­plete without an expres­sion of grat­it­ude and con­grat­u­la­tions to the Seven Team for a job well done. So thank you Jeff, Pia, Sara, Jamie, Ben, Lind­say and John!

My one regret is that I opted to not reside on cam­pus for the dur­a­tion of the con­fer­ence. You can­not fully enjoy your­self on a night out while wor­ry­ing about how you will get home. It meant that I had to wake up earlier to catch the bus-​​train-​​bus com­bin­a­tion to get to UNSW, and even then I missed some of the morn­ing A/​V Team meet­ings. The buses to Cent­ral from Anzac Parade end at around 22:45, and woe betide you if you miss them. On one night, it took me close to two hours to get home. Reli­ance upon pub­lic trans­port is a major hindrance upon after-​​hours activ­it­ies, and cur­tails the time that would be bet­ter spent catch­ing up on some sorely-​​needed sleep.


LotD:  Get a First Life

Sydney Moodle Conference

I wrote this back in Octo­ber, and for some silly reason I for­got to post it. Bet­ter late than never, I say. emoticon

It seems that every couple of weeks I’m at some kind of FLOSS-​​related event. You just can’t keep me away from them! They may require a lot of work, but it cer­tainly feels reward­ing to get the word out. This is espe­cially so in regards to the edu­ca­tional sec­tor. Chil­dren are our future, and they are gen­er­ally more will­ing than your aver­age adult to learn new and dif­fer­ent things. It is an educator’s job to impart know­ledge, and it is the duty of any respect­able edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tion to facil­it­ate a free and open flow of know­ledge. What bet­ter way to achieve this than with free software?

This concept was not lost on the eduact­ors, par­ents and stu­dents at the Sydney Edu­ca­tion Expo in June, and I’m proud to say that we man­aged to rep­lic­ate that suc­cess at the Sydney Moodle Con­fer­ence on Octo­ber 1415 (Sat­urday and Sunday). Once again, I manned the Linux Australia/​SLUG stand, join­ing Pia Waugh, Lind­say Holm­wood and Andreas Fisc­her. The SLUG Com­mit­tee stopped by for a while, too.

Whereas most people at the Edu­ca­tion Expo were unfa­mil­iar with FLOSS, many of the attendees of the Moodle Con­fer­ence had some idea about it. Moodle itself is avail­able under the terms of the GPL, and many com­pan­ies and schools have become part of its user/​development/​support com­munity. All we had to do was to remind them that we rep­res­ent the under­ly­ing FLOSS con­cepts that have made Moodle so great, and that Moodle func­tions in con­cert with other FLOSS pro­jects such as Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.

The response was over­whelm­ing. We were pre­pared to hand out a truck­load of Ubuntu CDs, only to dis­cover that most attendees had already been sup­plied with one as part of their offi­cial con­fer­ence kit. That didn’t stop us from dis­trib­ut­ing many more, though. We had one fel­low so excited about FLOSS on Sat­urday that he brought along his laptop the next day for an impromptu Ubuntu install­fest. We demon­strated a range of tech­no­lo­gies, includ­ing Compiz and Ink­s­cape. Vis­it­ors were impressed with the ease of the Ubuntu LiveCD installer, and with how Moodle can be installed (com­plete with depend­en­cies) in only a few clicks via Synaptic.

Most inter­est­ing for me was the Live Online Event, which was a panel dis­cus­sion on-​​stage in front of about 150 people. Pia was slated to rep­res­ent the LA/​OSIA point of view, but was forced to bow out due to other com­mit­ments. Much to my sur­prise, she asked me to fill in for her. So there I was, on-​​stage, in front of well over 100 people, field­ing ques­tions while being recor­ded and streamed live over the Inter­net. I had never done any­thing like that before, but I think I went reas­on­ably well. Pub­lic speak­ing and gen­eral spoken com­mu­nic­a­tion are cer­tainly skills that I would like to fur­ther exer­cise in the future. Thanks for your sup­port, Pia! emoticon

The topic which dom­in­ated the panel dis­cus­sion, and one which I had been pre­vi­ously unaware of, con­cerned how far soft­ware pat­ents had intruded into the realm of edu­ca­tional soft­ware. Moodle-​​competitor Black­board has been issued an appalling pat­entfor tech­no­logy used for internet-​​based edu­ca­tion sup­port sys­tems and meth­ods.” I was some­what relieved to see that Mar­tin Dou­gia­mas, Moodle’s founder and pro­ject leader, was not con­cerned at all by this event, at least as far as Moodle was con­cerned. Nev­er­the­less, the spectre of soft­ware pat­ents has been loom­ing over FLOSS for some time now, and it is still very unclear if/​how the situ­ation will ever be resolved.

Software Freedom Day 2006

Another year, another Soft­ware Free­dom Day

Scrub that. That sounds far too mundane.

Soft­ware Free­dom Day rocked!!!


I could not attend last year (since it coin­cided with my mum’s birth­day), but this year I dived in head-​​first as an offi­cial helper on the A/​V Team. I was assigned to do video edit­ing and encod­ing, which basic­ally entailed crop­ping the begin­ning and end off the recor­ded present­a­tions and then encod­ing to Ogg (Vor­bis and The­ora) format. I had a wicked rig set up in the UNSW Law theatre that we were using for the talks, con­sist­ing of two laptops and a DV cam­era. The DV cam­era was ori­gin­ally inten­ded to serve as a backup to a DVD cam­era we had set up else­where, but due to some tech­nical glitches it rose in import­ance. I ended up being solely a cam­era­man, since we weren’t able to read our recor­ded DVDs on the day (it later turned out to be a simple mat­ter of final­ising the disc).

Although it was tir­ing keep­ing an eye on the cam­era for the entire day (through all of the talks), I must say that I enjoyed myself immensely. Pia did a fant­astic job of organ­ising and co-​​ordinating the event, not just in Sydney but also glob­ally (as Pres­id­ent of Soft­ware Free­dom Inter­na­tional). Silvia had the A/​V Team well organ­ised, and des­pite some minor set­backs I think we are well-​​prepared for LCA 2007.

What impressed me most was the speech by Sen­ator Kate Lundy. She proved that it wasn’t orches­trated in an inter­view with James Purser a few days later. She truly under­stands what free soft­ware is about, and she does not fall into the com­mon traps of see­ing free as gratis, or open source as only hav­ing a cost bene­fit. She’s set up her own Joomla-​​based web site, and she uses Auda­city to record her audio.

It’s strik­ing to see how Sen­ator Lundy dif­fers from her former nemesis (while she over­saw the Com­mu­nic­a­tions and IT shadow min­istry), Richard Alston. That is a man who was labelled ‘The World’s Biggest Lud­dite’ by sev­eral inter­na­tional news out­lets dur­ing his ten­ure. It is shame­ful to see how under­ap­pre­ci­ated she is in her party. Would it not best serve the interests of the coun­try to have a (shadow) min­is­ter who actu­ally knew some­thing about their port­fo­lio? Maybe so, but that would inter­fere with the politicking emoticon