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Public transport wifi news

Courtesy of Mr Treasurer’s Twitter feed, we’ve just come across the following small item of good news news for rail travellers.

Greater Anglia provides rail services in the East of England between London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

Prototype camera for Raspberry Pi exhibited

Technology news site The H Online reports that a prototype of the Pi Cam camera for the Raspberry Pi was presented at Germany’s Electronica 2012 show. The camera offers a 5 MP sensor and can record 1080p H.264 video at 30 fps. The camera connects to the Raspberry Pi’s free CSI pins and is controlled via the I2C bus. Potential applications for the Pi Cam include low-cost surveillance camera systems and robotics. The camera is expected to retail at some US $25 once it goes on sale.

ORG local training sessions announced

ORG logoRegular readers will know that Bristol Wireless takes a dim view of the government’s draft Communications Data Bill, also known as the Snooper’s Charter (news passim).

Consequently, we were pleased to hear that the Open Rights Group is organising a series of workshops around the UK so supporters can help to tell people across the UK about the dangers of mass government surveillance, profiling and data mining for supposed criminal suspects. Everyone – whether suspects or everyday citizen – will have their communications data stored.

It is presently a critical moment for the Bill, as Parliament reports and the Government will soon decide whether to go ahead with the draft.

ORG’s training will comprise:

  • A briefing on the draft Bill;
  • Providing participants with draft campaign materials, free leaflets and campaign tools;
  • Putting participants in touch with people in your local area who can assist in defeating the Bill;
  • Participants’ own ideas.

Two events have already been held in Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively; however, those still to take place are listed below, with a link to take you to the relevant (free) registration page.

  • London: Saturday, November 24, 2012 (with Index on Censorship)
  • Cardiff: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
  • Newcastle: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
  • Bristol: Thursday, November 29, 2012
  • Sheffield: Thursday, November 29, 2012
  • Brighton: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
  • Manchester: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
  • Manchester: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Bristol event will be held at the Watershed (map) from 7.00 pm to 9 pm.

Full details of the events are available on the ORG site.

Portuguese government adopts ODF as standard

The Portuguese government is prescribing Open Document Format (ODF) as the sole format for editable documents for public authorities in a list of open standards, according to Germany’s Heise IT news site, commenting on a report from ESOP, the Portuguese Open Source Business Association. The list is part of a body of rules to ensure interoperability. A law passed in summer last year obliges the Portuguese authorities to use open standards wherever possible.

Further permitted open standards are PDF, XML, XMPP, IMAP, SMTP, CALDAV and LDAP. The initiative to establish open standards in the public sector is part of a programme which should save the administration €500 mn. per year.

FSFE welcomes German Government’s White Paper on “Secure Boot”

FSFE logoThe Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) reports that the German Ministry of the Interior published a white paper (English version here) about “Trusted Computing” and “Secure Boot” yesterday. The white paper says that “device owners must be in complete control of (that is to say able to manage and monitor) all the trusted computing security systems of their devices.” This has long been one of FSFE’s key demands. The white paper continues by saying that “delegating this control to third parties requires conscious and informed consent by the device owner”.

Another demand by the FSFE is addressed by this white paper, namely that before purchasing a device, buyers must be informed concisely about the technical measures implemented in this device, as well as the specific usage restrictions and their consequences for the owner: “Trusted computing security systems must be deactivated (opt-in principle)” when devices are delivered. “Based on the necessary transparency with regard to technical features and content of trusted computing solutions, device owners must be able to make responsible decisions when it comes to product selection, start-up, configuration, operation and shut-down.” In addition, “Deactivation must also be possible later (opt-out function) and must not have any negative impact on the functioning of hard- and software that does not use trusted computing functions.”

“It is an important step, that a government now takes a firm stand on “Secure Boot”, too. We as a society have to make sure, that we are in control of our computers, so everyone can install arbitrary software and is able to retain exclusive control over his own data. Full, sole and permanent control over security subsystems is necessary for this.”, says Matthias Kirschner, FSFE’s German Co-ordinator. “Now the Government has to implement their position when buying new hardware.”

Bristol Dorkbot tonight

Our friends at Bristol Dorkbot will be meeting as usual for a show and tell meeting tonight (Tuesday 20th) from around 7pm in the the Watershed‘s Pervasive Media Studio (map).

For those unfamiliar with the layout of the Watershed, the Pervasive Media Studio can be reached by going through the Watershed bar.

All are welcome and tonight’s session will be a show and tell event, so if you have a project to show, please feel free to bring it along. Show and tell sessions are very friendly and informal in style, so there’s no need to prepare a big presentation or anything.

Italy’s Emilia Romagna smart city projects running on open source

The chief scribe recently took part in some smart city sessions organised in Bristol by Knowle West Media Centre, so he was interested to learn of recent smart cities developments in Italy.

According to the EU’s Joinup open source news site, open source software is a key element in many of the Smart City projects developed by a group of IT specialists and researchers for Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. Lucia Mazzoni, an IT project manager involved the region’s smart city projects said: “We prefer to use open source modules. This type of software allows scalable and easy to configure combinations.”

The group is building applications to monitor atmospheric conditions and air quality and collect and present data on surface waters. They are also working on IT solutions to increase energy efficiency and are building software to monitors the condition of cultural monuments and help preserve them.

Mazzoni gave a presentation on Emilia Romagna’s smart city research projects at the Smart City Exhibition held in Bologna between 29th and 31th October last.

One application presented was ‘Smart Catcher’, a location-aware Android phone application which allows users to locate useful urban objects, such as bookshops, filling stations, hospitals, restaurants and hotels.

The smart city developers are also involved in building middleware software for use in vehicle to vehicle communication. The idea is to create smart vehicles that can use the information to plan their routes more efficiently. Other projects are working on using smart sensors, video cameras and personal sensors.

London CiviCRM meet-up

CiviCRM logoThere’s been lots of CiviCRM activity in the chief scribe’s inbox concerning CiviCRM, the open source customer relationship package used by Bristol Wireless, including the anonymous email below from someone called CiviCRM Info.

I am emailing to let you know about the next London CiviCRM meet-up on Wednesday 28th November. We’ve run some really successful meet-ups over the last couple of years and we’re looking forward to another great turn out.

We’ll be running the meet-up slightly different from previous ones. We’ll start with a drop in session from 5:30 to 6:30 for people that are new to CiviCRM and have specific questions that they want answered. We’ll run this on a first come first serve basis – so please arrive early if you’d like some help. We’ll then have our CiviCRM meet-up from 6.30 to 8.30 with presentations suitable for new and existing users, implementers and developers. There will definitely be something to interest all levels of experience.

As well as learning about new developments in CiviCRM, meet-ups are a really great way to connect with other CiviCRM users and increase expand your CiviCRM network. If you are an existing CiviCRM user, these events are a good place to ask and answer questions, hear about other people’s experiences, tips and ideas and meet fellow users. If you are new to CiviCRM, then coming to a meet-up can be a great way to talk to people about how CiviCRM will benefit you and your organisation.

The event will be held at: Manta Ray Media Ltd., Finsbury Business Centre, Unit 42, 40 Bowling Green Lane, London, EC1R 0NE, which is between 10 and 15 minutes walking distance from Angel, Barbican, Farringdon and King’s Cross stations. It’s free and there will be drinks and nibbles and time to network.

Please register at so we have an idea of who is coming along.

Bristol CiviCRM training

CiviCRM logoNews arrives via Sean Kenny of Circle Interactive that a CiviCRM user and administrator training session is to be held in Bristol on Tuesday, 11th December from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm at the Create Centre, Smeaton Road, BS1 6XN (map).

This is being promoted as a comprehensive one day hands on training course covering the configuration, administration, and every-day use of CiviCRM. The event is aimed at administrators and technical users at organisations that are either using CiviCRM or interested in evaluating it. It will also be useful for staff at organisations that develop or implement CiviCRM and need a complete understanding of the open source CRM’s “out of the box” features and configuration options.

The training day will comprise the following sessions:

  • Introduction to CiviCRM – what does it do and how can it help your organisation;
  • Custom data and profiles – extending CiviCRM to meet your data requirements;
  • CiviCRM components – including event, mail, member, contribute, case, report, grant and pledge;
  • Website integration – the whys and hows of making CiviCRM work with the Joomla or Drupal CMS packages;
  • Support and the CiviCRM community – what happens after this training.

Participants are advised that they should bring a laptop with wifi capabilities to this training to they can take part in these exercises.

Complete newcomers to CiviCRM are also strongly urged to read the free online book – CiviCRM a comprehensive guide – before the event.

Full details available here.

India’s ICFOSS organises survey of FOSS in e-governance

Today the Times of India reports that a study on the use of free and open source software in e-governance is to be jointly conducted by the International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS) of Trivandrum in Kerala and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore, Karnataka.

The study, which is planned to be completed within 18 months, will cover the Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

In a statement issued on Monday, ICFOSS said the study would determine the extent of free and open source software use in government projects, as well as assessing the economics of its use.

“There is still wide variation between different states in the deployment of free and open source software. Kerala leads the nation in adoption of such software,” said Rahul De, Hewlett-Packard Professor in Information and Communication Technology ( ICT) for Sustainable Economic Development at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore; Mr De is also the lead researcher of the joint study.

Besides a cost advantage, free and open source software likewise comes with other benefits: for example user licences are liberal and users are free to customise software themselves.

“With the 2012 Government of India Software Policy providing explicit support for free and open source software, it becomes imperative for e-government applications to consider it,” Rahul De said.

Hat tip: Mark Taylor of Sirius

Malaysian Government holds open source software conference, the Malaysian national news agency, reports that the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit’s (MAMPU) Open Source Competency Centre (OSCC) is organising the Malaysian Government Open Source Software Conference (MyGOSSCON) 2012 on 26th and 27th November 2012.

The OSCC has been leading the implementation of open source software in Malaysian public sector organisations in line with the Malaysian Public Sector OSS Master Plan.

It is now in the early stage of phase 3, leading and guiding the Malaysian public towards self-reliance so that it can develop and manage open source software on its own.

To date 99% of all government agencies have used, developed and implemented open source software is some way, be that in infrastructure, on the desktop or as application.

“This third phase builds on the successes of the previous two phases and includes a Change Management programme focusing on the agencies’ development of relevant human resource expertise to implement open source software initiatives independently,” OSCC said.

Stop the Snooper’s Charter

ORG logoThe Open Rights Group is jointly hosting an event on the Communications Data Bill with Index on Censorship in London from 2.00 pm to 6.00 pm on Saturday, November 24 2012.

The venue is the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R (map).

This event will gather campaigners and activists to explore and explain the Communications Data Bill in detail, with keynote speaker Cory Doctorow. Civil Liberties groups will be working together to plan joint campaign actions, including a mass lobbying of MPs when the bill is published.

The “Snooper’s Charter” – aka the Communications Data Bill – was announced in the Queen’s speech in May 2012. The Bill proposes new powers that would allow the Government to order the collection of a lot more information about who people communicate with online. Information about UK citizens’ use of services like Google, Facebook or Twitter would be collected and accessible too easily to those working for law enforcement.

The Bill as it stands will lead to too much information being collected about too many people. Access to that information will be too easy. This will result in accidental or deliberate misuse of the data leading to significant privacy harms.

The Snooper’s Charter is currently being looked at by a committee of MPs and Lords. The ORG, amongst others, has been telling them that they want to see the powers to collect and access communications data tightened up, not extended ever further.

Registration for the event is free (Eventbrite).

Debian bug squashing parties arranged for Wheezy

Debian logoDebian is a great Linux distribution. Indeed, besides being a distribution in its own right, it acts as the foundation for the very popular Ubuntu distro and countless others. Here at Bristol Wireless, we’ve been using Debian for as long as the chief scribe can remember.

The Debian Project is now in the final stages of preparing for its next release – codenamed Wheezy – and has just announced that Bug Squashing Parties (“BSPs”) will take place in several countries in the next few weeks. The main focus of a Bug Squashing Party is to triage and fix bugs, but it is also an opportunity for users less familiar with the Debian bug tracking system to make other contributions to the Debian project, such as translating package descriptions or improving the wiki. Debian developers will be present to help contributors understand how the project works and to help get fixes into Debian.

A list of confirmed Bug Squashing Parties follows, although the project advises checking the events page to see if any more are being planned.

If any reader fancies organising a BSP, potential organisers can find all the necessary information on the wiki. The Debian Project invites all users and contributors to attend these events and make Wheezy ready for release sooner.

A letter from Dawn

Dawn Primarolo MP. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Regular readers will recall that some time ago Bristol Wireless wrote to its local MP, Dawn Primarolo about the draft Communications Data Bill, aka the Snooper’s Charter (news passim).

We have now received a reply from Dawn, which states the following:

Thank you very much for your letter in connection with the draft Communications Data Bill. I apologise for the delay in responding to you.

As you might expect, a number of residents have written to me to express their concerns about the Bill, and I have previously raised these concerns with Ministers. I enclose a copy of the reply I received, where the Government responds to a number of general issues. However, I appreciate your letter raises detailed, specific concerns about how the Bill could affect Bristol Wireless, so I have written to the Home Secretary to ask for her comments.

I will let you know when I receive a response but please do not hesitate to contact me in the meantime should the need arise.

Yours, etc.

The letter Dawn enclosed with her reply to us is the usual tissue of spurious justifications for treating the UK’s population of 62 mn. individuals like criminals and of course uses the standard bogeyman of terrorism. It was drafted for signature by the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime and Security, James Brokenshire, but was actually signed by Lord Henley, another junior Home Office minister. Moreover, this letter contains some blatant contradictions. On page 3 it states that the economic costs of collecting data “over ten years from 2011 could be up to £1.8 billion”. However, this conflicts with the preceding paragraph, whose first 2 sentences read:

It is difficult to estimate costs over the longer term: the programme has an incremental approach to developing capabilities, which responds to changes in technology and the communications market place. These changes are difficult to predict.

Reading between the lines in the above quotation it would appear that the Snooper’s Charter is just the start of collecting and retaining yet more data on and from citizens’ communications for an unspecified cost. This sounds like a monstrous attack on privacy and the civil liberties of UK citizens.

Read the Home Office letter in full (PDF).

Today’s special offer

CodeWeavers, Inc., the developers of CrossOver, which enables users to run Windows software on Linux and Mac, is having a giveaway today, 31st October 2012.

For one day only, CodeWeavers is giving away CrossOver with 12 months’ free support and product upgrades.

If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, point your browser at, register and download!

For more details about the rationale behind this offer read the press release.

ORG launches membership drive

ORG logoThe following email has been received today in the lab from the privacy and anti-censorship campaigners, the Open Rights Group (ORG):

Hi all,

As I mentioned in my previous email ORG are launching a big drive for new members. The plan is to launch our campaign to fund a Legal Officer on Thursday 1st of November (this week!) with a series of events and campaign activities to follow across the month.

I’m sure you are all aware of the recent prosecutions for offensive speech on social media and cases of website blocking injunctions. ORG are looking to fund a permanent legal position which will enable us to fight these cases in the courts. A large increase in membership will enable us to expand and hire an in-office lawyer and take the next step forward as an organisation. We’ll also be celebrating what ORG has achieved in the last year. Exciting stuff!

As part of the campaign we will be:

  • Releasing a series of videos of ORG supporters like Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow & Heather Brooke (to name a few) talking about their personal interest in ORG and discussing some controversial topics like Government snooping and the crackdown on free speech to get people talking about digital issues.
  • Organising Communications Data Bill training sessions at ORG groups across the country, bringing with them opportunities to sign-up to ORG.
  • Running a CDB event in London, in partnership with Privacy International, Big Brother Watch and Index on Censorship.
  • Email campaigns to encourage member-get-member sign ups with rewards for signing multiple friends.

There are more details to come, but we want to keep you in the picture of what’s happening.

Any way you can help with all of this will be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for all your support of ORG.

Best wishes,
Member Support Officer

FSF’s GNU spoiler for Windows 8 launch

Last Friday saw the launch of Windows 8, the latest “best Windows ever” (not again; isn’t that marketing slogan getting rather hackneyed after nearly 20 years? Ed.) release from the Beast of Redmond, backed by a marketing budget rumoured to be $1.5-1.8 bn.

However, the launch was not without its problems for MS, as reported by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The FSF crashed the Windows 8 launch event in New York City. A cheerful GNU and her team of 2 helpers handed out DVDs loaded with Trisquel GNU/Linux (a Linux distribution that meets the FSF’s very exacting definition of free. Ed.), FSF stickers and information about the FSF’s new pledge, which asks Windows users to upgrade not to Windows 8, but to GNU/Linux.

Windows 8? We've got GNUs for you!
Windows 8? We’ve got GNUs for you!
Gnu handing out FSF stickers
It’s a Brave GNU world. Have a FSF sticker
Have a GNU/Linux installation DVD instead sir!
Have a GNU/Linux installation DVD instead sir!
Windows 8 will cost you $70 at Amazon; our OS if free!
Windows 8 will cost you $70 at Amazon; our OS if free!

Here at Bristol Wireless, we concur with the FSF’s conclusion that Windows 8 is a downgrade, not an upgrade since it compromises users’ freedom, security and privacy. Some of the ‘features’ of Windows 8 identified by the FSF that Microsoft won’t tell potential users about are:

  • Restricts freedom: Windows 8 is proprietary software. At its core, it’s designed to control its user. As a user, you can’t modify Windows 8 or see how it is built, meaning Microsoft can use its operating system to exploit users and benefit special interests.
  • Invades privacy: Windows 8 includes software that inspects the contents of your hard drive and Microsoft claims the right to do this without warning. These programs have misleading names like “Windows Genuine Advantage.”
  • Exposes personal data: Windows 8 has a contacts cache that experts fear may store sensitive personal data and make users vulnerable to identity theft.

NB: This is a revised and supplemented version of an original post from the chief scribe’s blog.

2012 Swiss open source survey published

In Switzerland open source use is extensive and could make even greater costs savings possible. This is one of the findings of the Swiss Open Source Study 2012 (Open Source Studie Schweiz 2012), which has now been published, Germany’s Linux-Magazin reports.

The study states that, of the 200 companies and public sector bodies surveyed, 93% are already using free software. Moreover, open source use is more likely the larger the company or organisation. The respondents are particularly appreciative of open standards and interfaces. Costs savings come second in the ranking of the advantages of free and open source software. Users are expecting savings of 10-30% in future.

However, respondents still see shortcomings in the availability of commercial open source services in Switzerland, legal certainty for users and end user acceptance.

The unabridged version of the study can be downloaded for free. It is published by Verband Swiss ICT and the Swiss Open Systems User Group (CH Open). The report was prepared by consultants Ernst & Young.

Wikimedia UK to hold Black History Month editathon

Wikimedia UK logoWikimedia UK, the charity that supports the work of Wikipedia and its sister projects in the UK, is organising an editathon this week for Black History Month in conjunction with University College London’s Equiano Centre.

The event will be held on Friday 26 October from 2 pm to 6 pm in UCL’s Geography Department in ‘Map’ Room LG13 (Oxenham Room) on the Lower Ground Floor at 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP (map).

The event will explore some of Black Culture histories and work on adding the information to Wikipedia (including biographies on some of the figures of African and Asian heritage living, travelling or working in Britain at this time).

The event is especially aimed at new Wikipedia editors, who might be intimidated by the job of editing the internet’s primary source of basic information. Representatives from Wikimedia UK will be on hand to show you how the site works and answer questions.

Anyone working for a Black Culture related organisation is also welcome to attend – we will be discussing how you could cooperate with Wikimedia UK in the future.

We are hoping to attract new editors interested in the topic, and network with Black Culture organisations who may be interested in finding out more about what Wikimedia UK does.

If you have any questions, please contact Daria Cybulska on daria.cybulska (at), telephone 0207 065 0994.

Visit Wikimedia UK for full details.

Connect St Helena

In terms of world history, not a lot happens on remote Saint Helena. According to Wikipedia, St Helena “is one of the most isolated places in the world, located in the South Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass. The nearest port on the continent is Namibe in Southern Angola, the nearest international airport the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport of Angola’s capital Luanda.”

It has a population of 4,255 (2008 census) and a total area of 122 km2 (47 sq mi). Its chief role in history seems to have been as a place of exile for those Great Britain thought undesirable, ranging from Napoleon Bonaparte to 5,000 Boer War prisoners.

There’s one more interesting fact about St Helena: it has dreadful internet access. According to the Connect St Helena campaign website, the island’s current internet connection to the internet consists of a single 7.6 m diameter satellite dish installed in 1989; this provides the island’s only internet and international telephone connection. It uses a C band transponder on Intelsat 707 for a link to the UK with 10 MBit/s downstream and 3.6 MBit/s upstream through which all data and voice traffic is being routed. This satellite was launched in March 1996 and had a predicted lifetime of 11 years, which is already exceeded by five years now. The connection has a a total bandwidth of 10 MBit/s downstream, which is partly reserved for certain customers while the remaining capacity is shared by all other customers on the island resulting in very low effective bandwidth, often in the two-digit kbit/s range, roughly matching analogue modem speeds used in the late 1990s. Thus many internet applications like YouTube or Skype are hardly or not usable and the internet service on the island cannot be considered as “broadband” by any current definition.

Connect St Helena campaign logo
Connect St Helena campaign logo

Not only is St Helena’s internet access slow by modern standards, it also prohibitively expensive. The most expensive access package costs £119.99 per month for a download speed of 384 KBit/s and 128 KBit/s upload. This package is capped to 3,300 MB/month data, with any excess charged at 9p/MB. By contrast the cheapest package costs £19.99/month for speeds of 128/64 KBit/s respectively and a 300 MB data transfer cap; exceeding the cap incurs a charge of 12p/MB (not very good is it? Ed.).

However, there is currently a once-in-a-liftime opportunity to change this. Plans exist for a super-fast transatlantic submarine optic fibre cable called South Atlantic Express (SAEx) between Brazil, Angola and South Africa. If this cable also made landfall at St Helena, the islanders could finally join the information society, which would improve standards of education and healthcare, as well as offering new economic prospects, as shown on the map below.

image showing proposed route of S Atlantic cable and suggested change to connect St Helena
Proposed route of the SAEx cable and suggested change to connect St Helena

To enable the island to be connected to SAEx would require the British Government to stump up the cash. At Bristol Wireless we believe they should since we have always believed that access to information and knowledge via the internet is not a privilege, but a right. This is echoed in the closing paragraph of the Connect St Helena campaign website:

Please support us in bringing broadband internet to St Helena and improve life on this picturesque island. Being separated by a distance of 2,000 km from the next hospital, library and university, reliable broadband internet access would mitigate many problems resulting from St Helena’s isolation. There is probably no other place in the world that could profit so much from the merits of broadband telecommunications than St Helena.

Hat tip: Stefan Goodchild