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LCA2010 CfP closes this Friday

I should have mentioned this weeks ago, but: the call for papers for linux.conf.au 2010 is now open. And it closes this Friday in fact.

LCA next year will be held January 18-23 in Wellington, New Zealand. LCA is a community-organised conference that treats its speakers well and is consequently one of the most competitive to get accepted into. It’s an awesome week and will definitely make a highlight on your geek calendar.

One of the topics they “welcome proposals” on is: Free Software and Free Culture topics, including licencing and Free and Open approaches outside software.

Top 5 reasons to speak at LCA:

  1. Mako is keynoting.
  2. It’s harder to get into than OSCON. (Or so I’ve heard.) You will feel like a bona-fide superstar (at least until you see who the other speakers are).
  3. Educate the southern hemisphere about your awesome project and pick up some antipodean recruits.
  4. You get to meet free software leaders from across Australia and New Zealand with a healthy sprinkling of enlightened northern hemisphere attendees.
  5. Enjoy it all in New Zealand’s cultural capital. January is the height of winter in the northern hemisphere, right? The average high in Wellington in January is 19deg C (67deg F) which uh… actually doesn’t sound that warm to me for summer, but compared to a winter temp it probably would.

I even have a tiny particle of influence this year as I am on the papers ctte. Not enough to single-handedly ensure any particular paper is accepted, but feel free to submit things that interest me, and I will happily enthuse about them. :)

19 July, 2009 •

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Tech conference CFP season

The 2009 OSDC CfP is closing on 30th June. So you’ve got about two weeks left to get your act together. This year the Open Source Developers’ Conference will be held in November in Brisbane.

Secondly the 2010 LCA call for miniconf proposals is now open. This year, there will be 12 and they will all be one day long (previously half-day or two-day proposals were also accepted). I think this is for the best — one day is pretty much the right amount of time to fill.

Last year I ran the Free as in Freedom miniconf which was successful in its own right. I am pondering whether or not to propose it again. At the moment I am leaning towards no, because it would be rather a lot of work, especially as I’m not particularly familiar with the New Zealand situation (linux.conf.au will be in Wellington). OTOH maybe that is a good opportunity to find out what’s going on in NZ. I’ve got about four weeks to give it some thought.

I am also on the programme committee for this year’s LCA which will be a new and exciting experience. :)

16 June, 2009 • , ,

Comment [2]

Media handling on Wikimedia: Preview the future! (part 2)

Please read the start of part 1 to find out how you can try out these features too!

OK so part 2 is about in-browser video transcoding. So…what does all that jargon mean and why should you care?

Just as image files come in different formats (BMP vs JPG vs TIFF vs PNG vs SVG vs …), so too do videos. In fact it’s rather more complicated because there’s these things called codecs. As far as I understand it, different codecs are different methods of compressing audio/video – codes that say how to pack the raw (and huge) audio/video file in a particular way to save space. But because each codec has its own particular way, you need to unpack it in that same particular way otherwise your computer won’t be able to understand it, and you won’t be able to play the file. MP3 is an audio codec. MPEG-2/3/4 are video codecs.

Unfortunately it’s not even as simple as equating file format == codec, because some file formats are “container formats”. AVI and OGG are container formats, and it means that inside, the audio/video can be encoded in a variety of different codecs. So basically it’s more pain.

Now some codecs seem free, but some codecs really are Free, and hopefully this coincides with being patent-free so no one will sue you just for using them. The Wikimedia Foundation, bless their cotton socks, recognise through their Values statement the importance of free formats and codecs:

An essential part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission is encouraging the development of free-content educational resources that may be created, used, and reused by the entire human community. We believe that this mission requires thriving open formats and open standards on the web to allow the creation of content not subject to restrictions on creation, use, and reuse.

Consequently, Wikimedia Commons has a policy on which file types may be used:

Patent-encumbered file formats like MP3, AAC, WMA, MPEG, AVI and the like are not accepted at Wikimedia Commons. Our mission requires content to be freely redistributable to all. Patent-encumbered formats fail to meet this standard.

So what is allowed? For audio/video, it comes down to Ogg container format with Ogg Speex/FLAC/Vorbis (audio) and Ogg Theora (video) inside. Yay Ogg! There’s only one tiny problem… no Windows software plays anything Ogg by default, no recording devices produce Ogg files by default, and this means users have to convert their files before uploading. Blah! What a hassle! Why can’t using free software and free formats be easy?!? (I’m not being facetious… I half know what I’m doing and it’s still a pain.)

Well, soon things are going to get a whole lot better: with Firefox 3.1, due next month in February, by default Firefox will support Ogg Theora. That means you’ll be able to play Ogg video in your browser without any extra software.

But even better: someone has written an extension called Firefogg which will transcode a file for you when you upload it. So, if you have Firefox 3.1+, and you have the Firefogg extension, and you come to a site that only accepts Ogg and you have a something-else file, now you just need to upload it as normal and Firefogg will convert the file for you before uploading it to the site.

I don’t know about you but I think that’s some serious genius. And Michael Dale has an implementation of it for Wikimedia Commons! Here’s what it looks like:

So we make it to the Commons upload form, and notice a new option saying “Enable video converter”. So if we tick that…

… then we can choose some random video format (in this case, AVI). And instead of just uploading, it will do transcoding (converting the format) and then uploading.

So, transcoding:

And, uploading! (Nice to get progress meters “for free” with this extension)

And… wala! Here’s my uploaded file, now in Ogg format, and playing using just the browser because that’s how awesome Firefox 3.1 is going to be.

As it transcodes, it also writes a copy of the final Ogg file next to your original file – handy to have both around.

One of my favourite things about this is that it removes the need for me to figure out all the configuration options in transcoding files. There’s so many and figuring out the optimum ones can be very tedious. With Firefogg, the site that is accepting the Ogg file tells your browser what settings it wants you to use — and you don’t have to see or deal with any of it! Total win. :)

So, to recap, how you can play with this awesomeness:

  1. Add this to your /monobook.js: importScriptURI('http://mvbox2.cse.ucsc.edu/w/extensions/MetavidWiki/skins/add_media_wizard.js'); (like this)
  2. Install the Firefox 3.1 beta (…or wait til February and it won’t be beta anymore)
  3. Install the Firefogg extension for Firefox
  4. Go and upload videos with the greatest of ease!

Again this is something I hope that will become available as a Gadget for people’s user preferences, so if you like to experiment a bit please do so and report back, so it can be stable enough by the time Firefox 3.1 is released to be a Gadget for everyone.

Long live the Ogg! :D

28 January, 2009 • , , ,

Comment [6]

Media handling on Wikimedia: Preview the future! (part 1)

So at LCA I was able to catch up with Michael Dale, who is doing some very interesting video work for the Wikimedia Foundation. Michael was talking about his development work, as well as taking part in the Foundations of Open Media Workshop which is collocated with LCA.

I had noticed some recent posts by Michael to the mailing lists inviting people to trial some new features he was working on, so after his talk I cornered him to get a personal demo and make sure I didn’t miss anything. :)

There are two separate features that are bundled together in the demo: one is an in-browser video transcoder, and the other is a cool add-media wizard. The add-media wizard works on Firefox right now, while the video transcoder needs just a couple of extra steps, so I will cover the add-media wizard first.

First of all, go to your user monobook.js subpage on whichever wiki you want to try this on. Mine, on Wikimedia Commons, is at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Pfctdayelise/monobook.js. Edit it and add this line:


(note the trailing semi-colon)

Do a shift-refresh, and then open a page for editing. If you’ve cleared your cache you will see a new little icon above the edit box, at the far left:

To my mind it looks a bit like the Ubuntu icon, but I think it’s actually a film reel with a plus symbol. :)

So if you click it, you will get a box coming up with some thumbnails of images, searching on whatever the name of the page you edited was.

So what we get is some thumbnails from an image search, and we can see different tabs for different media archive sources. At the moment there is just Wikimedia Commons and Metavid. Obviously we could add other license-suitable archives as we become aware of them (eg Flickr’s CC-BY and CC-BY-SA images). Currently it mixes together all media types.

So, let’s choose one…

Now I can write a caption, and either preview the insert, insert it directly, or cancel the insert. This is what the preview looks like:

Note the “preview” notice at the top of the drop box, and at the bottom the options “Do insert” or “Do more modification”. Hmm, so what was that crop option?

Clicking on the “Crop image” option gives a “box drawing” cursor where we can draw a box over the image to choose what crap we want. Everything not in the crop is shadowed.

So how does this crop actually work? At the moment, it relies on a template called Preview Crop. So if you’re testing this feature out, check that your wiki has that template. In the future, hopefully crop functionality could be added directly to the MediaWiki image syntax, so it might be equivalent to something like [[Image:Foo.jpg|crop,10,10,120,150|thumb]] or something. For now, you need the template.

And… it works! :)

So that is the add-media wizard. If it is very well designed, it may remove the need to search Wikimedia Commons separately to writing your Wiki* article. (I mean, it wouldn’t be hard to improve on the default search.) It would be neat to integrate some of the features from Mayflower, including hover-over indication of license, description and metadata, and advanced search options such as searching by file type.

A few more things:

That’s about it for now; I will cover the in-browser video transcoder in a second post. If you think it looks interesting I encourage you to try it out, and report any problems or suggestions you have. Or if you have no problems: that’s also good to know! If a few more people try it out in its current form, I think it would be a great thing to enable as a Gadget then people can easily choose to use it by turning it on in their preferences. Ultimately it may even be best as a default thing turned on for everyone, by being integrated into MediaWiki core.

28 January, 2009 • , ,


Free as in Freedom miniconf recap + slides

All Slideshare slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/event/free-as-in-freedom-miniconf-linuxconfau-2009/slideshows and you can also download plain pdf slides if you like. They’re all available under the CC-BY-SA license.

Video has not yet been released but I will post again when it is available. Thanks to Ross Turk for letting us use his equipment, and Hamish Taylor for filming – it’s very, very much appreciated.

If you attended, and you took pictures of any of my speakers and published them on the web, let me know and I will add links to my photos page. Also, if you attended, I would appreciate it if you could take the time to fill out my feedback survey. It’s short and anonymous.

First up was Arthur Sale talking about open access and progress in Australian universities under the “green road”. He explained that the only way to make open access a reality is through a “distributed” model of institutional repositories (IR), because it’s the institutions that employ the researchers and thus have the power to mandate something.

Students or researchers in universities might be interested in checking out the Wheeler declaration, and finding ways to pressure their university to adopt an OA mandate.

Next up was Laura Simes on future directions for copyright law, which looked at the mixed messages we are getting at the moment from the government, with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement looking like a disguised booby trap on one hand, and the encouraging words from the National Innovation Review, and other government departments exploring the use of free licensing, on the other. ACTA is far from dead, so if you’re interested in the topic I would suggest keeping your ears out for ways to help oppose it, over the coming year.

Next up was Matthew Landauer on his project OpenAustralia. This was a repeat from OSDC and a popular one at that. What a great project – powerful idea and open source. Hopefully more good news will be coming from that direction in 2009.

After Matthew was Liam Wyatt with Gratis & Libre, talking about ways that “free as in freedom” has been restricted in history: restricting access, censorship and destruction. I particularly like slide 19 in his set: it shows decaying film rolls. To copy them for the purpose of archiving would be illegal because they are copyrighted, but without being copied they are doomed to destruction through physical decay. His talk went over surprisingly well, given how technical LCA usually is — guess there are a number of history geeks amongst us too.

Last one before lunch was Jessica Coates with Freedom Fighting: How do we convince TPTB to relax their grip?. Jessica put this together virtually at my direct suggestion, because I know Creative Commons Australia has done lots of excellent quiet lobbying with government departments in particular. Just look at the ABS decision to put everything CC-BY. Government departments just don’t make awesome decisions like that all by themselves. :) So if you’d like to do a bit of lobbying for your cause, this talk should be helpful.

Heading up the afternoon sessions was Sarah Stokely on citizen journalism. She pointed out some of the pitfalls for online journos and also the great potential for society that citizen journalism as an activity has.

Next up, not too surprisingly the room was packed for one of the “star” speakers, Jeff Waugh’s We are the translators!. So, it was hilarious and pointed, like all good Jeff Waugh talks, and I think his take-home message was that we (at the conference) have awesome freedom, but others may not be so lucky, and we should take on the responsibility of helping others realise the dangers of closed systems. Like when you discover too late, that

After Jeff was another hit session, Simon Greener on Free and open geodata in Australia. This was a great “cliff’s notes” introduction to what geodata refers to, who the providers in Australia are, and a number of open source or open source-like projects in Australia to extend such collections. Simon has many years experience in this field and it really showed in his talk. He spend some time talking about accuracy, and was critical of projects such as OpenStreetMap for re-creating road networks from scratch, instead of concentrating on what he saw as more useful — Point of Interest (POI) data. He skipped over the section in his slides on licensing, since time was short and that part would be generally well known. I think the technical detail in this talk was particularly appreciated by the audience.

Second-last to the plate was Claudine Chionh on Public history in the digital age. She talked about two projects that she works on, Founders and Survivors which is about connecting family history with convicts records, and a yet-to-be-launched wiki-based project on Goulburn Valley local history. (I found out that I was born in the Goulburn Valley, so I can add that vital info when it launches ;), but I only lived there for a few months as an infant.) The Founders and Survivors project has a write up in the paper today which is an interesting read.

Last, but certainly not least was another “star” speaker, Rusty Russell on Free as in Market. It was an angsty rant on the joys of property rights, about how the definition of IP was “digital cropburning” (destruction of rights), ending with an interpretive dance on software patents.

Finally a few hung around for the promise of prizes, with Freedom Bingo. Since I made people make their own bingo boards, it was a bit shabbily run, but we got there in the end and prizes were duly distributed. I hope the chaps who won books (1, 2, 3, 4) read them, enjoy them and then share them, and I hope the guy who won Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, well, I hope he likes samples. :)

Thank you to: all my speakers. Thank you for the awesome work you do for your projects, and thank you for your willingness to come to LCA and spread the word. Many of you I forcefully recruited, and thanks for your willlingness to be so recruited.
Thank you to Nick Jenkins, Donna Benjamin and Rusty Russell for encouraging me to run this. Thank you to the LCA organisers to accepting it, and thank you to the audience members who came along.

If you didn’t get to make it, please check out the slides, check out the video (when it arrives), and help these ideas spread!

(PS. You can read about the rest of my LCA on my new and geekier blog, techiturn.)

26 January, 2009 • , ,


LCA Free as in Freedom miniconf three days away!

Gosh, it’s been a month since I posted. That wasn’t quite supposed to happen…

I owe Packt Publishing a book review. I thought I would review their MediaWiki skins book by trying to use it to create a skin. But that wasn’t very smart because it’s still a substantial amount of time and faffing around making CSS work as intended and such. So I tried to say I wouldn’t post until I wrote that review, but that hasn’t quite worked, because now LCA is next week. So I will put my self-imposed posting boycott on hold until LCA is over, and then hopefully write my bloody review.

So, briefly…

Fun times!

16 January, 2009 •


Free as in Freedom miniconf schedule released

I’m happy to say that the Free as in Freedom LCA miniconf schedule has been finalised. I’ve copied it below. (The definitive version is here)

I think the lineup is a good mix of LCA “regulars” and outsiders — well, maybe half the speakers are people who would not think to attend LCA, I guess. So for that I am glad, because that kind of crossover/multidisciplinary area where the most interesting ideas are often found, IMO. When we are exposed to other fields outside our own, we can see which patterns we are familiar with are actually very general, and which are specific. It helps stop us from thinking that we are encountering everything for the first time ever.

I’m so excited to have such a wonderful range of speakers. I can’t wait!!

11 December, 2008 • ,


LCA Free as in Freedom miniconf speakers get free miniconf day passes

I have excellent news. Miniconf speakers will be able to get free day passes to attend the miniconf days (Monday & Tuesday) of the linux.conf.au (LCA) conference. (LCA is Australia’s national, technical Linux + open source software conference. Miniconfs are semi-independent themed events held before the main conference.) This is great if you are interested in sharing your passion with a freedom-loving techy audience, but not so interested in the intricacies of Linux and free software yourself.

Of course, if you are interested in such intricacies, then you should register for an Early-bird ticket now. These will last until November 3rd or sold out.

So… if the Free as in Freedom Call for Participation has caught your eye, weigh up your options — consider just attending the miniconfs, for free — and make a submission ASAP!

(P.S. At the moment I am pretty much just trying to arrange my dream event, but I will undoubtedly forget awesome people and groups that are totally relevant. If you know of some in Australia that would suit this event, please leave me a comment or email me and remind me… just to be sure. :)

23 October, 2008 • ,


'Free as in Freedom' miniconf Call for Participation (CfP)

Are the original ideals that motivated the free software movement still relevant today? What makes Wikipedia a truly “free” encyclopedia? How are governments licensing public sector information? Is having an “open source” Facebook or Skype important? How do the current copyright and patents systems affect innovation and digital culture? How can educational resources be pooled and shared more effectively? Does citizen journalism matter? How are open access policies changing academic publishing? What are the potential pitfalls of all these trends towards “openness”?

The Free as in Freedom miniconf, running for the first time in January 2009 at Linux.conf.au in Hobart, Tasmania, invites speakers to answer these questions, and more.


Sessions are invited on any of the following topics, or related ones that you may devise:

This is not a comprehensive list – talks on related topics are also encouraged. Talks may be overviews, case studies, stories of personal experience, etc. They may be focused on technical, legal or social/community aspects, or a mix. Talks that relate multiple topics are especially welcome.


Submissions are welcome for 25 or 50 minute slots (including question time). If there is sufficient interest a lightning session of 5 minute presentations may also be held.

Presenters are encouraged to publish and license any submission and/or their slides under a free content license, e.g. CC-BY-SA, CC-BY, public domain dedication.

Important: Please note that in order to give a presentation or attend the miniconf you must be signed up for the main Linux.conf.au conference. Presenting at the miniconf does not entitle you to discounted or free registration at the main conference nor priority with registration.


Making a submission

Email submissions@freeasinfreedom.modernthings.org with the subject “Free as in Freedom miniconf” or similar. In the email please include

Submissions made by October 31st will be notified by November 7th. Submissions made between October 31st and November 10th will be notified by November 20th.

Further information

See http://freeasinfreedom.modernthings.org/ for further information and updates.

Any unanswered questions can be asked via contact@freeasinfreedom.modernthings.org.

Thank you dear speakers!

06 October, 2008 • ,


Free as in Freedom LCA miniconf accepted!

Yay! I am well excited that my miniconf proposal for LCA was accepted. Now I get to organise one day of speakers under the banner of Free as in Freedom. (LCA is Australia’s Linux conference, and one of the biggest worldwide.)

From the LCA09 team’s press release:

LCA miniconferences have become a feature of Linux.conf.au, giving passionate members of the open source community a chance to collaborate and build momentum and interest on specific areas in open source.

The Linux.conf.au papers committee selected the best miniconfs from a number of wide-ranging areas at their annual selections panel meeting this week. The successful miniconferences will be (in no particular order):

The miniconfs will run two days before the main conference on the 19th and 20th of January 2009, and will provide delegates with a chance to mingle with recognised experts in each of the areas covered by the miniconfs.

“The Business of Open Source Software” is another brand-new miniconf and I will be really interested to see what it holds. I also like that the MySQL miniconf has morphed into a general databases miniconf; I’d like to see something SQLite-ish. Multimedia will also likely grab my attention, and Sysadmin and LinuxChix will be their usual interesting selves, too.

From my submission:

The phrase “Free as in Freedom” reveals the heart of the free software movement as the desire to create a better society by sharing information. In the case of software, that information is code. Prominent causes underway today have taken their cue from the free software movement: from the idea of improving society by sharing information. We have much to learn about each other’s successes and failures.

This miniconf is about acknowledging the connections between the free software movement and the movements it has inspired, and learning about our various successes and setbacks. In short, it is about Sharing.

Now to write a CfP. :)

22 September, 2008 • ,


Who's behind Wikipedia?

I wrote previously about my talk “Who’s behind Wikipedia?” at LCA. Now you can read the article equivalent. Woot. :)

06 February, 2008 •

Comment [1]

LCA Open Day

Setting up for Open Day.
© Paul Fenwick, licensed CC-BY-SA

Well, Saturday was the last part of LCAOpen Day. I had a table on Wiki[mp]edia with Brian who kindly volunteered to help me out.

We gave away:

We gave out around 90 of each of these things, and over 120 of the leaflets.

I looked for promo material on all the projects, but Wikipedia and Wikiversity were the only projects that had anything decent that appeared to be even remotely up-to-date. We communities really need to do some work on this…

We also sold around 80-90 of DVDs containing the 2007 Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year zip, which added up to about 1.2G of data. I should have put the 2006 archive on them too. Too late now… Anyway we sold these for $1.50, as that is what getting the discs made cost me. I will more or less get completely reimbursed for the free stuff.

Brian brought his laptop and had a slideshow of the images on the disc running, which worked very well. I had my laptop open with Wikipedia on it.

Wiki[mp]edia’s Open Day stand.
© Paul Fenwick, licensed CC-BY-SA

Talking to people was interesting. Lots of people said “I love Wikipedia, I use it all the time” to which I would immediately reply, “Have you ever edited it?” Two people said back, “I would, but I’ve never found anything wrong to correct”. That’s really interesting; not long ago, I would never expect that response.

A couple of people had edited Wikipedia and had some anecdote to share. They got to a point where they wanted to do something and weren’t sure what to do or how to find it out, so they left it. So it was nice that Brian and I could answer some questions.

One case was about negative material being removed from an article on a school. The guy had never bothered to pay attention to the tabs at the top of articles and had therefore never realised that each article had a “history” tab. (!!) Clearly we have to do some better PR, because this is one of the most important aspects to Wikipedia…

Another was about missing entries on languages spoken in Indonesia. With that, I said to the guy, “Hey, let’s start the articles right now,” and so we did. :) (Because he doesn’t have an account, this way he can edit them – you need an account to start a new article, but not to edit it.) I hope he does go and improve them now. That will be cool.

Wikipedia lightning talk.
© Paul Fenwick, licensed CC-BY-SA

Paul, who took this photo, talked me into giving a lightning talk on Wikipedia. This is a talk with a three minute time limit. I gave an example of an edit war via slides – color/colour/color/colour/color/colour/color/colour/color. This is nice; Australians understand how this would be a unresolvable conflict. :)At the end I gave a plug for Wikimedia Australia.

Afterwards Brian and I had a cool drink at a cafe and discussed conferences and organisation organisation. LCA is the second example I’ve experienced of a well-run volunteer-coordinated large-scale conference (after Wikimania ’07), so I have a new set of ideas and tips filed away in the back of my mind for when we try it on for Wikimania. :)

My current thinking goes like this:

The workshop idea was influenced by talking to Dutch Wikipedian Ciell, who has been travelling in Australia and with whom I had dinner last Tuesday. However the tyranny of distance may still be too great for it to work here. I am not sure the community is actually large enough yet.

03 February, 2008 •


LCA Friday

Today, Friday, was the last day of the LCA programme. Tomorrow is the Open Day which is the “real” last day I suppose.

I stayed up too late last night and consequently slept in this morning, missing the keynote on Python. Grr! However I reasoned that the keynotes have a much higher certainty than normal for actually getting video to appear at some stage, so I think it will be OK.

Here’s what I did see:

Then there was lightning talks. I hope the video of them surfaces, because they were quite good. 3 minutes was even far too long for some of them. Paul gave a great talk, perfect timing at 2’50’‘, talking about using Greasemonkey with Firefox and how you can use the script Myspace for unsocial fascist bastards to remove almost everything from the Myspace front page except for the login box. This received a well-deserved and resounding round of applause. :)

And LCA 2009 will be held in Tassie. Very good!

Then there was sitting around for ages waiting for the “Google party” to kick in, which was in fact the “Google barbie”, not party. It was OK.

Whenever I introduced myself to people I would mention Wikimedia and excuse myself for not being that involved in FLOSS development. Then if we got talking about jobs I would mention I was using Prolog and people would be much more interested. I forget that 1) Prolog is really interesting because many people learn it at uni but few use it in industry, and 2) most people that come to LCA are geeks who find that OSS enables their geeking-out, as opposed to freedom-loving geeks who find closed source projects inherently uninteresting. I don’t think there is really a way for the project I work on to be open-sourced. It’s a nice daydream though…

Notes on Kimberlee Weatherall’s legal talk:

Given all the things going on I was a bit non-plussed that she still recommended everyone just sit back and code. But I would probably never make that recommendation, so perhaps it is not a fair comment. :)

01 February, 2008 •


LCA Thursday

Thursday was the second day of LCA proper.


Reminder to self: don’t forget to check out l10n and Parrot.

Big rec for today would be “Memory-efficient and fast websites – pick two”. Afterwards I got talking to the guy next to me who does some Django development, since I am planning to try and learn that sometime this year.

Also, my laptop is so noisy that running it during a talk made all the people next to me look at me :( Definite FAIL.

I forgot to mention yesterday the surprise that they gave out about a dozen OLPC laptops to conference attendees, I think there was some small proviso that they had to use them and report back about certain things. OLPC has quite a presence here. Apparently they are trying to get some into Australian primary schools? Not sure about the details. The ultra mini Asus Ee(e?) PCs are also a big hit here.

It’s interesting how simple constraints seem to create new opportunities and new markets. Less is more!

I also wonder a little bit why OLPC appear to be trying so hard to win us over. I think we are already won over. We being open source geeks.

01 February, 2008 •


LCA Wednesday

Wednesday was the first day of the main conference.

Note how slides and video recordings have already started appearing, and the conference isn’t even over yet! All conference organisers ever, this is how to it oughtta be done!

So I went to

And then for the “penguin dinner” instead of something formal we all went to the Night Market at Queen Vic Markets and they gave us little vouchers for food. It was a pretty cool idea, well-executed and I can imagine most attendees felt more comfortable there than at a formal sit-down dinner.

And I found a third Wiki*edian, besides me and Nick. :) Isaac from a previous Melbourne meetup.

So, some things.

Lunch was great, as it happened we were all vegetarian. :D We had some good discussion about licenses, freedoms, wiki*edia, what CCau does and doesn’t do, their relationship with Creative Commons proper, the recent LoC/FLickr partnership. They were quite open to hearing criticism. I left further convinced of two things:

  1. Jessica and Rachel are lovely and interesting people that will be useful to know
  2. CC is useful for Wikimedia up to a certain point, and it is in both our interests to push up to that point.

On the way out after the OLPC talk I ran into one of my old lecturers who had snuck in to see it. :) We talked for a few minutes as the conference attendees streamed out to afternoon tea. He commented on his surprise at seeing so few suits-types — it’s basically all just people in t-shirts and shorts — and asked if I noticed how male-dominated it was. He guessed it was less than 10%, maybe 5% female. I’m not sure on the official stats.

At the first morning tea, I really noticed it (especially after leading the LinuxChix miniconf which was maybe 1/2 to 2/3 women). It was just really…whoa…. there are so many guys here. Way, way more compared to my maths classes, my compsci classes, my cycling events, and my (one) Wikimania conferences.

So I don’t really have a point to make about this, except for the first time I did feel really, REALLY outnumbered.

At the dinner I got talking a bit with a guy from WA about Wikipedia, and I told him he should go to the Perth meetups. He asked me if it “degenerated” into personal stuff or stayed on technical topics, and I said not typically, no, a bit puzzled. He said something like, “You know those t-shirts that say ‘fuck off, I have enough friends’? I need one of those”. To which I responded “So why are you here?”

Because let’s face it, you could learn much more from a man page than from a typical conference talk, so saying you’re just here for the “technical” is a bit of non-sequitor in my book.

Perhaps I was a bit more blunt than I intended, because he got up and left about ten seconds after that. But I am not sure I have much further conversation to have with someone so blatantly anti-social, so perhaps it was no bad thing.

31 January, 2008 •


linux.conf.au LinuxChix miniconf

Woot, today was the LinuxChix miniconf of linux.conf.au (LCA), one of the three big free software related conferences held around the world each year.

I spoke on Wikipedia (duh), giving a kind of second-level introduction aimed at cutting through bureaucracy by explaining what was important and what could wait until later. I always used to think I had to read all the relevant policies and guidelines before I did anything. So I would spend hours pouring over MoS pages and the like before even writing a paragraph.

Later I got much more relaxed about it and figured, correctly, that someone else would clean it up to conform to MoS if it really bothered them that much (and evidently it does, or else it’s easier to make automated changes that relate to formatting than actual content).

In a nice surprise I saw Nick Jenkins, who I didn’t realise was attending LCA. He took notes on my speech and they’re probably better than mine so I recommend reading those. :) You can also read my slides from Wikimedia Commons.

There was lots of video going on and I will link it up whenever I see it published.

Stormy Peters gave a great talk about community managers. As I listened to her talk I realised… I am a community manager. All the things she mentioned are exactly the things I do in Wikimedia, mostly for Wikimedia Commons. How interesting.

Heaps of interesting people at LCA, and interesting talks. In the unlikely event that you are reading this and also attending LCA, come and say hi. It looks like I will be attending a lot (like, six or so) talks relating to multimedia and Ogg and so on. Well if it’s that or kernel hacking… :)

+ Photo from Mary of me musing during my talk. “Is Wikipedia run by Wikia… let me think…”

29 January, 2008 • , ,


Philip Greenspun illustration project and misc. notes

(Jimmy caption contest?) © Philip Bachmann, CC-BY-2.5


Is anyone else refreshing Wikimedia pages all the time just to read new donor quotes? It’s a cool way of keeping Wikimedians interested – who have to see the banners more than anyone else, after all. Despite some initial hiccups, it now seems to be going very smoothly and the video is helping to get quite a bit of interest. But the burning question remains unanswered – do pick-up lines from Wikipedia actually work?! (Perhaps he meant Wikiquote?)


Apparently a Flickr image of mine has been used in something called Schmap!! Melbourne. It’s like Google maps + Flickr geotagged images + tourist writeups. It’s not a particularly interesting or good image, but it does have half the word “Melbourne” in it. That counts for something I suppose.


Audiophile, an “audio portal/listening library”, was announced a few weeks ago, and is looking for contributors, especially “young and emerging producers”. Their default license is CC-BY-NC-SA. Sigh.

Libre Graphics Meeting

The third Libre Graphics Meeting is being held in Wrocław, Poland in May 2008. It’s “free to attend, and open to all”. I know there are some talented and dedicated SVG editors at Wikimedia Commons, so I certainly hope some of them will be representing. :)

Wikijunior roundup

Randy Wilson wrote an interesting round-up of Wikijunior, a project within Wikibooks to create children’s books. Their work is different to most Wikimedia projects, in that their intended audience would not be the ones writing the material.


My submission for LCA’s LinuxChix miniconf, “Who’s Behind Wikipedia?”, was accepted. That will be January 29th, 2008. The idea for it came about when I went to the Freebase meetup and we ended up talking about people’s experiences editing Wikipedia. The good thing is that the audience is geeks, so I won’t have to explain the FLOSS/free-content ethos, or “what is a wiki”, or even “what is Wikipedia”. Likely many geeks have edited Wikipedia at some time, even if it’s just correcting typos. But unless you follow it all closely I imagine it can be difficult to tell what’s consensus and what’s cabal. :) And there are likely to be the odd few that, as Wikipedia Weekly say, “know their RfA from their AfD”, so that will keep me on my toes.

Maybe in the future we could be organised enough to hold a wiki/freecontent miniconf.

A picture is worth a thousand words: the Philip Greenspun illustration project

The Wikimedia Foundation has officially announced their approval of a substantial donation by Mr Greenspun for the specific purpose of funding the creation of illustrations. This is the first time the Foundation has been involved in funding content creation, although related groups like the German chapter have held similar kinds of projects. I’m going to be co-ordinating the project, which is both exciting and scary. If it goes well, it will likely open the door to future “targeted donations” and content creation projects. If it goes well, it will get new people involved in a really global SVG editing community that is open, growing and self-supporting. If it goes well, complex and fundamental topics will gain world-class illustrations to rival any “visual dictionary” or “children’s encyclopedia” and the like. What’s more, those illustrations will be able to be translated with nothing more than a text editor. And they will be free to the world to use however they like.

There are two ways it could go poorly. One way is due to lack of interest, which would be disappointing but not disastrous. The other way is spectacular failure, where the introduction of money into a previously volunteer-only cycle reduces or ruins the motivation of those contributors.

It will be careful path to walk, but we’ll never know if we don’t try.

PS, donate. :)

03 November, 2007 • , , , , ,


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