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After Badger Cam comes Pigeon Cam

Following on from Bristol Wireless’ recent work with Secret World and their badgers and other assorted critters (news passim), news reaches the lab that our colleagues up at Knowle West Media Centre have also been getting involved with wildlife – in their case the local wood pigeon population.

A screen capture of KWMC's Pigeon Cam

You can access Pigeon Cam and follow all the action by following this link.

Hotot Twitter client

People who know BW’s chief scribe know he’s a great fan of Twitter, the social networking and microblogging website. Over the past couple of years, he’s tried out various Linux Twitter clients, ranging from quick and dirty Python scripts for tweeting from the command line, via your conventional web browsers to dedicated social networking packages, such as Gwibber, which comes installed as standard with Ubuntu. So he was quite interested in trying out Hotot, one of the recent Google Summer of Code projects.

Installing Hotot is comparatively easy if you’re at ease with the command line. The instructions are listed below for Ubuntu. Instructions for other distros are available via the developer’s site. 🙂

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:hotot-team
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install hotot

Once installed and running, Hotot seems to have some exceedingly useful features: geolocation via Google Maps, image and video preview, discussion threading (my favourite!), search, etc. What is more, it seems by default to refresh very regularly (putting a little pop-up on the screen, very handy if you’re busy in another workspace), something I never seemed to be able to achieve with Gwibber despite setting a 1 minute refresh interval in that application’s preferences.

Twitter timeline in Hothot
Twitter timeline in Hothot

Hotot is still in its very early development stages; the version number I’m running – codenamed Ada – is only 0.9.6. However, this user is impressed with it and, as development continues, I believe Hotot is going to be a great application.

Finally, my thanks are due to Alan Lord for putting me onto Hotot in the first place. 🙂

Happy birthday FTP

The Register reports that File Transfer Protocol (FTP) celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend.

FTP itself was initially proposed by MIT‘s Abhay Bhushan in April 1971 for transferring large files over ARPANet, the forerunner to today’s internet. However, it still has its uses, unlike some earlier protocols (gopher anyone? Ed.), and its future looks assured.

Read the original Register article.

WikiConference UK 2011 in Bristol this coming weekend

Wikimedia UK logoBristol has become a hotbed of activity in recent times for all things related to Wikipedia and Wikimedia UK. In May 2010 Bristol opened its arms to delegates from various Wikimedia chapters from around the world (news passim). In February this year the city welcomed Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who gave a talk at the Victoria Rooms to celebrate Wikipedia’s 10th birthday. The last Wikimedia-related event in the city was held in March 2011 when the University of Bristol hosted the UK’s first ever Wiki Academy.

News now arrives in an email from Wikimedia UK Board member Steve Virgin that Wikimedia’s UK chapter will be gathering at Bristol’s Watershed on Saturday 16th April for its 2011 conference and Annual General Meeting. Steve’s email is reproduced verbatim below.

Hi all

It is that time of year again when all organisations hold their AGM & discuss how things went during the last 12 months & consider where they would like to be in the next twelve months.

This is an exciting time for Wikimedia UK as it elects a Board that will be tasked with professionalising the UK Chapter – hiring full time staff, opening a full time, fully staffed UK office for the first time.

There have been a number of success stories over the last twelve months. Local Bristol highlight being the Jimmy Wales talk at the University of Bristol & the British Cathedral Choir School.

The event will be recorded and there will be a live Twitter stream too.

Can we now ask you all a collective ‘crowd sourced favour’ and to ask you to ping the invite to the Wikipedia AGM in Bristol around to as many as possible for me please?

And of course, you are most welcome too – you can become a member or join on the day, only £5!



More information about the WikiConference UK 2011 is on the Wikimedia UK website and the really keen can register here.

Advance notice – UWE’s 5th Linux Boot Camp is coming in June

Linux Boot Camp logoNews arrives at the Lab that our friends at UWE are organising the 5th annual run of their popular Linux Boot Camp on 20th and 21st June this year.

Linux Boot Camp is aimed primarily at people who’ ve done their A levels and might be going on to do something IT-related in further or higher education (or that’s the impression your ‘umble scribe gets. Ed.).

The publicity blurb and details of how to book or seek further information are below.

The Linux Boot Camp is aimed at those, normally doing or having done A levels, who want to do practical technical computing. We want you to get in touch with your inner geek!

If you already know how to do some of this stuff, then don’t despair, the structure of the Linux Boot Camp will allow you to explore advanced topics in system configuration.

The event will involve two days of technical workshops exploring many aspects of modern technology and the use of free open source software. During the workshops you will learn how to revitalize your PC (or even resuscitate a dead one!) by installing and configuring Linux on it. Useful skills such as how to set up a home network and web server will be given. You could learn how to make your own router, or how to hack into various set top boxes. At the end of the Linux Boot Camp you will be able to tap into the world of open source computing and maybe set yourself off on a profitable and worthwhile career.

The numbers are limited to about 60 places, so don’t delay.

As if that wasn’t enough the Linux Boot Camp will give you the chance to experience what life could be like at Uni and will look great on your CV or UCAS form!

The Linux Boot Camp costs £30 per person – which includes lunch.

For further information or to book your place contact Kim Allen or Craig Duffy on lbc (at) or telephone 0117 32 84242.

Linux is 20 this year

2011 marks the 20th birthday of Linux (or GNU/Linux if you’re a purist. Ed.) and the Linux Foundation has released the video below to mark the event.

Find out more about what’s happening to celebrate 20 years of Linux and penguin-powered computing at the Linux Foundation’s dedicated 20th birthday page.

A short service announcement

Netsight, who connect the Bristol Wireless network to the internet have informed us that they’ll be doing a set of upgrades to the mains and high-voltage power infrastructure around the precinct in central Bristol where its Datacentre is located this coming Saturday, 9th April 2011.

Netsight therefore asks all customers (including us) to assume that there may be service disruptions on at least Saturday 9th of April, and try to make plans around this. Furthermore, customers are also advised to take backups of all critical data on or before Friday 8th April.

Please note that there may be outages on the BW network as a result of these works and hope any such do not cause you too much trouble.

What to do with Linux when the cows come home

Friesian_Holstein courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsIf someone asked you what you would do with Linux when the cows come home, would your answer be: “Milk them”? If so, you can go to the top of the class; and no, don’t let the proximity of April 1st lull into a sense of incredulity. Agricultural equipment manufacturer DeLaval makes a robotic milking machine – the VMS Basic (PDF here) – that runs on Linux (and Windows) and can also be operated a wireless remote control.

This amazing fact comes courtesy of a slideshow sequence at Network World entitled ‘The oddest places to find Linux’. Others include drinks machines and motorcycles. The sildeshow is introduced by the words:

Open source isn’t just a license or a coding methodology, to many it’s a religion.

As we’ve previously published the Linux Lord’s Prayer, we’re not going to argue with that! 😀

View the slideshow here. We hope you enjoy it too.

Dear Mr Grundy…

Below is an email we’ve sent today to a Mr Eddie Grundy, of Keeper’s Cottage, Ambridge, Borsetshire.

Bristol Wireless' new assistant network engineer

Dear Mr Grundy

You might have noticed that one of your ferrets is missing; from your Twitter feed we reckon his name just might be Brooklyn. We haven’t kidnapped him (honestly) and decided to join us quite voluntarily (although it might just have had something to do with the trail of food leading from his pen to the back of our van… Ed.).

Anyway, we’re just writing to let you know that Brooklyn is alive and well and is being well looked after by our newly appointed volunteer ferret manager/trainer, Michael.

Brooklyn has already shown his worth running Cat5 cable as he’s much thinner than our Rich and fits down the ducting better. 🙂 This has saved us lots of time on cabling jobs as he whizzes through the ducting and can get into odd spots that normally give us ageing geeks gyp. We can see he’s a bright ferret and we’re hoping to train him further, including how to wire up and crimp the ends onto Cat5.

Please rest assured that Brooklyn will be back with you shortly and, as a token of our appreciation, he’ll be returning to Keeper’s Cottage accompanied by 20 litres of finest Somerset artisan cider from some good friends of ours for you and Joe to enjoy.

Kind regards and thanks for your understanding
Bristol Wireless

PS: We’ve heard of a critter called Fibre the Dog, but he’s not half as good a worker as Brooklyn. 😉

Many happy returns FSFE

FSFE logoNews arrives that the Free Software Foundation Europe is 10 years old this month. This is a good age to start celebrating according to our sources. Consequently, FSFE is organising a small party in Berlin this evening at C-Base, Rungestraße 20, 10179 Berlin. All free software supporters are invited and those coming along are asked to send notification by email.

We cannot make along tonight, but hope you have a fun time all the same.

More details are available in the original post (German).

UKgov releases IT strategy in Open Document Format on Document Freedom Day

Today is Document Freedom Day, an annual event that aims to educate the public about the importance of free document formats and open standards in general.

DFD banner

Here in the Bristol Wireless lab, we’ve been telling visitors about why open standards and free document formats are important, such as avoiding the pitfalls of proprietary formats and vendor-lock-in.

Elsewhere, we note that today is the day that the Cabinet Office has chosen to announce the Government’s IT strategy, which sets great store on the use of open standards. Indeed, kudos is due to the Cabinet Office, which has also released the strategy in Open Document Text (odt) format.

This is the first instance of which we’re aware that the Government has released a document in Open Document Format – unless you know otherwise, of course, in which case, please correct this misapprehension in the comments below.

Herefordshire Open Source Day

It’s 8.30 on the morning of Saturday 26th March and your ‘umble scribe is standing on a sunny Stapleton Road station waiting for the train. One and a half hours later, he alights at an overcast and chillier Hereford station and goes ambling into town in search of 2 things: firstly, breakfast and secondly, All Saints Church – the venue for this year’s Open Source Day organised by the Herefordshire Linux Users Group.

Herefordshire Open Source Day complete with Hereford's Mayor in attendance - Picture courtesy of Caroline Beaumont

Even for a stranger such as me there was plenty to see and do, including live CDs for people to take away and try/install; indeed there were even CDs of open source software available for Windows for those who didn’t want to take the plunge with the Penguinistas. Plenty of demonstrations of open source and free software were on display, ranging from the latest games (great for attracting younger potential users. Ed.) to such specialised implementations as Vinux – a special remix of Ubuntu specially designed for use by the blind and visually impaired. Tony Sales, one of the developers of Vinux, works at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford.

Also present was the Mayor of Hereford, Cllr. Anna Toon, complete with chain of office, who presented the Herefordshire Open Source Star Awards, of which there were three. The lucky winners were:

  • the award for work in administration went to Dr. Ashley Tucker and the HCC/Herefordshire NHS WIMS team for beginning the process of adoption of Open Source solutions in Hereford County Council;
  • the award for the promotion of open source in the business sector went to Heather and Kevin Dontenville of OpenSure; and
  • the award for outstanding personal achievement went to Tony Sales for the continuing development of the Vinux project – empowering the visually impaired around the world through free accessible software.

After the presentations came the day’s keynote address given by none other than Bristol City Council’s Dr. Mark Wright, the executive councillor in charge of efficiency and value for money. Mark’s also a Ubuntu user, a keen advocate of open source and took as the topic for his address the experiences of Bristol City Council in trying to implement open source. This could be summarised in a couple of sentences (“one step forward, two steps backward”. Ed.). Firstly, Bristol was a pioneer some 5 years ago when it opted to deploy Star Office throughout the council. It is still a pioneer as hardly any other local authority in the country is interested in deploying open source. Secondly, this situation is not helped by central government requiring information from local authorities in proprietary formats and the necessarily specialist nature of some of the software used by the council; there’s no open source council tax collection software available, for example.

All told, it was a worthwhile day away. It was grand to see a different LUG in action and I got to talk with people about, inter alia, the problems of getting decent broadband in rural area. Moreover, there was lots of interest in open source from potential users, who ranged from farmers to political activists, small businesses to home users. On a personal note, it was also great to meet Kevin from OpenSure in the flesh having been mutual followers of each other on Twitter for some time. In addition, there’s also a report of the day on the OpenSure blog.

Finally, my sincere thanks to all members of the Herefordshire LUG for their hospitality on the day. Cheers folks! 🙂

Bath Uni installs Britain’s first local DC computer network on campus

Over the Christmas vacation, Bath University took advantage of the absence of students to install 50 new computers on the 5th floor of its library.

These new machines are faster, smaller, quieter and generally better to use, as well as being part of a demonstration of a new method of distributing energy.

These computers are powered using direct current (DC) electricity rather than conventional alternating current (AC). The supply network is unique and will act as a showcase for future projects of this type.

AC electric power from the grid is converted to DC and runs 50 specially adapted computers in the University Library. Students using the system have noticed that the new computers are more compact and much quieter than the previous systems.

The immediate advantages of the new system are not only for the user but for the energy bill payer and the environment.

Initial tests show that the system emits approximately half as much heat energy as the previous AC powered system while running much faster. This results in a double energy saving – initially from energy efficiency rather than emitting heat – and secondly in avoiding the need to use air conditioning units.

Read the original article in full.

Government IT procurement – telling it like it is

Over at Computer World UK, Tony Collins currently has a most revealing report on the state of UK government IT procurement taken from a House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee session, during which it interviewed Martin Rice, CEO of software company Erudine.

Besides references to cartels and an “oligarchy of government IT suppliers”, the committee’s exchanges with Mr Rice also lifted the veil on attitudes within Whitehall and their regular IT suppliers to open source, as follows:

Open standards and open source

“…You bring in Open Standards. You say, ‘To deliver that service, it has to meet x’. You audit what they are doing and if it meets that standard, the citizen can go to them. You can bring it in [IT connections with the public] through standards.”

“… Facebook is an interesting example; they developed some software called Cassandra. It is a globally scalable database, they decided they did not want to own it so they put it as part of the Apache Open Source stack.

“It is available to the world and it has a very large group of developers working on the code. It is a brilliant piece of software and it is free. Now it is not free, because you will pay people to use it, you will pay maintenance support, but you are not locked into an adversarial relationship.

Jenkin: What about the security problems? Facebook is notorious for its lack of security.

Rice: That is beyond the scope of today to go into that, and I believe it is a red herring. If you were to take a copy of Facebook and say, ‘Let’s use it for Government,’ it would be unsuitable, but that does not mean the underlying technologies are not capable of delivering this.

Open source doesn’t have big hospitality budgets and lobbyists

“I am yet to find Open Source to have a salesman who takes everybody out to lunch. A lot of procurements are sorted in the wine bar, over lunch or on the golf course, so I see that as a problem for Open Source systems with very good software out there…

“A friend of mine was an MEP a few years and said as a tongue in cheek joke, ‘Microsoft had a bigger delegation there than most Member States.’

“So the Open Source community did not have a large delegation there and Microsoft keeps the stranglehold. ..

Read the original report in full.

Hat tip: Mike Simons

Advance notice for Silver Surfers’ Day 2011

News arrives in your correspondent’s inbox that it’s only 8 weeks to go to this year’s Silver Surfers Day the national campaign that aims to get older people using computers and the internet. Silver Surfers’ Day is specifically aimed those over 55 years of age (such as the author of this dire drivel. Ed.).

Since the inception of Silver Surfers’ Day in 2002, the campaign has enabled over 100,000 older people to get online. Even so, 1 in 5 people aged 55-64 have still never used the internet – and this rises to 3 in 5 of those aged 65. The main barriers for older people are often a lack of confidence and understanding and some handholding is required to enable them to overcome their inhibitions.

This year Digital Unite, the organisation behind Silver Surfers’ Day, is marking the event’s 10th anniversary with a new week-long campaign, Spring Online with Silver Surfers’ Day, running from 16th – 20th May 2011.

For more information about Spring Online or to register an event visit Alternatively call 0800 822 3951 or email springonline (at)

Inside the Bristol Wiki Academy

Bristol Wireless has been using wikis for years to document and plan the development of the co-operative and its work, so we were delighted to accept an invitation to attend the Bristol Wiki Academy at the weekend (news passim). To the best of our knowledge, this was the first Wiki Academy to be organised in the UK.

The day started with a welcome by Wikimedia UK Director Steve Virgin, swiftly followed with a brief introduction to Wikimedia by Martin Poulter. The 3 outstanding facts your ‘umble scribe remembers are firstly that the languages with the most Wikipedia articles are English, German, French, Italian and Polish: secondly, Wikimedia is now producing articles on CD-ROM and in print for those without computers and/or internet access and finally that Wikimedia Commons has more pictures of the male reproductive organs than it can possibly use and wants no more!

Wikipedian Roger Bamkin in full flow

Martin was followed by visiting American Alex Stinson with an audience excercise on the Five Pillars of Wikipedia, i.e.:

  • Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia;
  • Wikipedia has a neutral point of view;
  • Wikipedia is free content;
  • Wikipedians should interact in a respectful and civil manner;
  • Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

Next at the front of the class was Rod Ward with an excellent talk on ‘Improving Wikipedia’, taking as an example the journey of the article on Somerset’s Sweet Track ancient trackway over the years from a stub to featured article, illustrating the rigour of Wikipedia’s peer review process.

Before the lunch break came 2 more presentations, firstly from Martin on Wikipedia as a social site, who stressed that all input has a value, however wacky it may first seem and then William Avery on sharing images and other content, including a demonstration of uploading Wikimedia Commons. William also discussed acceptable types of licensing (e.g. Creative Commons and the GNU Free Documentation License).

Alex again took centre stage after lunch talking about maximising Wikipedia’s educational benefit, outlining the success of the US Campus Ambassador programme. Ambassadors can also be city ambassadors or community ambassadors and Wikimedia UK is backing the launch of a UK Campus Ambassador programme.

Martin Poulter then appeared at the front once more to explain how Wikipedia deals with vandalism and ensures that articles have a neutral point of view.

After Martin, the floor was thrown open to your correspondent who gave an introduction to MediaWiki, the free software that runs Wikipedia, and how it can be used as a tool for collaborative working by organisations of all sizes and types, from corporations to small voluntary groups.

Only 2 more presentations then remained on the bill: the hard-working Alex again on content partnerships and Roger Bamkin on Wikipedia in public spaces. Roger focussed on a project with Derby Museum that adds QR codes for exhibits. Visitors with smartphones can scan the QR code and get a link straight to the relevant Wikipedia article – an excellent addendum to conventional museum exhibit labels.

Matt Jukes, who also attended the Wiki Academy, has also written an excellent post on the event.

Finally, our thanks are due to Martin Poulter and Steve Virgin and any others for all their work in putting the event together; we Bristol Wireless folk were all fired up afterwards. 🙂

Bristol Girl Geek Dinner #7

Via the medium of Twitter, the co-op’s chief scribe learns that Bristol’s Girl Geeks are having a get-together, a bite to eat and some food for thought in the middle of next week. The event’s publicity posted on Eventbrite reads as follows:

I am very glad to announce the 7th edition of Bristol Girl Geek Dinners and also our 1 year of existence!

The Merchant Venturers School of Engineering of the University of Bristol (map) is hosting and sponsoring our evening, Wednesday 23rd of March. The evening will start at 6pm and the talk at 6.30pm.

We are very lucky to have Professor Ann Blandford from UCL has our guest speaker. She will be giving a talk on ‘Designing to facilitate serendipity’.

As usual, men are welcome to the event as long as they are invited by one of our female participants.

The event is free. Please register before Monday 21st of March.

More details and registration here.

Another lab report

It’s a busy day in the lab, with volunteers Michael, Jim, Rich, Acesabe and yours truly present and it’s a real hive of activity, the silence punctuated by the gentle tapping of keyboards.

Acesabe is up to something to do with networking of which ordinary mortals like your ‘umble scribe is not meant to wot (nothing’s changed there then. Ed. 🙂 ).

Rich and Jim are working on a proposal for a prospective new customer, whilst Michael, our technically-minded volunteer co-ordinator, is researching running vservers on Debian.

Yesterday we linked the lab into our network with the kind assistance of a friendly electrician, Fred from Good Earth Electrical of Long Ashton. A technical write-up is expected in the next couple of days.

Finally, yours truly is working on his short talk on MediaWiki for tomorrow’s Bristol Wiki Academy (news passim), for which a few places are still available, if you’re interested. 🙂

My Friends Online – Computer Training & Lunch in Knowle West

Next Thursday March 24 our friends at Knowle West Media Centre will be organising My Friends Online – an opportunity for for people to learn basic computer skills and enjoy a free lunch at the centre too! The event runs from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm and is free of charge.

Those attending are invited to bring along a friend – or make a new one there – and get online together.

Whilst getting to grips with IT basics or doing the lunch justice with knife and fork, participants can also sign up for free weekly IT training to assist with such tasks as:

  • shopping, banking & using other services online;
  • searching for jobs;
  • keeping in touch with family and friends;
  • creating a CV.

For more information, please contact Makala or Rachel at Knowle West Media Centre on 0117 903 0444 or visit the Knowle West Media Centre website.

Register for My Friends Online here.

Netherlands – moving to open source would save public sector up to €4 bn.

Osor reports that the Dutch could save €1-4 bn. per year, if the public sector moved to open source software, according to calculations done by the Ministry of the Interior. The ministry deemed the report ‘unsound’ and wanted to keep it under wraps, but Dutch Members of Parliament demanded access to the report.

The report titled ‘Sorry, we’re open’, was made available to the Parliament after pressure from Socialist Party MP Rik Janssen, which heard that the report had been submitted to the Court of Audit, which is working on a separate study on the potential savings possible with open source software. This study was expected to be made public on Tuesday 15th March.

The Ministry of the Interior’s calculations were done by one of the civil administrators involved in the project to renew 11,000 desktops in most of the Dutch ministries. This new desktop is based on proprietary software for the operating system, for office applications, email and groupware

According to the report, these are the areas where vendor lock-in and the use of proprietary standards are most disruptive. Other locked-in IT areas are database applications and desktop operating systems. The report says that IT vendors exploit the lock-in created by proprietary standards, keeping their prices at a level where exit costs are excessive.

The report calculates that moving to open source would make cost savings possible in several areas, including proprietary licences, procurement costs, licence management and IT maintenance.

Read the original Osor report.