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Regional supercomputing centre set to revolutionise research

Bristol Uni's Blue Crystal supercomputer. Picture by Dr Ian Stewart
The University of Bristol has announced it has joined forces with the Universities of Oxford, Southampton and University College London to form a Centre for Innovation to share state-of-the-art equipment and world-leading skills, speeding up the rate at which complex data can be processed and will play key role in a new £3.7 million regional centre for supercomputing.

Supercomputers are seen as the “third pillar” of modern research and are used in fields as diverse as quantum physics, weather forecasting, climate research, oil and gas exploration, molecular modelling, finance, engineering and manufacturing.

The award for the Centre of Innovation marks the first significant activity for the e-Infrastructure South Consortium formed by the four universities in 2011 with the aim of exploring and exploiting opportunities for sharing of hardware platforms, applications software, user support services and skills – known as research e-infrastructure – across the four institutions to tackle scientific and industrial research challenges.

The University of Bristol’s existing supercomputer, a £7 million Linux machine called BlueCrystal, was introduced in 2008 and is used by more than 600 of the university’s researchers

Open standards for open government?

On Monday, 30th April 2012 the Policy Exchange think tank is organising an event entitled Open Standards for Open Government? at The Ideas Space, Policy Exchange, 10 Storey’s Gate, Westminster, SW1P 3AY (map).

The UK Government is currently consulting on its open standards policy. Technology standards are important to ensure interoperability; open standards are often cited as ways to promote innovation and avoid vendor lock-in. Open standards supporters cite a whole range of benefits – from saving money to areas as diverse as revitalising the use of ICT in schools, making it easier for public sector bodies to support local businesses, enhancing digital inclusion via low-cost internet access and extending the useful life of hardware (all true! Honest! Ed.).

The event will examine the role of open standards in UK public policy. How much potential is there for open standards to power public sector reform, catalyse competition and contribute to economic growth? If open standards in the public sector are a policy goal, then what will it take to deliver change?

Speakers confirmed to date are:

  • Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and President of the Conservative Technology Forum;
  • Gerry Gavigan, Chair of the Open Source Consortium;
  • Chris Yiu, Head of the Digital Government Unit at Policy Exchange.

Other speakers have yet to be confirmed.

Further details can be found on the Policy Exchange website and if you’re interested in attending, email events (at)

Meanwhile back in the lab…

Chrome OS logoBristol Wireless was donated* some redundant laptops yesterday that were surplus to requirements.

Their arrival has encouraged volunteer Acesabe to try experimenting, as about an hour ago he tweeted:

Think I’ll have a pop at installing ChromeOS on one of those old laptops we got donated @BristolWireless yesterday

Please let us know how it goes, Acesabe. 🙂

* Please read if you’re thinking of donating hardware to Bristol Wireless.

A DFD free gift for politicians

Do you know a certain politician who should really learn more about Open Standards? This is the question that the Free Software Foundation Europe has asked in the last couple of days.

The article goes on to ask readers if they have tried to explain the importance of Open Standards to your boss, friends, local administration or service, but without any results? Would support from the outside world help? If so, inform FSFE’s Document Freedom Day (DFD) team about your situation and we will send a free, remarkable gift to your contact to help them learn more about the power of Open Standards.

The remarkable free gift will be a set of handcuffs. As all of we advocates of openness know, when you opt for proprietary software and proprietary formats, you are relinquishing your freedom; here in Bristol Wireless, we use Open Document Format (ODF) for our office suite files. We know we’ll be able to read them in 10, 50 or 100 years time, because ODF is a proper international standard format endorsed by the ISO (it’s standard ISO/IEC 26300, to be exact. Ed.). If you’re using MS Office, will you still be able to do likewise with your .docx and .xlsx files, whose fate is controlled solely by the individual software manufacturer?

Anyway, let’s return to the handcuffs. Bristol Wireless has 2 nominees for this unique gift: 1 national politician and 1 local.

Firstly, we think Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude MP deserves a pair. Francis is in charge of “making government work better.” This currently includes the implementation of open source and open standards across Whitehall. This has not exactly been a smooth process (news passim) and there has even been some talk of progress being nobbled by vested interests. So, for general prevarication and dithering, we’re pleased to nominate you, Francis; keep on eye on your post at 70 Whitehall, London SW1A 2AS.

A champagne LibDem from CliftonOur local nominee is none other than the leader of Bristol City Council, Cllr Barbara Janke. Bristol City Council talks a lot about open source and standards (news passim). However, under Barbara’s leadership the council has ditched its open source Star Office suite and moved back to Microsoft Office 2010, just as many of the council’s European counterparts are moving the other way from proprietary to free and open source. We’re pleased to nominate you too, Barbara, for a fine local effort; we trust your letter from the FSFE will shortly arrive at The Council House, College Green, Bristol BS1 5TR. 😉

Will our nominees receive their handcuffs in time for DFD? Only the FSFE knows. 🙂

Scotrail to pilot free wifi on trains

Scotrail has just secured £250,0000 of funding from the Scottish government for a three month pilot project to trail the provision of free wifi on trains.

According to Guardian Government Computing, the pilot will run from June until September on trains travelling primarily between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Class 170 in Scotrail livery
A Class 170 train set in Scotrail livery, similar to those to be used in the pilot. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An ethernet backbone will be installed a total of four Class 170 trains, each consisting of three vehicles. The system will be fitted with inter-vehicle jumpers to allow passengers to access the internet in each carriage with no degradation of service. Brown says that the router will be mounted in the roof space in the middle vehicle, close to the external antennae to minimise signal loss.

Read the original Guardian story.

Iceland’s public sector increasing use of free and open source

All public sector organisations in Iceland are increasing their use of free and open source software, Joinup reports, and the country’s government recently launched a one year migration project for all of its departments. Project leader Tryggvi Björgvinsson states: “The goal of the project is not to migrate public institutions to free and open source software in one single year but to lay a solid foundation for such a migration which institutions can base their migration plans on.”

However, Iceland’s public sector bodies have been steadily moving towards free and open source software over the past few years,including the three biggest public institutions in Iceland, all of the ministries, the city of Reykjavik and the National Hospital.

In the education sector, the majority of the secondary schools are already running Moodle, an open source course management system, whilst other public bodies such as the newly founded Media commission also run entirely on free and open source software.

Moreover, Iceland’s government has had a free and open source policy since 2007, which emphasises that there should be a level playing field for free and open source software vis-a-vis its proprietary equivalent. The Icelandic government’s free and open source policy is also available in English as a PDF.

28th March is Document Freedom Day

This year’s Document Freedom Day, which celebrates information accessibility and raises awareness of Open Standards, will take place on Wednesday, 28th March. Here in Bristol Wireless, we’ve been using the Open Document Format (ODF) Open Standard for exchanging documents internally for many years now. We like it since it has many advantages: firstly, there’s the file size (considerably smaller than equivalent proprietary formats); and secondly, it’s an international standard approved by the ISO.

This year, Document Freedom Day is being supported by no less a luminary than Stephen Fry, actor, broadcaster, general purpose Renaissance man and well-known geek, who states:

“It is time once and for all to end the pointless nonsense of one document sent on one platform being incomprehensible to the user of another.”

Read the testimonials of the wide range of other supporters of Document Freedom Day.

Open Standards are essential for interoperability and freedom of choice based on the merits of different software applications. They provide freedom from data lock-in and subsequent vendor lock-in. This makes Open Standards essential for governments, companies, organisations and individual users of information technology.

DFD 2012 banner

Open Standards ensure that individuals and organisations can:

  • Choose any operating system or application and still be able to read and edit all their old documents;
  • Collaborate with others regardless of which software they are using;
  • Use any software of your choice to interact with your government (Are you listening UKgov? Your use of open file formats for documents has been woeful to date! Ed.).

The less visible effects of Open Standards are that they lead to more competition in software and more effective governmental IT solutions that avoid the cost of lock-in.

If you’re organising a Document Freedom Day event, register it! We shall have the Document Freedom Day flag fluttering gently outside the lab all day. 🙂

Update: 19/03/12: DFD posters are now available from the Free Software Foundation Europe. Please email samtuke (at) to order.


In about one month’s time (April 21st to be precise, according to Sam Downie. Ed.) a delegation of Bristol Wikipedians is due to visit Monmouth.

Why Monmouth you may ask? And why Wikipedians too? What has a small Welsh town with a millennium or so of history, that was home to the Tudor family and Charles Rolls (partner of Mr Royce) got to do with the world’s largest open source project?

Well, there’s the small matter of a project called Monmouthpedia.

Monmouthpedia is the first ever Wikipedia project to cover a whole town – specifically, the Welsh town of Monmouth (aka Trefynwy). The project aims to cover every single notable place, person, artefact, flora, fauna and other things in Monmouth in as many languages as possible, but with a special focus on Welsh. This is a different scale of wiki-project.

Moreover, Monmouthshire County Council intend to install free town-wide wifi for this project (thanks folks! Ed.)

The amount, detail and quality of the information that the community in Monmouth could create is staggering. The Council for British Archaeology have designated Monmouth as the seventh best town for archaeology in Britain. Knowledge gives us context, it allows us to appreciate our surroundings more: Monmouth may well be the first place in the world to offer its tourist information in over 250 languages.

Wikipedia likes cake: a Monmouthpedia cupcake. File courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Read the full story of Monmouthpedia on Wikipedia.

Spain – over half of central government using open source

Cenatic reports that ONFSA – the National Observatory for Open Source Software – has published its 2011 public sector open source software use survey.

According to the survey, which covered 198 central government bodies, most of Spanish central government organisations use free and/or open source software for both server and desktop systems. More specifically, 9 out of 10 organisations have open source solutions deployed on their servers, while 8 out of 10 use open source desktop programs.

68% of central government organisations acquired the open source technologies they have implemented for free, acquiring them from a software repository or forge; 33% of the organisations have issued tenders for the acquisition of commercial open source software; and 27% report having reused open source solutions from another public sector organisation.

In terms of the volume of open source software (programs, operating systems and utilities, both in production and in testing or pre-production environments) deployed on the servers in Spanish central government organisations, approximately 40% is open source software. With regard to desktop software as a whole, open code solutions represent around 15%.

In spite of this widespread usage, the shortage of personnel who are experts in open source solutions and the associated need for training is considered to be the main barrier to the adoption of open source software in the public sector.

However, for us the most striking finding of the survey is that 46% have been actively involved in developing their own open source solutions.

And this makes us wonder, how many UK public sector bodies are actively assisting open source projects or even – like their Spanish counterparts – developing their own applications. Please use the comments below to let us know if your public sector body is emulating its Spanish equivalent.

Flossie 2012 – Submissions deadline extended to 19th March

Flossie logoBack in October, we gave very early notice (news passim) of the 2012 Flossie Unconference taking place in London on 25th and 26th May 2012 at Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS (map).

News has now arrived that the submissions deadlines has been extended to 19th March 2012 and further details of the event have also been announced.

Flossie 2012 is a free, two-day event for women who use or are otherwise interested in Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) in Digital Arts or Open Data, Knowledge and Education.

Flossie 2012 is being organised by independent network of women practitioners that has its roots in social change movements as well as arts, technology and academia. Whether you code, tinker or want to explore alternatives to ‘big-tech’ corporations, all women are welcome to the conference (so go for it! Has anyone told Bristol Girl Geek Dinners? Ed.).

Latest CiviCRM release – now with WordPress integration

CiviCRM logoThe latest release (version 4.1.1) of CiviCRM, the open source customer relationship management (CRM) system for non-profits, NGOs and advocacy organisations, now features integration for WordPress, in addition to its traditional integration for the Joomla and Drupal content management systems.

Read the original release announcement.

It looks as if there’s going to be plenty to discuss at the forthcoming Bristol CiviCRM meet-up (news passim).

Denmark’s Transport Ministry moves to LibreOffice

Document Foundation logoDenmark’s Transport Ministry has moved to the open source LibreOffice productivity suite as part of a package changes intended to help it save DKr. 1.5 mn. per year on its IT costs.

However, a spokesman for the Ministry has stated that cost was not the primary consideration for the move. It was instead prompted by the need to be able to work to open document standards. Danish public sector organisations must now be able to receive documents in both ODF, which is used by LibreOffice and other open source office suites, and OOXML, which is used by Microsoft’s Office package.

The Ministry will be running LibreOffice on both its virtualised Windows 7 desktops running on VMWare and on Ubuntu Linux, which has also been installed on 140 machines as a back-up system, particularly for its mobile workers. Having Ubuntu will enable them to continue working when they cannot access the Ministry’s VMWare server.

Read the original Danish article.

Coming soon – CiviCRM meet-up in Bristol

CiviCRM logoA meet-up for everyone from the South West (or even further afield. Ed.) who are interested in, are using or developing for CiviCRM is being organised in Bristol on Tuesday 20th March. It’ll start at 4 pm and end at 6 pm and be held at The Create Centre, B Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol, BS1 6XN (map).

The programme for the event is still being worked on, but can be expected to comprise news, views, case studies and opportunities to meet others planning on using CiviCRM, or already managing day to day organisations with it.

More details as they emerge will appear on the CiviCRM Community Site.

Hat tip: Sean Kenny

The Company Secretary writes

keyboardWhen he’s not keeping the news section of the website refreshed, the chief scribe also acts as Bristol Wireless’ Company Secretary and in that role has just circulated the message below to members via our mailing lists.

Hi all

One of my duties as company secretary is to keep the shareholders’ register up to date. As we’ll have to start making arrangements for the AGM soon, it would be much appreciated by me to have the information in the register as up to date as possible.

I’m therefore asking all members of the co-operative to contact me to provide me with:

1) A current email address where I can contact you
2) Your current postal address.

Thanks in advance for your co-operation.

Kind regards
Steve Woods
Company Secretary, Bristol Wireless Community Co-operative

Bristol’s Jo Reid announced as finalist in the National Everywoman in Technology Awards

Courtesy of Bristol Girl Geek Dinners, we learn that Bristol’s Jo Reid – a Bristol Girl Geek Dinners member, has been announced as finalist in the Innovators category of the National Everywoman in Technology Awards. The award winners will be announced on 29th March.

Picture of Jo Reid
Jo Reid - up for National Everywoman in Technology Awards

Jo is part of Calvium, who are based in Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio. Calvium have designed a mobile app development software platform called AppFurnace which makes it cheaper and easier for small businesses to make their own smartphone apps (sadly only available for proprietary systems at present. Ed. 🙁 ).

Jo was formerly a senior researcher at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories and holds an MBA and a BSc in Computer Science.

Good luck Jo!

Read the full story on Bristol Girl Geek Dinners.

VALO-CD Finnish free & open source goodness

image of CD-ROMWe Linux users are spoilt; we benefit from using free and open source software every day.

Now Windows users can once again* benefit from it more, with the launch of the VALO-CD (VALO is the Finnish acronym for Free & Open Source Software. Ed.)

VALO-CD contains all the best free and open source programs for Windows on a single CD; these include packages that have long been favourites with users of free and open source operating systems – e.g. Firefox (web browsing), Gimp (graphics), LibreOffice (office suite), VLC (media player), Scribus (desktop publishing), Audacity (audio editing), Notepad++ (plain text editor) and Truecrypt (encryption), to name but a few.

VALO-CD can be downloaded either directly as an ISO image or via a torrent client and the source code is also available. 🙂

* This is not the first time that CD compilations have been provided for Windows users. Earlier initiatives included the now defunct Open CD and there’s the still active OpenDisc project too.

FSF invites you to enter the Restricted Boot Comic Contest

Earlier today, your ‘umble correspondent (are you really a letter writer composed entirely of deer offal? Ed.😉 ) received the email below from the Free Software Foundation.

In December, Microsoft apparently conceded to public pressure by quietly updating the Windows 8 logo certification requirements with a mandate that a desktop computer user must be able to control (and disable) the Secure Boot feature on any Windows 8 computer that is not based on ARM technology. This looks like a victory for free software users, as it will allow a person to install GNU/Linux or other free software operating system in place of Windows 8.

But, this is no time for celebration, because Microsoft has also added a treacherous mandate for makers of ARM-based computers — such as a tablets, netbooks, and smartphones — requiring them to build their machines with Restricted Boot technology. Such computers are designed to lock a user into only being able to run Windows 8, absolutely preventing her from being able to install a free software operating system on her computer. Since smartphones and tablets are some of the most commonly used computers, it’s vital that we get straightforward and clear information about this threat out to the public.

Already know what this is about? Then take action now:

  • Raise awareness and have fun while putting pressure on Microsoft and computer makers by entering the Restricted Boot Webcomic Contest;
  • Winning submissions will be featured on the front page of for a month;
  • Entries must be submitted by March 17th by emailing campaigns (at)

Sign the statement “Stand up for your freedom to install free software.”

If this is the first you’re hearing about this whole Restricted Boot vs. Secure Boot business, read the full story.

Fairness comic strip

If you need some inspiration, FSF are encouraging the propagation of the strip above, which comes courtesy of Mimi and Eunice.

LibreOffice conference to be held in Berlin

Document Foundation logoIt’s been announced today on The Document Foundation’s blog that Berlin in Germany will host this year’s LibreOffice Conference.

The Document Foundation members jointly decided on the location for their conference in a public poll that closed last week, whose result has been announced with the above-mentioned blog post. In the end, it was a choice between Berlin and Zaragoza in Spain.

The Document Foundation’s Board of Directors has congratulated Berlin for having won this year’s LibreOffice conference bid and is looking forward visiting Berlin for the conference this coming autumn.