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FOSDEM 2011 - A Personal Account (with all personal details withheld)

FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in a different country.

If I had to sum up this year, then the theme was Annoyances. Having been every year for the last ten, maybe I’m just too old and crabby for these things now. But it seemed like the zealots, the idiots, the chavs, and the social retards had all teamed up to irk me at any point in the weekend when I was beginning to find some peace.

But let us begin at the beginning.

Being open about "open" (source)

I’m not sure why it bothers me: I use the word "Free" when I’m talking about "Free Software", and "Open" when I mean "Open source". I’m very particular about my words, that way. But that's just me. I don't expect another religion to follow the rules of my own, or vice-versa. So why do I expect others to use words in the same way that I do? And why do I feel so cross about "Open standards", which come with proprietary documentation, a hefty price tag, and an NDA?

Home automation in GNU/Linux

Home Automation is anything that your home does for you automatically to make living there more enjoyable or productive. It covers many areas, including remote and timed control of lights and electrical home appliances, distributed media services, and communication. Over the last 10 years, many hardware manufacturers have presented their own proprietary solutions to these problems. Unbeknownst to them, a groundswell of developers from around the world has been providing similar solutions to the free and open source community.

Free software is cheaper: case study while creating a podcast

I have a podcast—The Beer Crate, since you asked—which is written and produced using free software, and released under the CC by-nc-nd license. It's a fun little hobby that keeps me off the street, and gives me an excuse to drink and review beer. But had free software not existed, how much would it cost to produce and host a show using proprietary software? I set out to investigate...

Another week with Windows Vista

Many moons ago I tried using Windows for a week to see how the other half live. Despite my thorough openness and fairness, I still got criticized! (Well, it wouldn’t be the free software community if people didn't, I suppose!) So, when I needed I new PC I decided to take the plunge and buy one. For the first time ever I bought a PC from a shop, instead of building it myself. Consequently, it came with Vista pre-installed. So I decided to spend a week with it to see what had changed...

Wikipedia Vs Software

So I, along with everyone else today, got forwarded this link which shows that Wikipedia has begun its journey from an edit-focused hive of activity, to read-only archive, as people stop editing the site.

As one of the larger “open” projects, it can point to possibilities in the future for other projects. It also mirrors smaller projects, and the history we discovered years ago. So, what does this tell us?

And the luddites shall inherit the world (wide web)...

With the lay public now moving their businesses and lives online, everything they do has an electronic component. But, being lay people, they’re using the most antiquated, bug-ridden, security-deficient, poorly-implemented solutions and services possible. And this is despite being told better. They indulge in PayPal, eBay, FaceBook, DRM, MySpace, and on-line shopping. All of which suck...

No news, but no snooze

Two things piqued my interest recently. One was the iPlayer protests at the BBC, the other was the Wiki tracker project. More specifically, it was the reporting of these events. In the case of the former, it went virtually unreported and made me proud of our independent and open news sources and reporting network. The latter highlighted (again) the many issues of user-generated content. Is there a half-way house?

An open proposal for Microsoft open source certification

Microsoft. Open-Source Certification. This is not an April Fools, apparently. According to various news feeds (this was brought to my attention from PCWorld, but YMMV as these stories are periodic) they will be submitting some of their "shared source" licenses to the OSI. This is genuinely fantastic news, as after years of FUDing us around, they finally admit that Open Source exists, is a good thing, non-cancerous, and something with which they want to get involved. It's also very flattering, because since they're submitting to the OSI it tells us that they acknowledge the term "Open Source" (and by its implication "Free Software") and that its definition is vested and controlled. By someone else.

But now they've built the bridge, they need to know how to cross it. There's a cultural divide that has been fostered through the years. So listen up Microsoft, this is your next step in allowing shared source to become compatible with FOSS licenses and - more importantly - its inherent ideals!

The LUG is dead - Long live the soulless marketing corporate junket

I can still remember my first LUG meeting; the Greater London Linux User Group at the GND building, London. I met developers, end users, geeks, sysadmins, and a magazine editor who, although neither of us knew it at the time, would later publish my first articles on Linux. These were people with intelligence, soul, and consideration. I had finally found a like-minded milieu for my free software tendancies.

To contrast, in my capacity as the local “geek about town”, I recently attended a one-off event intended to bring together the local geek community to examine the future of the Web 2.0 technology platform. Of all the people present I met only three geeks. Everyone else was a corporate schill wanting to tell me of how their corporate strategy was going to change the face of Web 2.0. Or a marketroid relentless pushing their closed-source buzzword-compliant platform. Or bourgeois recruiters intent solely on badmouthing every employer they didn’t represent. Or a hanger-on, desperate for free beer. Alas, this was not the first geek event hijacked by corporate import.

So what happened to the community?

You can’t be too careful

Having a web page is probably the most complex of the 'simple' tasks available. The typical process pipeline would begin with DNS, converting a human-friendly name into an IP address, and would be registered through one of the many registrars on the Internet. This IP address would connect, via your ISP's address block, to your public router or load balancer, routing valid traffic (and only the valid traffic) to the appropriate machine on your network. This machine could be a GNU/Linux box, an embedded device, or an arbitrary, standalone, application that just happens to open a suitable port. This machine relies on the server software and (sometimes) the underlying operating system to determine which files are available to which users.

And at every stage there's software involved that could be bugged, broken, or suffering planet-sized security flaws. Each configuration file gives an opportunity for human error, opening the holes wider. Every registration service discloses a little more of your private information to the general public. With so many steps involved, is it any wonder that problems exist?

Ideas for patent reform

Usually, I use this spot to rant about something, or someone that's riled me up in some way. My lack of discussion on software patents doesn't mean I agree with them, it's just that everyone else has been doing it. I couldn't see why I should do so and be seen as just another blogger with nothing better to do with my time.

Someone that has plenty of things to do with their time is Simon Phipps. He was brought into Sun to work up their Open Source strategy, and was instrumental in getting Java released under the GPL. And he still has enough energy left to be a great speaker. I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing him talk last night, where he introduced his ideas for software patent form. Let's face it - software patents are going to happen, so we might as well be constructive about it and guide it in the right direction, so it can be implemented in a manner with which we are agreeable.

A week with Windows

As a GNU/Linux user and developer I rarely get to see how the other half lives. That is, Windows users. So, during my week off work, I had two goals: complete the recording of a music project I’d been working on, and finish as many outstanding (non-Linux-centric) projects as possible... using only Windows. I managed the first without too many problems (now to find a record deal ;) but had some issues on the second. This entry documents those problems, and the lessons to be learnt from it.

Save time – Buy a hard drive pre-loaded with porn!

A new hard drive manufacturer, Sextor, is entering the market (pardon the pun!) by pre-loading all of it’s 120+ gig drives with porn and music MP3s to save users the time and effort in downloading them.

The announcement, made earlier today, says that Sextor will be providing pre-loaded drives as from October 9th 2007 in three different flavours, general porn, MP3s, and TV shows. A spokesman commented on the decision.

FOSDEM - A Personal Account (with all personal details withheld)

FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in a different country. What follows is my diary of the event, told from a primarily personal and social aspect... but with all personal details withheld to protect the innocent and guilty alike.

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