Show Sidebar Log in

A shower of tech over Bristol? Must be April’s Dorkbot

News arrives in yer ‘umble scribe’s inbox from Bristol Dorkbot organisers Mike and Rachel (must be that time of the month again. Ed.), who write:

Hello everyone,

As you probably have heard, the next Dorkbot encounter is taking place on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 7:00pm – 10:00pm at the Pervasive Media Studio, Anchor Square, Bristol (map here).

If you’re going to be coming, then please sign up, so that we can keep track of numbers for providing the drinks.

Also, it would be great to post some of the things that’ll be being shown and happening at the next one up on the web, the flyer and this very list; so if you’re bringing something to show then please email us back with a short paragraph of what it is, a link, and a picture if you have one. Thanks.

Other than that, look forward to seeing you there,

Mike & Rachel

Beyond Bristol

In the Bristol area (and other less favoured parts of the 3rd planet of a lowly star on the end of an unfashionable arm of the galaxy), Bristol Wireless has built up a fair reputation as übergeeks. We’ve also done some work beyond Bristol too.

Building on the latter, Bristol Wireless now wishes to extend the benefits of its work further afield, initially to Western Europe. We are therefore today announcing the progress of the development work we have been doing on our own communications satellite.

“At its hi-tech facility in St Werburghs, BW techs have for some time been building an open source satellite from recycled and donated parts, using the combined skills of its team of volunteers”, said BW spokesperson Avril Fuell. “Coming from a wide range of technological and engineering backgrounds, they have a superb set of skills we have been able to deploy on this project.”

CCC rocketThe satellite is about the size of a domestic washing machine and all rumours concerning the use of a washing machine to build it are, of course, completely true.

The satellite will of course be running Linux and it is believed a specially modified version of Voyage Linux is being developed for the project and, once in orbit, the satellite’s footprint will cover most of western Europe.

The main obstacle facing the project at present is the lack of a suitable launch vehicle. However, Germany’s Chaos Computer Club has been contacted with a view to borrowing their rocket, as shown in the accompanying picture (which is by courtesy of Andrew Kilpatrick).

“We hope to have our comms satellite launched within the year,” said BW spokesperson Avril Fuell. “The countdown has started and we should have a fully deployed working satellite in geostationary orbit just after midnight on 31st March next year, although this might slip to the following day.” 😉

A date for your diaries – Nowtopia

At 6 pm on Friday 3rd April, Bristol Wireless is jointly hosting a talk entitled Nowtopia at St Werburghs Community Centre (map here) in conjunction with our friends from Bristol Radical History Group and Bristol Anarchist Bookfair.

The event will be of interest to radical historians and futurists, permaculturalists, free-skillers, open sourcerers, class warriors, transition towners, anarchistas and workplace tinkerers.

From the poster blurb it sounds a fascinating evening and will definitely provide food for thought. In addition, we’ll have the Bristol Wireless bar on tap to refresh those parts that intellectual stimulation fails to reach. 😉

There’s no set admission price, but donations will be appreciated.

Women who do tech

Your scribe discovered yesterday that today has been designated Ada Lovelace Day by Pledgebank and is intended to promote the role of women in technology.

The Pledgebank pledge for Ada Lovelace Day is:

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

Ada LovelaceFor those who don’t know her, Ada (or Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage’s early mechanical computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs, i.e. manipulating symbols according to rules, for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. This was quite an achievement for a woman in Victorian England and one who only lived to the age of 36.

Well, your scribe feels most reluctant to pick any particular woman: all those I’ve met in the technology field have been exceptional, particularly in a sector in which blokes predominate.

However, those that do come immediately mind include Laura from South Devon, an open source software developer, who for years managed to combine this role with a day job in the voluntary sector. Then there’s Rachel, a very busy web developer and joint organiser of Bristol Dorkbot (cheers for a fine event last weekend Rachel 🙂 ). Another long-standing friend is Ingrid Oesten: I first became aware of her technological bent many years ago when husband Royce told me she was doing a computer science degree. I last heard of her working for Infineon, a job that has taken her all over the world. Finally, there’s Winnie from Bristol University, whose knowledge of the internals of Linux leaves me very humble.

The above paragraph brings home to me that we’re very, very short of women volunteers for Bristol Wireless; if you’d care to join us, please get in touch.

The Art & Politics of P2P

On 24th March (next Tuesday) the Arnolfini is hosting a talk entitled ‘The Art and Politics of P2P. It’s free, starts at 7 pm and the speakers are Michel Bauwens, Matthew Fuller and Olga Goriunova.

The presentation introduces the work of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives – a clearing house for open/free, participatory/p2p and commons-oriented initiatives. The interest is in how P2P networks challenge hierarchical server-client relations and provide an alternative organisational principle for understanding cultural production and the creation of value. In discussion we aim to explore the potential of this way of thinking to re-energise the production of art following the principle that emergent and radical arts practices can be found in social energies not yet recognised as art.

The event is being run in collaboration with Art & Social Technologies Research (University of Plymouth) and Pervasive Media Studio/Watershed. For further details, see the Arnolfini website.

Hats on for March Dorkbot

This coming Saturday 21st March sees Bristol Dorkbot’s regular monthly meet, only this time both the day (normally Tuesday) and venue have been changed, the latter to Hamilton House on Stokes Croft (map).

Bristol Dorkbot March 09
Flyer for March 2009 Bristol Dorkbot event

Once again our friends at Bristol Dorkbot are at Hamilton House and this month’s challenge will be to Hack a Hat! (Are edged weapons involved? Ed.) Hat can be hi/low tech and some materials will be provided, with individual and team entries .

During the day, there’ll also be an Open dork session, so bring along your latest electronics, robotics, art, psychology, etc. to show and tell what it’s all about, discuss with others, exchange tips and generally dork out!

For refreshment, there’ll be soup (vegan) and bread for lunch for a modest donation and you’re invited to bring along anything you’d like to augment the larder.

The March Dorkbot will run from 12 noon till 6pm and you can sign up here. Full details are on Bristol Dorkbot.

If you feel like giving the event a bit of promotion, try printing and/or circulating the flyer, which is available in both A6 and A4 formats.

Finally, Bristol Dorkbot now have a Twitter account, so fellow twits (? Ed.) can follow the fun there.

Happy birthday FSFE

FSFE logoOpening my inbox this morning revealed the arrival of news from Europe (Not Brussels though; no need to shudder and fear the worst! Ed.😉 ). Yesterday, 11th March, saw the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) celebrating its 2^3 (eighth) birthday. Over that time, the FSFE has been working for basic rights and freedoms in a society increasingly driven by software.

“The world of Free Software has developed dramatically since FSFE was founded and FSFE was a core part of that change,” says FSFE’s Georg Greve. “Free Software has won its first anti-trust action. We helped to bring issues of interoperability and standardisation to the forefront of the debate, with OOXML being the culmination of this debate. As a consequence, more governments and public institutions have begun to ask questions about the sovereignty of their software and data.” (including the UK government. Ed.)

Over the last 8 years, FSFE has been working intensively at the United Nations, promoted Free Software interests at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), contributed to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), taken part in discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and taught World Bank project managers about Free Software. FSFE has also worked with the European Commission in its anti-trust work and assisted the Commission by offering input into policy-setting initiatives.

There’s more information in the full FSFE press release. In the meantime keep up the good work FSFE; we at Bristol Wireless wish you many happy returns. 🙂

Xtream streaming Femelek tonight

Just arrived in my inbox is an email from fellow Bristol Wireless volunteer and joint Dorkbot Bristol organiser Mike, informing us that Xtream, in which Bristol Wireless is a partner, are in streaming action tonight.

Femelek 09 logo

Mike writes:

Thought you might be interested to know that XtreamLab’s streaming Femelek 2009 tonight. This is a Barcelona festival to celebrate Women and Electronic Music. It starts at 7PM GMT until 11PM GMT. I’ve done a micro-site page for it.

And there’s also the festival’s own MySpace page.

Zut alors! French cops save millions with open source

OSOR reports that the French Gendarmerie‘s gradual migration to a completely open source desktop and web applications has saved millions of euro. “This year the IT budget will be reduced by 70 per cent. This will not affect our IT systems,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Guimard.

This Thursday, Guimard gave a presentation in Utrecht in the Netherlands on the move from a Microsoft-based to an Ubuntu GNU/Linux-based desktop. The Lieutenant-Colonel was one of the keynote speakers at an annual conference organised by NOiV, the Dutch national resource centre on open source and open standards.

Most of the savings are reported to have come from licensing costs and the full story can be read here.

Bristol talks techno footprints and green ICT

Yesterday our friends at Connecting Bristol hosted a Techno Footprint Green ICT Workshop, organised jointly with the council’s Sustainable City Team and The Carbon Trust.

The participants came from a wide range of organisations, ranging from charities, the community and voluntary sector, local authorities, the local universities, NHS, local, national and multinational businesses. It was good to see familiar faces there from Voscur and Knowle West Web.

After a brief introduction from Connecting Bristol’s Stephen Hilton, we were in the hands of consultants Camco, who outlined the CO2 contribution of ICT. In the Bristol area, non-domestic ICT use consumes 125.2 million KWh of electricity, resulting in the emission of 67.3 KT of CO2.

There was lively discussion, both during the presentation session itself and subsequent group session. Points that particularly struck me were the mention of PoE devices, train operator First Great Western’s hardware cutback (thousands of faxes, scanners and printers replaced by multi-function devices with huge energy savings) and long hardware replacement cycle, plus HP’s business travel restrictions. Of course, it was a good opportunity for Bristol Wireless to promote Linux thin clients and relate our experiences with low-impact computing at the Climate Camp and Big Green Gathering. 😉

Open source: UK government decides to catch up

Earlier today Bristol Wireless volunteer Sam alerted the co-op to the launch of Whitehall’s action plan for open source, including support for ODF.

The action plan has a foreword by Digital Engagement Minister Tom Watson MP, which starts:

Open Source has been one of the most significant cultural developments in IT and beyond over the last two decades: it has shown that individuals, working together over the Internet, can create products that rival and sometimes beat those of giant corporations; it has shown how giant corporations themselves, and Governments, can become more innovative, more agile and more cost-effective by building on the fruits of community work; and from its IT base the Open Source movement has given leadership to new thinking about intellectual property rights and the availability of information for re–use by others.

That’s a glowing testimonial for starters. The collaborative working methods inherent in open source have produced all the software currently being used to write this piece and its licensing conditions. Indeed, Minister, the internet (even with your upper case. Ed.) couldn’t function without open source/free software and neither could Bristol Wireless: our entire infrastructure is based upon it. In return for being able to use free and open source software we can help to improve it by fixing bugs and have many years experience of operating it in a production environment.

The commitment to open standards, including ODF comes in as action point 8 out of 10 and states:

Open Standards: The Government will specify requirements by reference to open standards and require compliance with open standards in solutions where feasible. It will support the use of Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as well as emerging open versions of previously proprietary standards (eg [sic] ISO 19005-1:2005 (“PDF”) and ISO/IEC 29500 (“Office Open XML formats”)*. It will work to ensure that government information is available in open formats, and it will make this a required standard for government websites.

* = Whether this standard is truly open is a matter of debate. Ed.

Government website compliance with open standards and open formats is a great change. It wasn’t always so and huge swathes of the Whitehall estate still run on proprietary.

It’s reckoned the UK Government spends some £600 mn./year on proprietary software licences. Will the new-found conversion to open source mean taxpayers money won’t be wasted paying any more Microsoft tax? We’ll have to see.

The action plan is available as a pdf or can be read online. There’s good BBC coverage too.

Finally, if the Minister is keen to show his commitment to open source, we’d be pleased to put Debian on his laptop for our usual consideration – even making him a coffee while he waits. 😉

Yet more wifi DIY… weatherproofing

Regular readers will be aware of the activities or our DIY wifi enthusiast Tony whose adaptation of a humble USB wifi dongle have been documented here before (news passim).

Well, he’s been making further modifications… Bristol is not blessed with the most clement of climates, although its soggy grey skies prevent plenty of moisture for cultures of various kinds to flourish. Needless to say, some weather protection is required for both people and property. Here’s Tony’s low-cost answer for his DIY wifi rig.

That’s right, reader! It’s a baby’s feeding bottle.

However, let’s continue in Tony’s own words:

I have added a baby feed bottle to the home-made dongle enhance to allow it to be left out in the rain. 🙂

This addition reduces the incoming signal strength by about 2-3% !

Like a candidate running for political office over the pond, Honest Tone even gives it an endorsement…

I believe this to be acceptable and recommend this mod!

Repos update

Debian logoBen, our server admin, has just announced the update of the Bristol Wireless Debian repositories.

As a preface, Ben wrote:

Debian 5.0 “Lenny” was released on Valentine’s Day, how sweet. I suspect that this has caused many break-ups as enthusiastic Debian Sys Admins rushed from candle-lit dinners to attend to their servers.*

Anyway, Ben informs us that our repositories have now been updated to cover the following releases:

  • Etch (old stable)
  • Lenny (stable)
  • Squeeze (testing)
  • Sid (unstable)

The naming of Squeeze continues the Debian tradition of calling releases after characters in the film Toy Story.

* Including you Ben? Ed.

WCW 2009 announced

The Wireless Community Weekend (WCW) hosted annually by Freifunk is taking place at the end of May (22.-24.05.2009) and will be staged once again at c-base in Berlin.

The event programme has not been firmed up yet and will be arranged by participants. Proposals for the programme can be submitted before the event.

Further details in English on WCW2009 can be found on the event wiki.

Hat tip: Global Freifunk. Read the original article (German).

Open source in schools petition

Tux graduatePete, the Chair of Bristol Wireless, has posted details to our daily mailing list of a petition on the 10 Downing Street website, requesting the British Prime Minister to promote greater use of open source software in UK schools. At present, use of free and open source software in schools is very much a minor pursuit, relying on the enthusiasm of individual schools’ teaching and IT staff.

The petition is worded as follows:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make the primary operating system used in state schools free and open source.”

At Bristol Wireless we fully support the aims of the petition: using open source in education teaches the pupils about IT, not about how to use a certain widespread operating system (or how to be “button monkeys”, in the words of one of our more outspoken volunteers. Ed.). In addition, we’re no strangers to helping promote open source in education: in 2005 we took the mobile LTSP suite to HesFest – the home education festival (news passim) and this is documented in the HesFest video). In addition, we’ve also demonstrated the use of LTSP and free/open source software to schools in the Bristol area.

If you believe children would benefit from using free and open source in schools, the petition can be signed here.

Show & Tell, plus Linux – Dorkbot is back

After taking a well earned break in January, the first Dorkbot Bristol meeting of 2009 will be on the Tuesday, 17th February 2009 at the Pervasive Media Studio, Anchor Square (above the Firehouse Restaurant) from 7pm until 10pm. It’s a free event with donations accepted for refreshments.

It’ll be a ‘Show & Tell‘, an open invite to anyone to come along with something and enthuse about it for a few minutes: the ‘something’ can be a piece of kit or an interesting project – it’s totally up to you. Organisers Mike and Rachel would also like someone from either Bristol Wireless or BBLUG to talk about a Linux topic for a short period (5 to 15 minutes). If you can help out, please contact them at dorkbotbristol at (replacing the at with the @ sign).

February’s Dorkbot will close with a musical extravaganza, this time in the form of a performance from Mark K (aka Red Rhythmic Dragon).

Download the February Dorkbot Bristol flyer if you fancy publicising the event.

See the Dorkbot Bristol site for full details.

I’ll see you there as I have a ‘Show & Tell‘ item to bring. 😀

GPL? Meet the EUPL

Users of open source and free software are very familiar with open licences such as the GNU General Public License (GPL). Indeed all the content of this site is available under it (we’re still on version 2; the GPL itself is on 3.0 now. Damn techies. Ed.).

One piece of news that may have been missed amidst the economic woes, wailing and gnashing of teeth, was the approval on 9th January by the European Commission of the European Union Public Licence (EUPL). The EUPL is the first European Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) licence and was created at the instigation of the Commission. Its purpose is to facilitate the sharing, the reuse and improvement of software, with the aim of protecting both the interest of the authors (by preserving their copyright and avoiding that their work could be appropriated by a third party) and the users (by providing them all the rights that are granted by open source licences: use, modification and re-distribution).

As for how to use the EUPL, there’s a handy guide (PDF) for users and developers. The EUPL itself – preamble and licence – is available in PDF format in 22 languages here.

Hat tip: Global Freifunk

Techadventure – one month to go

I was reminded today by a fellow labrat that there’s only one month to go to the next Adventure in Technology – Techadventure for short, as mentioned here last autumn (news passim).

“An Adventure in Technology” is a party which will be held on the 28th February at the Trinity Centre in Bristol (map).

Doors will open at 10:00, admission is free, there is a licensed bar (excellent. Ed.) and the party will go on for as long as we do. You’re also invited to bring along your unexpected toys, your creations, projects and ideas, put them together with others and see what happens. Sounds intriguing (the last one was great fun. Ed. 🙂)

The event will consist of talks (the final speaking programme is still to be confirmed), workshops, lots of opportunities to play and the following demos:

  • Amateur radio and TV
  • MythTV and homebrew STB
  • Robotics and hardware
  • Microcontrollers
  • Virtual reality
  • Music and video
  • Classic and Retro Computing

If you want to get more involved, why not contact Shevek et al via the Techadventure Google Group. Anyway, see you there!

Change of venue for next BW meeting

If anyone’s coming along to the next Bristol Wireless monthly meeting, it’s going to be held at Hamilton House on Stokes Croft in Bristol (map here). It’s where the December Dorkbot hacklab was held (news passim).

As part of the meeting, there’ll be a presentation by Amias and Jamie from the Coexist Project, who are currently managing the building and want it to become a space used by technical/creative community groups (Have I got the pitch right lads? Ed.).

Maybe see you there? I’ll be the one in the corner furiously scribbling away. 😉