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It’s the Mad Hackers Tea Party tonight

3D bendy thing - photo courtesy of John HonniballBristol Hackspace has written to us to let us know they’re kicking off their INCUBE8 series this Thursday evening (that’s tonight! Ed.) with The Mad Hackers Tea Party!

In Bristol Hackspace’s own words:

“Mad Hackers Tea Party is an exhibition of some of the bizarre devices Bristol Hackspace has constructed over the past few years. In true hackspace style, much of it is built from parts obtained from skips, Freecycle, charity shops, bargain basements and… John’s loft.”

If you’re at a loose end, we recommend joining them from 7.30 pm until late for for an eccentric evening of the weird and wonderful, complete with bar and food!

BRL hosts RoboWorld Cup 2012

Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over!Earlier this year we reported on Bristol’s successful bid to host the next FIRA RoboWorld Cup (news passim). Further details have now been published by Bristol24-7, which states that this will be the first time the event has ever been held in this country and that it will further boost Bristol’s position as a leader in robotic innovation.

The cup involves robots playing football and basketball, climbing or running a marathon. However, it does have a serious side as the technology developed for the event requires expertise in mechanical, electronic and software engineering, integrating advanced AI, automated control and image processing technology.

The event will be hosted by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and takes place next summer, sandwiched between the Olympics and the Paralympics.

BRL is a collaborative research project by the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England whose mission is to understand the science, engineering and social role of robotics and embedded intelligence.

The Bristol event is being sponsored by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

DfT embraces open source platform and cloud-based hosting

Will wonders never cease? The chief scribe’s jaw dropped wide open when he heard the latest open source news from the depths of Whitehall, particularly as its content runs counter to the usual UK public sector open source news theme. Read on…

According to OSOR, the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has signed a new contract to support its migration to a more flexible and cost-efficient cloud-based open source platform.

The contractor, Kainos, a software company based in London and Northern Ireland, provides advisory and maintenance/support services for the open source platform which runs in a cloud-based environment.

Sioned James, the DfT’s Head of Digital Communications, said: “The main driver was to reduce expenditure, increase flexibility and support the Government drive towards open source and software re-use. Kainos supported us by conducting an independent review of the solution options. We had an idea of what we wanted, but needed expert advice and assurance.”

Migrating to the new OS platform has freed the DfT from the annual cost of an enterprise software licence, while the cloud-based hosting environment offers the flexibility and cost efficiency of being able to scale resources up or down in response to peaks and troughs of website usage.

Ms James added: “We have already moved the Driving Standards Agency onto the same platform and now have the option to do this with other DfT Agency content, including campaign and stand-alone websites, enabling us to make further savings.”

Read the original press release.

Update 13/09/2011: The H reports today that our old friend WordPress forms a significant element of the DfT’s open source platform.

Open source e-book tool reduces paper waste at Italian parliament

The Scriba eBook Maker, an open source tool to create documents for e-readers, is helping to cut down on waste paper in the Italian Parliament, according to OSOR. Senators are increasingly combining smart phones and tablet devices with the Scriba e-document service, offering them a practical access to all kinds of documents.

Scriba eBook Maker publishes documents in the platform independent ePub format, optimising layout and text for each and every display. It also converts documents in other but less e-Reader-friendly formats, including HTML, PDF and XML. “The user experience is much better when documents are published in the ePub format”, say Roberto Battistoni, the main developer on the project, and Carlo Marchetti, head of the Senate’s IT Development Office.

Scriba has been developed in about three months, earlier this year. It is still an experimental service, aiming to reduce the amount of paper circulating within in the Italian Senate. The original idea came from the Senate Press Office, which wanted to offer a service for delivering Senate information and press agencies in eBook format.

Scriba is written in Java and it can be used as a command line utility or offered as an enterprise service, deployed on Tomcat or JBoss application servers. The tool now creates eBooks in ePub, Zip and will soon also produce Kindle formats.

City of Bregenz reduces costs with open source VoIP telephone system

Telephone answering machineThe Austrian City of Bregenz has changed its entire telephone infrastructure using a new open source and IP-based telephone system provided by an Austrian software company, OSOR reports. As a result, it has made substantial savings. Since autumn 2010, more than 250 city council employees have been using the system at 10 different locations across Bregenz.

The new system, which is designed for medium and large organisations, was developed according to the wishes and requirements of workers and IT specialists of Bregenz city council.

The cost of the new open source system was only half that of competing telephone systems. Because it is open source, the licensing costs are greatly reduced. Moreover, the new system has been designed in line with the particular requirements of a municipal telephone system. Immediately after the introduction of the new system, the IT department reported significant savings in management and maintenance costs. During the first year alone, the City of Begrenz saved some €10,000 on phone costs alone, whilst maintenance costs were reduced to one-sixth of the previous €30,000.

This leaves us wondering whether any UK local authorities have explored the VoIP route yet in these straitened financial times. If you’re reading this in a British town hall, why not leave a comment below on your experiences. 🙂

If you would like to learn more about VoIP, see our handy FAQ page.

Linux Foundation needs feedback on update to FHS

Linux Foundation reports that just before LinuxCon North America in Vancouver, The Linux Foundation released a draft proposal for an update to the Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS). Versions of the draft (in plain text, HTML and PDF versions) can be found at

This draft removes quite a few historical filesystem artifacts, such as /usr/X11R6 and subdirectories in /usr/bin and adds many recent developments, including /sys and /run.

Draft 1 is aimed at getting the normative text of the standard out there for review; thus, a number of issues with formatting, editorial statements and references are still missing. Nonetheless, this draft accurately reflects the restrictions and obligations that will likely be a part of FHS 3.0 in the end.

Feedback is appreciated and very much desired. Comments should be sent to the FHS mailing list (fhs-discuss (at),

Swiss Federal Court may share its DMS as open source

The Swiss Parliament’s control committee for the Federal Court is allowing the publication of Open Justitia, a document management system (DMS) developed in-house by the court as open source software, according to OSOR. The software will be made available under the GPLv3 licence soon.

The parliament’s committee discussed Open Justitia last Thursday following complaints by a proprietary software firm, Weblaw, which alleged the Federal Court was to become a commercial competitor.

The commission had sent the Federal Court (Bundesgericht) a list of questions in July, aiming to check the legal basis for the development of Open Justitia.

In its response in August, the court explained that it believes it has sufficient legal grounds to develop its own DMS and that making the source code available does not mean it is entering in competition. “The aim is to treat all participants the same way, especially those ICT service providers that develop software applications for the courts.”

The court refers to the e-Government strategy which encourages the sharing and reuse of data and services. It explained how it built its DMS on top of existing open source components, a database system and a search engine. “The court has added to these components some code specific for the court.”

It also rules out that its developing and sharing of the DMS is a form of cross subsidisation. “It was developed in 2007 and its costs have already been written off. Those interested in implementing it will have to bear the costs for the implementation and any further adjustments. There are no overhead cost and no need to charge others for it.”

A spokesperson for the court confirmed this afternoon that Open Justitia will become available soon. “They are deciding on the exact date of publication right now.”

The decision of the parliamentary control committee was announced last Friday by the Parliamentary Group for Digital Sustainability. The group welcomed the decision: “With the release of Open Justitia under an open source licence, costs can be saved, as the cantonal courts no longer need to purchase expensive proprietary software licences.”

We’re in the latest Tuxradar podcast

Along with our friends over the road at Bristol Hackspace, Bristol Wireless gets an honourable mention in the latest Tuxradar podcast, brought to the world by Linux Format magazine.

The podcast is available as both a high quality ogg or a low quality mp3. The total length of the podcast is 53:18.

What’s more, we’re expecting a visit to the lab from one of Linux Format’s writers next week who’ll be dropping in for a chat about Bristol Wireless’ work.

Coming soon: Knowle West T party… with scones!

Earlier today, our friends at Knowle West Media Centre announced the forthcoming Knowle West T Party on 26th September at the Media Centre itself on Leinster Avenue (map). The event starts at 1.00 p.m. and ends at 3.00 p.m and attendance is free.

The strapline for the T Party is ‘Keeping in Touch with Technology’ and will provide training in using Twitter and texts (what you’d know better as SMS. Ed. 😉 ) to share local news on the local Knowle West community website.

To quote the event publicity:

This event will also give you the chance to find out about the Keeping in Touch project, which has been looking at how people can use their mobiles to strengthen their communities. We’ve been talking to people in Knowle West and further afield, looking for relevant ideas that are useful easy to try out. We will be sharing these ideas over the next few months. Come along and try something new!

For more information contact Makala or Rachel at Knowle West Media Centre on 0117 903 0444 or visit

Finally, the event also features another T: a free afternoon tea, with scones.

You can register for the event at Eventbrite.

Wildlife Wiki sessions in Bristol

Wikipedia logoBristol is well known for its links with natural history and wildlife. The city is the home to the BBC’s Natural History Unit and Bristol Zoo is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

To build further on this base, there’s a Wikipedia sprint coming up soon in Bristol in aid of ARKive, the organisation dedicated to promoting the conservation of the world’s threatened species, through the power of wildlife imagery, with the aim of improving Wikipedia’s articles on endangered species.

The event will be hosted by Andy Mabbett, Wikipedia’s Ambassador to ARKive and will take place on Thursday 15 September 2011 in two sessions; from 1.30-5pm and from 6-9.30pm (one for people available during daytime, the other for those who are not) at Bristol’s Watershed (map).

Who should attend? You! Whether you are an expert or an amateur; Wikipedian, Wiki-novice or or Wiki-phobic, come along and help make knowledge freely available to the world.

This will be a hands-on fun event, which, as stated above will concentrate on Wikipedia’s articles on endangered species. Please bring a laptop or other network-enabled device. Don’t worry if you’ve never edited Wikipedia before: help will be on hand; and it’s really easy!

Register for session 1, 1.30-5pm

Register for session 2, 6-9.30pm

Raise a glass to Ubuntu Happy Hours

Our friends in the UK Ubuntu community want to hold more regular events in the real world, but don’t want to concentrate everything in one location.

Ubuntu UK Community logo

Consequently, they are going to hold an Ubuntu Hour at a pub in some part of the country roughly once a month. This way every couple of months everyone should be able to find a meet-up that isn’t massively inconvenient to get to. If you think your part of the country is being neglected, then you’re invited to join the #ubuntu-uk IRC channel and nominate a pub near you! Generally the Ubuntu Happy Hours will have an 8.00 p.m. start unless otherwise stated and there should be someone fairly obviously looking out for arrivals up to 9.00 p.m. or thereabouts.

The first Ubuntu Happy Hour will be on Thursday 22nd September at The Cask in London SW1. There are more details and a list of suggested boozers here.

Back to school 2011: 32,000 Languedoc-Rousillon secondary pupils get open source laptops

As of the start of the new school year, all secondary schools in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France will be equipped with laptops, according to local site Tout Montpellier. What’s more, the machines will be running free software.

Children and computers. Whether you're taught ICT or how to be a passive user of proprietary software could depend on your nationality.

The 32,000 pupils who’ll be going back to school in September 2011 will receive a laptop linked to the regional electronic education network (ENT) and loaded with free software. The digital teaching system will be implemented free of charge in partnership with the French government’s Education Department. The projected budget is estimated to be €15 millions per year for the Region.

The laptops will have to access cloud storage services, have an audio player for language learning, be able to be used to pay for school meals, travel to and from school and give access to cultural and sports services.

Read the original Tout Montpellier article (French).

What a contrast with the UK where ICT consists of teaching kids to use proprietary software. 🙁 Perhaps those who put together British school curricula should be sent to the south of France… and not allowed back until they have learned something different (Herefordshire is excluded due to the HLUG’s Open Source Schools Project. Ed). 😉

Australia’s Ministry of Defence trials OpenOffice

OpenOffice logoThe Department of Defence has stepped up its push for open source software to reduce its A$100 million annual software licensing bill, IT News reports.

Last week, it joined five other Australian government agencies in forming the Open Technology Foundation, which is aimed at facilitating collaboration and interoperable technology in the public sector.

In January this year, the Australian government adopted a more aggressive open source policy and, in accordance with the new policy, Defence tender documents now explicitly state that the Department would consider open source software options alongside proprietary products.

As part of the more accommodating attitude to open source, some 100 defence staff are using the free, open source OpenOffice office suite in a “semi-formal” trial that began a year ago.

Defence chief technology officer Matt Yannopoulos said he launched the trial after using OpenOffice at home.

He said he would consider extending the trial to more users, but was concerned that staff would need to be trained to use OpenOffice should it be deployed more widely.

Read the original IT News report (especially if you’re a UK government minister; you’re being left behind by rest of world + dog. Ed.).

Thank you to all our readers

The chief scribe had just been examining our website statistics, as provided by the excellent open source AWstats package (a contraction of Advanced Web statistics. Ed.), and thought readers may be interested in their revelations.

For the first time since switching to a new host and a new platform (running the whole site on WordPress, instead of the previous wiki/blog split), Bristol Wireless’s site has had more than 5,000 individual visitors. This is due mostly to the high number of visits to the ‘Wikipedians meet Girl Geeks and eat cake’ piece (news passim), which alone had had more 3,000 hits.

However, AWstats reveals far more about our website traffic and some of the more significant features are listed below:

  • 79% of our visitors come to us directly, not via a search engine;
  • Most of our traffic comes from the UK and USA, then Germany, although during a month we are visited by people in most countries of the world;
  • We get crawled by search engines several times a day. At the time of writing, we were last visited by the Googlebot just before 7.00 am this morning;
  • The top browsers used by our visitors (in descending order) are: Firefox (44% of visitors), Google Chrome (23%), MS Internet Explorer (13%), Safari (5%);
  • Looking at our visitors’ operating systems, these are more heavily skewed in favour of free/open source ones than the general population – Windows (54%), Linux (23%) and Mac OS (13%). However, the small but increasing percentage of visitors using operating systems for mobile platforms suggests that a rising number of our visitors are now using smartphones.

So, a big thank you to all our readers from all of us here at Bristol Wireless. We trust you like what you see and will keep coming back in future. 🙂

Future directions of FOSS in India

Kerala IT News writes that, as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in India, the Technopark, Trivandrum-based International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS) recently held a consultation on ‘Future Directions of FOSS in India’ at Technopark, to establish future directions for use and promotion of FOSS in India.

The consultation is first of a series of similar sessions to build upon Kerala’s early lead in FOSS initiatives and to consolidate and leverage the lead with international initiatives. The participants of the consultation, consisting of representatives from the Government, technology organisations, higher education institutions, NGOs and the FOSS community, outlined their vision for the future of FOSS in their respective domains, highlighting gaps and limitations to be resolved and making suggestions on the way ahead.

Read the full Kerala IT news article.

Hat tip: Roy Schestowitz

It was twenty years ago today…

Tux - the mascot of the Linux kernelWhat happened on 25th August 1991? Well, it wasn’t when Sgt Pepper taught the band to play! 😀

Nope. definitely not. However, something very significant in the world of computing occurred on this very day 20 years ago. A young student in Helsinki named Linus Torvalds sent the following email to the Minix newsgroup:

Hello everybody out there using minix –

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂

Linus (torva…

PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

And the rest – as they say – is history. Since Linus’ original release his free operating system has grown and grown as is now better known to the world as GNU/Linux (by purists) or simply Linux (by the rest of world + dog). Linux itself is a contraction of “Linus’ Unix”.

If you haven’t tried the accumulated efforts of Linus, the GNU Project and the vast community around the world, we suggest you do.

Linux 20th birthday timeline
Image courtesy of The Linux Foundation

Happy birthday (GNU)Linux from all at Bristol Wireless – one of your countless beneficiaries both large and small around the world.

Gimp enters single window mode

GIMP logoThe H-Online reports that The GIMP, (in longhand, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. Ed.) the most widely used open source, cross-platform graphics program, is to gain a fully-functional single window mode with effect from the latest update to version 2.7.3. The news emerges from a news item from the program’s development team.

In the single-window mode, elements such as the tools or layers menus are aligned alongside the image in the same window instead of being displayed in separate windows next to the image. However, the new single-window mode is not enabled by default; users will have to make that change themselves. Other changes include working session management and a new space-saving hybrid spinbutton/scale widget. New tooltips have also been added to tool options.

Doubts about the validity of Romanian ministry’s open source ban

OSOR reports that Experts on procurement involving open source software doubt the validity of a tender published by the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI) in July, which excluded solutions based on open source licences (news passim). The ministry’s justification of the ban “seems to be odd and not convincing and that makes me wonder if it would stand in court”, declares Mathieu Paapst, an open source and software procurement specialist at Groningen University in the Netherlands

Patrice-Emmanuel Schmitz, a Brussels-based open source specialist declares, “The ministry’s ban may reflect a lack of understanding of open source. It is a very surprising prohibition.”

The MAI is looking for builders of an IT system to manage the country’s criminal records. The ministry has budgeted some €2.85 mn.) for this new Information System of Romanian Criminal Records (Rocris). One of the requirements for Rocris is that “the software may not be published under a ‘free software license’ – GPL or similar.”

Commenting on this ban, the ministry earlier this month cited strict requirements for security and interoperability.

The excuse puzzles Schmitz. One possible explanation for the ban may be that the MAI erroneously considers open source to be a risk to the sensitive information the system is to handle. Schmitz: “If this is the case, it reflects a lack of perception of the real risk.”

Exclude competition

Paapst concludes that the ban is prohibited by the European procurement directive. “The Ministry is using a technical specification that refers to a particular process of production with the effect of favouring or eliminating certain undertakings or certain products. The European procurement directive does forbid this kind of use of specifications unless it is justified by the subject-matter of the contract. The justification of the ministry does however seems to be odd and not convincing and that makes me wonder if it would stand in court.”

Even the European Commission’s Directorate-General (DG) for the Internal Market yesterday carefully expressed some doubts: “(The ban) will have the effect excluding from competition economic operators whose software solutions are based on such public licences. Such (a) limitation may create an unjustified obstacle to the opening up to competition.”

The DG also says the ban could be justified by the technical requirements or other constraints of the contracting authority – and these could include interoperability and security needs. The DG: “We do not have the technical expertise to assess to which extent the limitation imposed by the contracting authority is objectively justified from a technical perspective. This is an issue to be clarified by technical experts.”

The ministry has not yet responded to questions seeking clarification.

More thoughts on increasing contributions to Wikipedia

I’m writing this at the instigation of fellow UK Wikimedia member Matt Jukes following on from last week’s successful Bristol Girl Geeks vs Wikimeet event (news passim) with a few thoughts on a couple of the barriers to contributing to Wikipedia and its sister projects and raising the project’s woeful gender imbalance (87% male in terms of contributors).

It could be basically summarised as implementing 3 Es – engagement, encouragement and education. I’ll try to deal with these below, although not necessarily in that order.

Wikipedian Fiona Apps presenting to Bristol Girl Geek vs. Wikikmeet. Picture courtesy of Jessica Cauchard

Firstly, as was rightly raised by guest speaker Fiona Apps, there’s the off-putting matter of having one’s initial tentative contributions mercilessly edited or deleted (“reverted” in wiki-speak) by other, sometimes overzealous editors and admins. One remedy to this disappointment suggested by Fiona was that new contributors engage in discussion about their contributions (have you ever noticed the ‘Discussion’ tab at the top of every Wikipedia article, let alone clicked on it? Some visitors don’t even notice the ‘Edit’ tab on each article. Ed.). The same advice could be given to experienced editors and admins: try to avoid giving the impression of displaying excessive zeal.

Another factor that could deter new or potential contributors was pointed out by Matt: great big warning notices – along the lines e.g. “this article is a stub…”, “…does not meet quality standards…”, “…reads like a press release…”, etc. – and that’s just some of the less intimidating ones – splashed all over pages next time one looks is, to say the least, a little off putting. Experienced contributors know the reasons for the insistence on quality, neutrality and so on, but these might not always be apparent to newcomers.

This brings me onto the matter of encouragement. Wikipedia does have a system in place for rewarding its contributors. As Wikipedia is an international collaborative project, any recognition/tokens of appreciation need to be relevant to the recipient to be fully appreciated. Your correspondent has received a barnstar for his efforts; other tokens are available.

Finally, the Bristol Girl Geeks were almost unanimous in their criticism of the Wikipedia editing interface. Even though a WYSIWYG editor is available and various enhancements for it are available to increase its functionality, it was still felt to be clunky and non-intuitive. I know this is constantly being worked upon by the developers, although whether it ends up being as easy to use as an ordinary word processor is a moot point.

That’s got my thoughts down in print. If you have any thoughts of your own on them, please feel free to comment below.

Wikipedians meet Girl Geeks and eat cake

Last night saw another first in collaborative events in Bristol when Bristol Girl Geeks got together with a bunch of local Wikipedians plus trailblazing female Wikipedian Fiona Apps, who helps Wikimedia UK with outreach work (news passim).

After we’d all got a glass of wine and some nibbles, Fiona was introduced and gave a brief presentation (she’s a very good speaker. Ed.), after which a spot of group Wikipedia editing took place, with experienced Wikipedians on hand to assist those who’ve never edited a wiki before.

A spot of group Wikipedia editing. Picture courtesy of Jessica Cauchard

After the practical session, Fiona took to the floor once again with another brief presentation specifically aimed at why women don’t edit Wikipedia. Some of the objections/reasons were more applicable to people in general (not just women), but the editing interface came in for some constructive criticism. Other factors likely to put off aspiring editors was the disappointment at having one’s edits mercilessly hacked or reverted, to which Fiona responded that engaging other editors via the ‘Discussion’ tab on the individual wiki page in question could assist in resolving differences of opinion. All in all there was a very lively flow of comments and queries from the audience – a great example of participation. Part of one of Fiona’s responses sticks in my mind, to the effect that we all benefit from Wikipedia and contributing to the project in terms of editing articles, fixing typos and the like is only fair in return for the effort of others. I can only remember part of the quotation, but her response ended: “Your pet would use Wikipedia if it could!” 🙂

After the second session from Fiona, the splendid Wikipedia cake was cut, handed round and the networking and socialising took over in earnest, with some random editing still continuing.

The special Wikipedia cake! Picture courtesy of Alison Flind

My thanks go out to Bristol Girl Geek Dinners for their kind invitation, the University of Bristol for providing the venue and not forgetting Wikimedia UK for the buffet.

Moves are now afoot to get further joint Girl Geek Dinners and Wikimeet events arranged around the country in coming months. Keep your eyes and ears open and get to the nearest one to you, if you can!