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, 5-6 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: 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, 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, 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. (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. (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 14-15 (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 patent "for 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