Opentech Approaches

This year’s Opentech conference is this coming Saturday at ULU. It’s earlier than usual this year, so it might have crept up on you a bit.

I’m speaking at the conference again this year and I’ve been promoted to the main room. I’m on in the 4-5pm session speaking for twenty minutes on “Watching the Press”. I’ll be talking about how the internet makes it easier to keep tabs on the nonsense that the tabloids like to spread. I’ll be pointing out some of the more ridiculous stories that we’ve seen over the last few years and encouraging the audience to get involved in watching the press and raising awareness of its lies.

Over the weekend I’ll publish another post that will contain the slides from the talk along with lots of references to the various things I’ll be covering.

If you’re at the conference (and I highly recommend it) them please come up and say hello.

Opentech 2008

I spent yesterday at Opentech. I had a great time there. Here are my thoughts on the talks that I saw.

Rembrandt, Pr0n and Robot Monkeys: Lessons From the Present About Flesh and Technology – Kim Plowright
This could have been interesting, but I think it was somewhat constrained by the short time allocated. It seemed to be a rather disjointed amble through a bit of history and a look at people see their physical bodies in cyberspace.

Living with Chaos: Why Nothing is Simple in IT – Simon Wardley
If you’ve been following Simon’s blog, then you’ll be familiar with his view of the commoditisation of software. Somehow, I’ve missed seeing him giving his talks on the subject over  the last couple of years, so it was nice to finally see one. Again, this would have benefited from a longer timeslot – but I think that’ll be a common complaint as I go through the day.

What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Future – Matt Webb
Exploring the early history of the science of cybernetics and pointing out some surprising coincidences and some interesting comparisons with today. Matt is always interesting and I’d love to read more about this subject.

Here’s The UK EFF – Becky Hogge and Danny O’Brien
The Open Rights Group was formed out of a talk that took place at the last Opentech conference in 2005, when a pledge was set up for people to agree to pay £5 a month to support such an organisation. In this talk Becky Hogge and Danny O’Brien (who I didn’t recognise in his full beard) talked about what had happened in the last three years.

Except they didn’t really. Mainly they just asked for money. Apparenlly, of the 1,000 people who signed the original pledge, only about 750 kept their promise are making regular payments. So if you signed the pledge and haven’t set up your standing order then why not do so now? Or, if you didn’t sign the pledge but think that the UK needs a strong organisation campaigning for digital rights, then why not sign up? Or, if you are already making regular payments to them, why not increase the monthly amount? I just did.

Power to the people – one year on from the Power of Information Report
If you’ve see the Show Us A Better Way site, then you’ll know that there’s a growing movement within the UK government to free up public data and make it available in easy to use formats. In this session, various people behind this initiative spoke about how they’ve got to the current situation and where they hope to go next. It’s great to see this amount of data coming from the civil service and it seems that the best way to encourage them is to use the dat ato create really cool things. You can find out more about the Power of Information team, by reading their blog.

3 Years of OpenStreetMap -Nick Black
It’s been a while since I last looked at OpenStreetMap. And it looks like they’ve come a long way in a relatively short time.
Many of their maps now look really impressive. I shall be watching them far more closely in the future. I may even edit the occasional map.

Opening Data – Rufus Pollack
The Open Knowledge Foundation exist to promote the sharing of knowledge and data. They have a repository called CKAN (modelled on the Perl repository CPAN) where you can share any useful data that you have. Looks very interesting.

Planning Alerts – Duncan Parkes
I already knew about the planning alerts project. It’s one of the those ideas that seems simple and obvious – but no-one had thought of it until recently. You go to their site, give them your post code and email address and they send you regular messages about planning applications in your area. I signed up a few months ago, but I only get alerts from Lambeth (about 300 metres to the east of my house) as they don’t yet have a parser to extract data from the Wandsworth Council site. They asked for help with missing councils. I should probaby do that.

Publishing with Microformats – Jeremy Keith
Microformats is one of those areas that I’ve read about and really want to start using. But I haven’t really found a use for them yet. This talk helped a bit as it concentrated on using a couple of microformats (hCard and XFN) to mark up social relationships. I really need to investigate this further.

Information: Rewiring the London Gazette with RDFa – Jeni Tennison
Moving on from microformats, RDFa is a tremendously powerful way to add value to HTML pages. I’m not going to be using this any time soon, but it’s interesting to know it’s possible. And the data set (when it is released) is going to be incredible. Lodon Gazette (Jeni had a URL in her presentation, but I can’t remember it now) is the government’s official newspaper – it contains all of their announcements.

The Bastard Child of Baird and Berners Lee – Tom Loosemore
Tom gave an idea of some of the things he was thinking about just before he left the BBC a year ago. He’s basically talking about creating a network of recording boxes that will record all TV ever broadcast in the UK. Sounds cool – if slightly hamstrung by copyright rules.

Finding Good TV on the Interwebs with RDF and REST – Chris Jackson
Chris introduced URIplay – a project to catalogue and simplify the metadata that is broadcast alongside TV and radio. The idea is to make it easier to track down programmes that you want to watch.

Intro to Hadoop – Tom White
I only went to this by mistake. I turned up early for the Guardian talk. I knew nothing about Hadoop before the talk and I know almost nothing more now. building for the open web – Stephen Dunn and Mat Wall
Stephen and Mat talked about some of the design decisions that went into the recent (and ongoing) rebuild of the Guardian web site. It’s great to see a national media site designed by people who really understand how the web works and who are making an effort to exist within that ecosystem. There were also some interesting hints about the forthcoming Guardian Developer Network

So that’s what I saw. I think I pretty much made the right choices, but with three tracks it’s impossible to see everything you want to see. I heard people saying interesting things about the talk on tracking arms dealers using Python. I also with I could have seen the sessions on MySociety and OpenID. Hopefully there will be slides and video available online soon. I also felt that the “hallway track” was better than ever. Everywhere I went I found myself having interesting conversations with people.

I dashed home at the end in order to watch Doctor Who as soon a possible. I shouldn’t have bothered. What a waste of time that was.

Opentech 2008

The full schedule for Opentech has been announced. There are three tracks of talks and it looks like that I’ll need a couple of clones in order to see everything that I want to see.

The previous Opentech conference (was it really three years ago) was a lot of fun and I fully expect this one to be just as good. Registration is already open (you reserve a place and then pay a fiver on the door) and if previous experience is anything to go by, places will be booked up pretty quickly. I didn’t post this entry until I’d reserved mine :-)

Hope to see some of you there.


BarCampLondon2 Feb 17-18Coo.

There’s a London Barcamp this weekend. I was supposed to be in Brighton this weekend so I didn’t bother trying to get a ticket. My plans have now changed and I’ll be in London. So I thought I’d try to get a ticket.

The web site said that thirty more tickets would be available tomorrow (Thursday). But it’s just let me book one.

Which is nice.

Now… what to speak about?

Update: Ergh. What a weird and unproductive weekend. Didn’t get to BarCamp. Didn’t do the book review I was supposed to be working on. Didn’t achieve anything useful at all.

Sexism in IT

So overnight I was planning another entry that would explain further why I don’t think that “tequila slammer girls” are appropriate entertainment for a professional software conference.

But this morning I read this and this. Pointing out the offence in what Russ Michaels is doing is one thing, but submitting his web server to denial of service attacks and subscribing his wife and him to porn mailing lists is something else completely. That’s not something that I could ever condone. Russ might be a bit of an idiot, but no-one deserves that.

If it’s any of my readers who are perpetrating these attacks then please grow up and stop it.

I’ve removed the original piece (and replaced it with this) to prevent anyone else coming across it in the coming weeks and thinking it would be clever to wreak fuckwitted vengence on Russ or his family.

Why is the world so full of idiots?

Light Bloggage

I’ve just realised that it’s two weeks today that I go off to this year’s YAPC::Europe and I still have two talks to write – one of which is a three hour tutorial. So don’t expect much writing from me over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be far too busy working on other things.

In the meantime, Nik’s series of posts on the benefits of OO programming looks like it’s going to be well worth reading. The first two articles (on data hiding and separation of concerns) are already available and three more will appear over the next few days.

EuroOSCON on the BBC

This week’s edition of the BBC programme Click Online contains a report about EuroOSCON. The transcript is here and the Real Audio stream is here. The programme is repeated a number of times on various BBC channels (mainly News 24) over the next couple of days.

It’s the first report in the programme, but its worth watching the introductory section that precedes it, just to hear presenter Stephen Cole’s slightly patronising comments about Open Source. Oh, and the report describes the conference attendees as looking like the Hair Bear Bunch, but that seems to have been edited out of the transcript for some reason.

It’s good of course that the BBC is covering the Open Source movement, but they still seem to think that we’re a bit of a bunch of weirdos. Perhaps they should have looked at how much Open Source software they use internally before coming to that conclusion. Or maybe that’s how they came to that conclusion…

EuroOSCON Day 3

Late, but I thought it was worth recording what I did on the final day of EuroOSCON.

As always, we started with the keynotes. Marc Heglund talked about privacy issues and the possibility of an “open data” movement. David Heinemeier Hansson talked about the secrets of Ruby on Rails and MySQL’s Kaj Arnö showed us his holiday snaps. Then Luis Casas Luengo gave a very impressive talk on how one area of Portugual is making great use of Open Source Software in education.

The morning’s final keynote was Damian Conway speaking about “Maximizing Non-stakeholder Buy-in by Leveraging Depatented Generic Information Transfer Protocols”. I don’t want to give too much away about this talk, but if you ever get the chance go and see it. You won’t regret it.

After the coffee break I went to see Roger Margoulas talking about Open Source Data Warehouses. Roger builds data warehouses for O’Reilly (I had seen some of his tools in another talk on Tuesday) and he had some really interesting things to say on the subject. Nice to see that in one of his examples he used the Template Toolkit to build an SQL query.

Talks were running a bit late, so I had to rush off to Jouke Visser’s talk about pVoice. I’ve known Jouke for many years and pVoice is a great project which uses Open Source Software to help disabled people.

After lunch I decided on another slightly non-techy talk. Stef Magdalinski is always an entertaining speaker so I decided to go and see him talking about “open sourcing everything”. He was basically looking at a number of knowledge areas and discussing which ones might be amenable to being distributed using a model like Wikipedia.

Then I went to see Johan Vromans talking about his Template Toolkit add-on called TT2Site. This is a simple way to build it web sites using the Template Toolkit. It’s a far simpler approach that the one we talk about in the Badger book. It might be useful if you have a small site to build or maintain.

After another break the conference wound up with Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Freedom Foundation talking about what the European Broadcast Flag plans could mean for the sharing of information. It’s a frightening prospect.

So the conference ended. I stood around in the corridor for a while talking to various people before heading back to my hotel. In the evening, the Amsterdam Perl Mongers had organised a special meeting so a number of us went off to that. Much fun had by all.

All in all a great conference. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a OSCON and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed them. This was a bit of an experiment for O’Reilly and I hope they think it was a success and organise another one next year.

Thanks to Nat, Gina and all of the conference team for organising.