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The Digital Challenge is dead, but Momentum Group is harder to kill than a vampire

Yesterday, Rich, Jules and yours truly were representing Bristol Wireless at a Connecting Bristol event (news passim) at the Watershed entitled ‘The Digital Challenge is Over – The Digital Opportunity is Here’. It was good to see some old (not in the geriatric sense. Ed.), familiar faces: Kevin and Stephen from Connecting Bristol, Stephen Dodson from DC10plus, Carolyn and Makala from Knowle West Media Centre, Dick from the Watershed, etc. It was also good to see some new, familiar faces too, such as Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius Corporation, who are going to be opening a Bristol office in the New Year. The event was being actively reported via Twitter by half a dozen fleet-fingered folk in the room using the hashtags #digifuturesbris and #digifutures.

After attendees were hushed to silence by Dick, the event kicked off with a short address by Bristol City Council leader Barbara Janke, after which there was a rapid series of presentations (with added ‘Death by Powerpoint’. Ed.) from Stephen Hilton, Steve Dodson, KWMC’s Carolyn and Makala and iShed‘s Victoria Tillotson looking at what had been achieved both locally and nationally during the Digital Challenge. Your scribe was amazed that over 3 years had elapsed since we worked on Bristol’s bid. The final presentation – with no slides – came from Andy Parkhouse from Delib making, inter alia, a passionate plea for decent broadband and the sincere wish that decent connectivity becomes regarded as a utility.

During the presentations we were reminded that Bristol’s Digital Challenge bid was the culmination of 18 months work, which began in July 2005 with the first gathering of the Digital Bristol Momentum Group – a group whose ‘open source’ philosophy and ways of working secured cross-party political support and a commitment from business, academia and the wider community to making Bristol the country’s leading digital city.

The floor was then thrown open to discussion from the floor and this covered a broad range of topics looking towards the future, with such contemporary issues as Wikileaks and public spending cuts both getting a look-in. Next generation access (aka ‘superfast’ broadband) featured prominently here. Telco giant BT was criticised for its (lack of) progress to date, to which, when given the right of reply, the man from BT talked of forthcoming trials of 40 Mb/s and 100 Mb/s services. Dick Penny raised the matter of the regulatory environment with BT, asking whether an amendment in building regulations to stipulate fibre to the home would expedite the roll-out of better broadband access. I seem to recall the answer was a qualified maybe. There role of business loomed large in the discussion, although a couple of speakers mentioned the importance of not disregarding the interests of communities, either physical (‘neighbourhoods’ in council-speak) or communities of interest (which are legion).

Before adjourning for a glass of Watershed rouge, the meeting resoundingly agreed that the Momentum Group’s momentum should be sustained with quarterly sessions. So, see you all in 3 months’ time. 😀

Footnote: if you’re wondering about the vampire references, Stephen Dodson was afraid to come to Bristol for fear of running into all the vampires, having watched the box set of TV series ‘Being Human’, which was filmed locally.

Portugal – mandatory open standards for the public sector soon?

OSOR informs us that open source moves are afoot in Portugal.

Two of Portugal’s left-wing political parties want to make the use of open standards mandatory for the country’s public sector. On Friday, 10th December the Portuguese parliament will discuss two motions, filed by the Left Bloc, with sixteen of the 230 seats in the parliament, and the Portuguese Communist Party, which has thirteen seats.

Looking at the Left Bloc’s motion, the motives for advocating the use of open source are quite simple. Citizens increasingly interact with the public sector via the internet. That is why governments most use open formats instead of proprietary alternatives, “otherwise, only those who can pay for the use of the proprietary format can have access to the information“. If adopted by the parliament, the Left Bloc motion will create an obligation for the use of open standards in public administrative IT systems.

The Communist Party’s motion wants to make it mandatory to use open standards in all governmental digital documents. The party wants the public sector to use open formats for all electronic files, including audiovisual material, geographic information, email and websites.

“This is the most important IT debate ever in our parliament”, commented a spokesman for ESOP, Portugal’s association for open source IT service providers.

Read the full story on OSOR.

Welcome volunteers old and new

A pleasant surprise awaited your scribe on his arrival at the Lab yesterday: one of the happy smiling faces lurking there was Mark, who had to bring a halt to his volunteering activities last year to find a job to pay the bills.

Anyway, Mark now has some spare time on his hands again and is more than willing to devote some of it to Bristol Wireless. I’m pleased to relate his interest and enthusiasm for all things open source – what brought him to Bristol Wireless in the first place – continues unabated: he’s currently wiping an old desktop at home with DBAN (news passim) and now has an up-to-date Debian network install ISO with which to experiment, mainly in order to see how Debian compares with his Karmic Koala release of Ubuntu, one of many Linux distros which Debian has spawned over the years.

Anyway, to return to the point of this post: it’s always lovely to see old volunteers call in to wish us well and perhaps get involved again. Moreover, Bristol Wireless extends a warm welcome to anyone new who’d like to volunteer with us (we’re all volunteers here. Ed). If anyone new does have some spare time they’d like to spend with us in the Lab, please remember this: excellent technical skills are not essential, although a willingness to learn new skills and share the ones you have definitely are. Indeed, if you have marketing/PR and copywriting skills you’d be particularly welcome – not that we’d turn you away if you showed up on the doorstep offering tech skills.

Finally, several of our former volunteers have progressed to very skilled, responsible or prestigious jobs; indeed the technical ones are employed right around the world. If you’re unemployed, a period of volunteering will fill what would otherwise be a void in your CV, so come on! Get in touch.

The Digital Challenge is over – long live the Momentum Group

The Government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge, launched in 2007, is over but, according to Connecting Bristol, ‘digital’ has more to offer Bristol than ever before.

Bristol City Council, the Watershed, Knowle West Media Centre and local digital agency Nameless are sending an open invitation to you to an open meeting at 2.00 pm on Monday, 13th December 2010 at the Watershed (map).

The meeting has the following purposes:

  • remind all attendees of the Digital Vision for Bristol that Connecting Bristol developed in response to the Digital Challenge;
  • acknowledge and review the progress that has been across the city by many agencies in the last 3 years;
  • identify new digital priorities for Bristol; and
  • to relaunch the Digital Bristol Momentum Group.

The meeting is open to all, but spaces are limited, so please register here as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

The meeting will be followed by drinks at 4.30 pm.

Hat tip: Connecting Bristol

Lab life – disc wiping

A couple of days ago, we received a donation of a rather smart machine; this will be refurbished and offered for sale as part of our refurbishment project, for which we currently have a selection of machines complete with a full set of software (internet, office, entertainment and multimedia applications) available starting from £30.

The donor of this particular machine also requested that the existing data on the hard drives (yes, it has 2. Ed. 🙂 ) be wiped before we start our usual procedure of installing Ubuntu Linux and BW volunteer Jim was yesterday doing the wiping. We can do this if we’re asked and use a very simple little tool for the process – a Linux live CD that rejoices in the snappy title of Darik’s Boot And Nuke (aka DBAN). According to the developers:

DBAN is a self-contained boot disk that securely wipes the hard disks of most computers. DBAN will automatically and completely delete the contents of any hard disk that it can detect, which makes it an appropriate utility for bulk or emergency data destruction.

DBAN is a means of ensuring due diligence in computer recycling, a way of preventing identity theft if you want to sell a computer, and a good way to totally clean a Microsoft Windows installation of viruses and spyware. DBAN prevents or thoroughly hinders all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis.

DBAN is a free software product that can be used at home or in a business at zero cost. The only official place to obtain DBAN is by download at this web site. We do not sell DBAN media.

As you can see, it’s a very nifty bit of kit (and all in a 10.9 MB disk image download too. Ed.) – all the more so since the menu options include securely wiping and destroying all data to US military standards.

So, any potential donors out there, just remember: if you’d like your data wiped, just ask. 🙂

Norway’s public sector turning increasingly to open source

Public administrations in Norway are increasingly turning to open source, says Martin Bekkelund, business developer at Friprog, the country’s open source competence centre. This year, all 19 county administrations are using some form of open source, compared to 76 per cent in 2005.

Uses vary from server operating systems and content management systems to OpenOffice. A recent example is the procurement of an open source telephone system based on Asterisk in the county of Akershus. In addition, now 75 per cent of the 430 municipalities in Norway are using this type of software, including, for example, OpenOffice in secondary schools and complete server software stacks.

Five years ago, a little less than 60 per cent of local authorities were using open source. In Norway there are roughly a thousand public offices, which includes government offices, municipalities and counties; now more than 60 per cent use open source, compared to 34 per cent in 2005.

Bekkelund says public administrations should work together to reuse data, knowledge and software. Failing to collaborate on this will result in increasing IT costs and mounting bureaucracy. “This in turn leads to decreasing quality and a loss of knowledge.”

“On the other hand, forcing public administrations to switch to open source is not the way to go, public sector need to see the benefits of sharing and collaboration for themselves.” This explains why Friprog is working on incentives to make open source more attractive. The centre has created a site called Delingsbazaren where public administrations and IT service providers can collaborate.

A similar website, Kunnskapsbazaren, focuses on sharing documentation, research, case studies and data. Friprog also organises conferences, such as the forthcoming GoOpen conference taking place in Oslo in March 2011. “Free and open source has become a natural part of the market.”

Hat tip: OSOR

Net neutrality – Government minister ‘misinterpreted’

To some people network neutrality may seem an esoteric subject, but it’s absolutely vital for the way modern information technology functions.

Last Wednesday, Government minister Ed Vaizey told the FT World Telecoms Conference that ISPs could soon be allowed to drop net neutrality and prioritise content providers prepared to pay to ensure a better quality of service. He said that having a lightly regulated internet was “good for business, good for the economy and good for people”.

This produced a storm of protest from anyone with an inkling as to what net neutrality meant, including Bristol Wireless, who tweeted:

UK Minister Ed Vaizey backs ‘two-speed’ internet Rich is speechless.

(Rich did actually come out with the words: “I’m speechless”. Ed.)

On the same day, Tom Watson MP drafted an Early Day Motion (EDM 1036), whose full text we reproduce below.


Watson, Tom

That this House expresses its concern at the recent comments made by the Minister for Communications and Creative Industries that internet service providers should be allowed to abandon the principle of internet neutrality and prioritise users’ access to certain content providers; notes that Open Internet has delivered competition, innovation and unlimited access to new services; further notes that Open Internet has played a pivotal role in enhancing democratic participation and freedom of expression; believes that abandoning the principle of internet neutrality will stifle online innovation and lead to websites paying internet service providers to ensure their content gets priority; does not believe that mere transparency is likely to lead to protection of customers and citizens from harm, especially as ISPs seeks to lock their customers into long-term bundled service agreements with telephones, televisions, mobile telephones and internet; and calls on the Government to act against internet service providers who may seek to restrict customers’ internet access for market advantage through minimum service guarantees.

It now transpires that in the meantime, Vaizey has been in contact with the venerable Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a staunch advocate of net neutrality. Indeed he has now told the Guardian:

“I say ‘don’t block input’ [to the internet]. It’s my first principle. I say the same as Berners-Lee.”

Vaizey is now saying his earlier remarks have been ‘misinterpreted’. More unkind commentators may have another interpretation – one involving the word U-turn.

Wales in port

An email’s arrived from Steve Virgin of Wikimedia UK to say that Jimmy Wales, the man behind Wikipedia, is coming to Bristol on 13th January 2011.

He’ll be appearing at the Victoria Rooms (map) on that day between 12.00 and 13.00.

This is a special event to mark 10 years of Wikipedia, featuring the man behind the project and is held in association with Bristol Festival of Ideas, Bristol City Council, BBC Anchor Trust and Wikimedia UK.

Ten years ago the idea of an online encyclopaedia, which would be collaboratively written and constantly updated by tens of thousands of people, and read by hundreds of millions more, was a dream.

Since then, Jimmy Wales has inspired others to join him and has formed a 100,000-strong online volunteer community, which has built Wikipedia into a worldwide force for free learning and general education that’s run with modest resources and nevertheless engages communities worldwide. It’s now firmly established (for many parents with kids at school it’s become a vital resource for homework. Ed.), but where will it go next?

This is a rare opportunity to hear Jimmy Wales talk about the history of this remarkable project as well as the plans for future development.

You can book by emailing jimmywales-bristol (at) or phoning 0117 928 8515.

Debian Women offer training

From today’s inbox.

The Debian Women project is pleased to announce the forthcoming start of a series of training sessions which will be held on IRC by experienced community members. The main goal of this initiative is to encourage more people, and specifically women, to contribute to Debian while introducing them to different aspects of the Debian Project. Topics will span over a wide range of subjects related to daily Debian maintenance efforts as well as advanced tasks. These sessions are organized by the Debian Women project on its IRC channel (#debian-women on and are open to everybody, regardless of gender or previous involvements in the community.

First session has been scheduled for Thursday, 18th November at 20:00 UTC. Lars Wirzenius, a long-standing Debian Developer, will give an introductory lesson titled Introduction to Debian Packaging.

Future sessions will be held on a regular basis, and will cover collaborative maintenance with Git, Python modules and applications packaging, and many more. Please visit the official wiki page regularly to check the up-to-date agenda and follow our group on You may also refer to the wiki to suggest new topics or sign up yourself as a trainer: we are always looking for more people to share knowledge and complete the schedule, so don’t be shy!

Visit Debian for more information.

A voyage in the lab

Bristol Wireless volunteer Acesabe is doing some testing in the lab at present. Over the last couple of days, he’s taken a WRAP board (like the one shown below) and installed Voyage One on it.

wrap board

Voyage itself has been described by Carla Schroder, author of Linux Networking Cookbook as:

“Voyage is a very stripped-down Debian Linux … With Voyage you have the entire world of Debian available to you, so customizing your own gear is easy. It’s great for firewalls and routers, and specialized servers that need a small footprint.”

Voyage ONE itself is described as “an enhanced edition of Voyage Linux. It aims at integrating the most usable server software and making Voyage Linux a complete, full featured and usable embedded x86 platform.”

Voyage ONE integrates the following software:

  • VoIP – asterisk dahdi (formerly zaptel);
  • VPN and tunnelling – vtun openvpn stunnel;
  • Meshing – AWDS batmand olsrd;
  • Others – aprtables iperf usbutils gpsd ntp quagga snmpd.

It comes with a nifty little web-based GUI for Asterisk too!

So far, the only comment your correspondent could elicit from him as to progress was: “It lives!” (Yes, thank you Igor. Ed.). No doubt he’ll provide more extensive feedback in due course. 🙂

India finalises open standards policy

After three years of continuous running battles, India’s Department of Information Technology has finalised the country’s national policy on Open Standards. Over the last 3 years, it has worked with government, academic, civil society and the media to push the Indian government in favour of a policy that mandates a single, royalty-free standard. With this, India becomes another major country to join the growing open standards movement.

India’s e-governance standards portal is at and the policy document can be found here.

More details.

Hat tip: Glyn Moody

Now Digital Challenge is over, where next for the DC10plus network?

News reaches the lab that the Digital Challenge, set up nationwide some three years ago to promote digital inclusion, has come to an end.

One spin-off of the Digital Challenge was the formation of the DC10plus network, which was formed 3 years ago by the 10 Digital Challenge finalists (of which the city of Bristol was one. Ed.) as a collaborative authority on digital inclusion matters and their effects at local level.

Consequently, the DC10plus network would like to invite people to a get-together in London on 30th November in order to celebrate the network’s achievements and to help consider where things go next. In addition to discussion, they’re offering glasses of wine.

The DC10plus website has details and you can register via Eventbrite.

French Gendarmerie Nationale saves €2 million a year with Ubuntu

As previously reported (news passim), France’s Gendarmerie Nationale decided to review its IT infrastructure. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, now reports the force has upgraded 85,000 PCs to Ubuntu Desktop Edition, removing its reliance on the Microsoft operating system almost completely. As well as simplifying maintenance and improving ease of use, Ubuntu Desktop Edition is saving les flics €2 million p.a. just in licence fees. Moreover, the force has also repurposed 4,500 machines to act as local servers, dramatically reducing its hardware expenditure.

In addition, the Gendarmerie has found that Ubuntu Desktop is much easier to manage and maintain than Windows. Updates and upgrades can be made quickly and easily. Previously, an IT administrator needed to be travelling all year to physically install new versions of anti-virus applications on the desktops in the Gendarmerie’s outposts – some of which are as far away as French Polynesia. A similar operation can now be completed within 2 weeks and requires no travelling.

The police force has been able to tailor Ubuntu Desktop to meet its exact requirements. Gendarmerie Commandant Jean-Pascal Chateau says: “We have a lot of personnel who work in the field. The fact that Ubuntu Desktop is so easy to use is a huge benefit. Agents can personalise their desktops to fit their needs. That means that they can access the same desktop environment no matter which workstation they log in from.”

He adds: “Now staff are more motivated and we’ve reduced costs and introduced solutions that better match our needs.”

Read more about the Gendarmerie’s experience with Ubuntu by downloading the case study (PDF).

Bristol Wireless reopens City Farm Computer Room

KeyboardBristol Wireless will be officially reopening the Computer Room at Windmill Hill City Farm, Philip Street, Bedminster on Thursday 21st October after a brief period of closure.

To mark the reopening, we’ll be holding an open access drop-in session from 10am-4pm on that day to encourage new internet users to get online as part of UKOnline’s Get Online Week. New users will be able to have one-to-one training and support in all aspects of using a computer, the worldwide web, email, browsing, searching and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Open access will then be provided between those hours until the end of October.

Bristol Wireless volunteer and Training Manager Jim Farrand said: “We’ve just moved into the City Farm’s computer room this month and we’d like to introduce ourselves and our work to our new neighbours in Bedminster. The day will be an opportunity for people who’ve never been online to come along and get advice and support.”

“For those who are already online,” he continued, “it’ll be a chance to see what other services Bristol Wireless provides, have a look at our work with free and open source software and refurbished computers. Perhaps they’d like to get involved themselves, as we always welcome new volunteers.”

So come along and pay us a visit next Thursday. Time it right and we may even have the kettle on. 🙂

petef RIP

Early this morning Bristol Wireless received the sad news that Peter Ferne had passed away. 🙁 Pete had been the Chair of Bristol Wireless since its inception until ill health forced him to retire recently.

Early this morning, Pete’s old friend and Bristol Wireless stalwart Rich received the following email from Pete’s wife Deb.

Pete died this morning. I don’t know when the funeral will be yet, but probably late next week. I will email you again to let you know.

Please can you tell everyone you know who knew him, in case I have forgotten to include anyone on the list.

Since then we’ve heard that the funeral will be taking place at the Memorial Woodlands at Alveston, Gloucestershire, but have yet to receive confirmation of the exact time.

Bristol Wireless would like to thank Pete for all his hard work for the co-operative over the years and will miss him greatly, along with, inter alia, his taste in fine headgear, hair and love of cider (the above picture was snapped at The Cube in 2007 during the Bristol Wireless AGM. Ed.).

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Deb and Pete’s family at this difficult time; you’re in our thoughts. 🙂

Please feel free to comment if you’d like to record your memories below.

Something to do on day forty-two

Our friend Alan Lord reminds us that this coming Sunday the date will be 10/10/10. For those that know their binary, you’ll all realise without being prompted that 101010 is 42 in old money, so the day has been declared 42 Day in honour of the late Douglas Adams, author of some rather interesting sci-fi. Still on tens, the latest release of Ubuntu, bearer of the monicker Maverick Meerkat, will be 10.10. I think we lost a 10 there, but don’t worry about it now…

Anyway, sticking with Ubuntu, on 10/10/10 (that day again. Ed.) there’ll be joint celebration of the Ubuntu Maverick Meerkat release and the life and works of Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, etc.) in conjunction with from 12 noon to 6 pm at The Shooting Star, 125-129 Middlesex Street, London E1 7JF, (map).

From 12 noon until 3pm the Ubuntu release party will show you how to install and use Ubuntu. There are a wide range of applications to discuss from web servers, desktop publishing, development environments and tools and multimedia editing.

Anyone and everyone interested can come and get help with installing and getting the most out of Ubuntu.

From 3pm you can join in with the party and celebrate all the great ideas and words Douglas Adams has given us. The party is part of the worldwide 42 Day celebrations.

More details here.

We’ve moved!

There’s been a dearth of news from us for the last week or so. The reason: we’ve been moving the lab across Bristol from Stokes Croft to Windmill Hill.

We moved out of Hamilton House over the weekend with the muscle of BW volunteers Jim, Rich, Woodsy and Acesabe, plus assistance from our mates Llanos and Neil (cheers folks 🙂 ), managing to fit all our kit into 3 vanloads.

Anyway, we’re now settling into our new home: the phones* are ringing again and we have network connectivity.

Anyway, our new address is:

The Computer Lab
Windmill Hill City Farm
Philip Street

We’d be pleased to see both new and old faces at the new lab – and if you turn up with some biscuits, you’ll be even more welcome. 🙂

* = Our phone and extension numbers remain unchanged.

Bristol Wireless proves the power of social media

Twitter bird logoYesterday afternoon your correspondent was in the Bristol Wireless lab in Hamilton House on Bristol’s Stokes Croft, catching up on some pressing Bristol Wireless administration and updating the blog, when one of life’s little irritants occurred. Hamilton House’s occasional phantom drummer started banging away (why do people who should never be allowed near percussion always end up playing it? Ed.) loudly and persistently. Anyway, after about 15 minutes, yours truly was getting really aggravated by it and fired off the following brief bit of invective via his Twitter account:

to the really dreadful drummer currently serenading Hamilton House, #Bristol: STFU! Some of us are trying to work.

And it worked!

Within 2 minutes peace and quiet reigned once again, as confirmed by BW volunteer Acesabe (who was also in the lab):

@woodsy_bristol Seems to have worked a treat!!

Stunned by the silence, the denizens of the lab were able to carry on working peacefully until beer o’clock.

That seems to be a matter of ‘case proven m’lud’. However, as good empiricists, perhaps Bristol Wireless volunteers should carry out additional research to test the reproducibility of this effect. So let’s get tweeting our wish list of gadgets, mobile devices, fine wines, artisan ciders, single malt whiskies and trips abroad, to name but a few. 😉

Software Freedom Day – 18th September 2010

Tomorrow, 18th September 2010, is Software Freedom Day. Software Freedom Day (SFD) was started by a group of FOSS believers, Matt Oquist, Henrik Omma and Phil Harper with the idea of distributing The OpenCD to everyone.

Join us for Software Freedom Day

Software Freedom Day is an international event with hundreds of teams from all around the world running local events to help their local communities understand Software Freedom. To find the nearest event to where you are, try consulting the events map.

Here at Bristol Wireless we wouldn’t be able to work – indeed we would not exist – without the wonderful, comprehensive range of free and open source software out there. For every piece of proprietary software of which you can think, there’s a free/open source equivalent that works just as well – and often better.

For more information, visit the Software Freedom Day website.