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US govt. urged to use open source

BBC Technology reports that Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is preparing a paper on the use of open source software for the new US administration.

“It’s intuitively obvious open source is more cost effective and productive than proprietary software,” he said, adding, “Open source does not require you to pay a penny to Microsoft or IBM or Oracle or any proprietary vendor any money.”

On the quality and other aspects of open source, McNealy continues: “The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability – all the benefits that come with open software.”

Regarding proprietary software use by government, OSI President Michael Tiemann states, “It’s an accident of history that proprietary standards became so entrenched so early and it’s been a colossal expense for government.”

This sounds promising: could we really see penguin-powered computing (news passim) in the Oval Office?

You can read the full story here.

DIY wifi

Bristol Wireless volunteer Tony Stone has been experimenting with increasing the range of USB wifi dongles and has come up with a splendid bit of home-made kit.

USB wifi extender

In Tony’s own words:

I was having trouble picking up my local WiFi hotspot. I was using a USB dongle and added an extension cable to put it outside the window. This allowed me to access the local network. The signal was still weak and after a bit of thought and research I decided to add a reflector to see if it could be made to work more effectively.

I found an old desktop fan and removed the metal fan mesh guard. I found it had a hole and I was able to mount the dongle through it using the low-tech fixing solution of twisted wire, although cable ties are an alternative.

Upon testing, I found this significantly increased the reception range of my access point. It had suddenly started to pick up networks that were over half a mile away!

Congratulations Tony! You’re continuing a fine old Bristol Wireless tradition of home brew kit (news passim).

Tony recommends visiting this site, where he did his research, if you wish to emulate his feat. In addition to fan guards, other circular dish-like objects can be used, such as a vegetable steamer.

20/01/09 – Put a penguin in your ‘puter

This coming Tuesday 20th January is Penguin Awareness Day (hat tip: Kerry McCarthy). Why is a tech news site so concerned about aquatic, flightless birds you may ask?

Tux - the mascot of the Linux kernelAnybody familiar with Linux will be aware of the existence of a character called Tux, the mascot of the Linux kernel and a penguin to boot (should that be a bootable penguin? Ed.). The concept of the Linux mascot being a penguin came from Linus Torvalds, the initiator of the Linux kernel. Tux himself was created by Larry Ewing in 1996. Tux has become iconic for Linux, with one British Linux User Group adopting a live Black-Footed (or Jackass) penguin at Bristol Zoo on the occasion of Linus Torvalds’ birthday one year.

There’s also a Linux distribution called Gentoo, named after another species of penguin. Gentoo offers “… a special flavor of Linux that can be automatically optimized and customized for just about any application or need. Extreme performance, configurability and a top-notch user and developer community are all hallmarks of the Gentoo experience.” ‘Nuff said. On the other hand, its feathered counterpart “lives mainly on crustaceans such as krill, with fish making up only about 15% of the diet”.

Once your penguin-powered box is installed and you are using a GUI, as most folk do (most don’t browse the web with lynx like you guys. Ed.), why not grab yourself some penguin desktop wallpaper? There’s loads to choose from and the kids all love it. Here’s one for starters – a fine excuse to get some Emperor Penguins on your screen.

Enjoy Tuesday and don’t forget to remember the penguins!

“My computer isn’t doing strange things for no reason”

Tux - the mascot of the Linux kernelWhen I saw that as the subject line in an email we’ve received, I thought it was a great way to open a testimonial to Linux.

Last week we had a visitor in the lab who bought one of our splendid £30 computers. Normally, we don’t hear from our customers: the machines just keep running efficiently and they might just call 3 years later… Anyway, back to that testimonial, from a gent named Mark, which started:

Firstly, I just wanted to say thanks for machine I picked up off you on Friday. Since switching to Linux a short time ago it’s made my user experience that much more enjoyable. My computer doesn’t start doing strange things all of its own accord. Not once has it decided to shut itself down whilst I’m in the middle of something. Likewise, not having to send meaningless error reports all the time is both a new and wonderful experience.

Unexpected shutdowns? Meaningless error reports? I wonder what operating system that is… Of course a meaningful error report – one you can pop into your favourite search engine – is what you get from a Linux system. 😉

Linux and open source also encourage inquisitiveness and a desire to help others as our correspondent continues:

The thing I’m finding with Linux is the more i learn the more i want to learn more.

The whole ethos of the OS community blows me away. The other day I was looking at antiX and the main Mepis distro and was well impressed. I have also started looking online to find out how to write programs in C. Again, I’m not expecting to be a competent programmer over night but I want to learn. Today I’m starting to see for myself what Linux has to offer and would love to be able to help share it with others. To be honest with you the reason I sent this email was to see if you had any opportunities to volunteer. Like I said I cant program in C or C++ and I certainly don’t know about Java. However, I can make great cups of tea and coffee.

Great tea and coffee? Sounds like an offer we cannot refuse!

Mark concludes:

You guys know your stuff and are sharing it with the community and many are benefiting from it. In the future I would like to be able to do the same. If I can help in any way I would love to be able to offer some of my time to the project. Please feel free to contact me at any time.

Once again thanks for the PC and thanks for getting me hooked on Linux.

Anyway, if you feel like volunteering or buying one of our refurbished machines, please do get in touch: we’d love to hear from you.

Calling all radio pirates!

Aar me hearties! Jules, Bristol Wireless’ treasurer will be taking us back to the 1960s in a couple of weeks time, when he talks on pirate radio (Ah! The pink-shrouded mist of nostalgia descends over my eyes. Ed.) in the Zoo bar at St Werburghs Community Centre (map here) on Wednesday, 14th January 2009 from 8-9 pm.

A marine pirate radio vessel called Mebo II
A marine pirate radio vessel called Mebo II

In an email Jules has just sent me he says the talk will cover the history and political legacy of pirate radio in the North Sea from 1964 until 1989 and will include historic recordings, music and a slide show of some astonishing scenes from the North Sea. In more detail, he’ll be covering the radio ships, the people, the music and the dirty tricks employed by the UK government to get them off the air once and for all – sadly it seems, for ever. 🙁 Jules continues: “I shall tell just how complicit the UK government was in destroying this form of free speech – and I shall reveal some truly astonishing and shocking facts of just what powers the UK government retains – to this very day”.

The bar will also be open for the event, ably staffed by Rich.

Jules is promising a further talk soon on land-based pirate radio if this one goes well.

Helping our dear IE users

The sad plight of our dear friends the Internet Explorer user base has come to our attention. Apparently a serious security flaw in version 7 of their flagship web browser and according to the BBC, the seriousness of the problem means that security experts are advising users to switch to another browser until the issue is fixed. Whilst we can’t attempt to fix the problems in Microsoft’s browser because it is closed source, we can recommend a number of great browsers to switch to, including Firefox and the new Flock social web browser.

And once you’ve experienced the joys of using a standards-compliant browser that does render web pages correctly, why would you ever go back to Internet Exploder?

Busy weekend – Part 2

If you’ve still got some enthusiasm left after Saturday’s Dorkbot (news passim) down in fragrant Stokes Croft this coming Saturday, news reaches the lab that Chaostreff Bristol will be having some malarkey on Sunday 14th December in St Werburghs, as outlined in the following email from Adam that I received earlier this week via the Chaostreff Bristol announce mailing list:

Chaostreff Bristol invites you to its Christmas hacklab!

There will be two main activities at this hacklab. The main hands-on activity will be making some Joule Thieves out of old batteries. Also, we will be trying to start a project know as “Speak and Sniff”. As usual there will also be a bunch of computers, electronic toys and nice fat wifi for those that just want to hang out and talk.

After we’ve all had enough, some of us will head out to the pub or get some noodles. We have all of the supplies for the Joule Thieves and are in the process of sorting out what we need for speak and sniff. Snacks, drinks, tunes and any interesting electronics you can bring along would be welcome too.

Sunday, December 14th, 2008, from 14:00 until 17:00
The St Werburghs Centre,
Horley Road, St Werburghs, Bristol
BS2 9TJ.

We’ll be in room Number 7 – look out for the sign on or over the door.

The nearest railway station is Stapleton Road, about 5 minutes’ walk away. FirstBus numbers 5 and 25 serve St Werburghs. If you get lost, or just want to say “hello”, you can call our hacklab phone on +44-56-0104-0058 or by first dialling any SIP Broker access number and then *258-84495627 or using SIP URL

Please pass this on to any people or groups who may be interested, linking to this webpage: if possible.
See you on the 14th!

Busy weekend – Part 1

This coming weekend of Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th December looks like being a busy time for geeks and other ne’er do-wells in the Bristol area.

December Dorkbot logoFirst of all comes news that Bristol’s December Dorkbot (strapline: “people doing strange things with electricity”) is happening on Saturday 13th. Just for a change, it’s having a rest from its usual haunt of the Pervasive Media Studio down near the docks and going walkabout to Hamilton House on Stokes Croft.

Doors open at 12 noon and we’re promised everything from robot hacking, tech from the archives, web mash-ups, the Astronaut Show, a bring your own Arduino lab, a performance of the Space Echo – the geostationary effects pedal and whatever else folks all bring along on the day.

Anyway, there are full details on Dorkbot Bristol. However, if you are coming, you’ll need to sign up first.

Co-ops trade fair

Trade fair logoThe time: first thing on Monday morning this week (Groan! Ed.). The place: outside the Watershed by Bristol’s historic docks, where Rich Higgs and yer ‘umble scribe found ourselves unloading a car full of stuff – a refurbished £30 computer, the Bristol Wireless banner, blank CDs, literature, etc. – to haul inside for the South West Trade Fair for co-operatives and social enterprises. On my back I also had my rucksack with laptop (for burning CDs), live CDs (Ubuntu and Mepis) and even more literature.

Once inside, we quickly installed ourselves in our exhibition space, sharing a table with our old friend MJ Ray, who was there promoting the services of Turo Technology LLP – a creative computing cooperative also offering services using free software and GNU/Linux.

In addition to MJ, it was good to see some other familiar faces there, such as Julie from Cosmic and Phil from Essential Trading. Moreover, it was wonderful to be at an event where the co-operative/social enterprise model was the norm rather than the exception.

What did we get out of it? Plenty of interest in free and open source software (lots of literature and live CDs given away), plus we joined Co-operatives South West (it’s free 🙂 ), the umbrella organisation for co-ops and mutual societies in this part of the world

Come and test your geek knowledge

Think signInstead of the traditional Christmas-time office booze-up, Bristol Wireless is organising something slightly different this year: we’re putting on a geek quiz night as a fundraiser.

Details are as follows:

  • Venue: St Werburghs Community Centre, Horley Road, BS2 9TJ;
  • Date and time: Friday 19th December at 7pm;
  • Team size: 4-6 persons;
  • Entry fee: £2.50 per person;
  • Quizmasters: Sean and Woodsy.

In addition, we’ll have a licensed bar open with, inter alia, cider from our good friends at Ciderpunk, as well as refreshments.

All are welcome, so hope to see you there and remember: points means prizes!

Squat ICT

On the morning of Saturday 29th five Bristol Wireless members arrived at the Red Factory social centre off Portland Square, Bristol armed with one of our mobile LTSP servers, 3 of our posher LTSP client laptops, one of our 30 quid Linux PCs and some bumf about free software and BW to assist in the Opening the Doors to Autonomy day of activities and workshops taking place there.

We set up on a couple of tables on the landing and were up and running by about 11 am. We used a 3G dongle for Internet access and a laptop for routing. We have live burning of give-away copies of various Linux distros and many good chats about social and artist freedom with the people who came along. Through the event, Bristol Wireless were able to support and strengthen our links with the Bristol social activist movement. We also had information available about the next hacktionLab rural hack-meeting to take place in the spring of 2009.

A visit from Ronnie Corbett

Yesterday the Bristol Wireless lab was graced by a visit from Ronnie Corbett – the real one that is, not the wee comic… 😉

Anyway, avid readers of BW News will remember that Ronnie was the warden at Princess Royal Gardens (news passim). He’s now retired from wardening duties for Bristol City Council, but is still keenly interested in IT for senior citizens and feels he can now throw himself into this fully without any of the constraints imposed by being a wage slave.

How does Ronnie intend to provide IT for the elderly on little or no budget? By using free software and Linux of course! (How else? Ed.)

Rich Higgs was chauffeured by Ronnie yesterday to a prospective install site at a local social club for an initial visit. More details as and when they arrive…

In the meantime, thanks very much for the biscuits Ron, and your justification for computing for the elderly is still the best we’ve read.

Free software equals sovereignty? Stallman speaks

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project, was recently interviewed by Rosalie Marshall of Australia’s IT news and gave the following intriguing response when asked: “Do you think public authorities should be leading the way with free software?”

Every public agency has a duty to maintain its control over its computing, as a matter of sovereignty. Using a non-free program means giving the program’s developer control over that computing. Thus, public agencies must reject proprietary software and move to free software. Venezuela and Ecuador are on the right track.


Hat tip: northxsouth

Adventure in Technology is happening again!

Our old friend Shevek has just given the first notice of the next Adventure in Technology will be returning again early in 2009. Writing from the other side of the Atlantic, Shevek posted the message below yesterday to the BBLUG mailing list:


We are holding the next episode of our festival of creative technology in Bristol on the 28th February 2009, where we will be removing lids marked “Do not remove this lid”, going “ooh!” and making more interesting things out of the debris. There will also be both high- and low-tech talks and demos on topics including cryptography, demo coding, talking to politicians, audio production and robotics.

This time, in addition to guests from Europe, we are likely to have a number of notable guests from the USA (where I am currently residing).

The event web site is at – please join the group (Google) as further announcements will mostly be placed there. Entrance will be free, as this is one of our guiding principles, and there is a car park and a licensed bar.

Of course nobody knows quite what people (including you!) are going to bring or do until the day of the event. If you want to talk or demo something, it will help us if you contact us in advance so that we can warn the stage crew of numbers, and what to expect. However, if you just turn up on the day, we will do our best.

Come along and have fun!


This year’s event (news passim) was great fun. What Shevek didn’t mention in his announcement was that the venue will be the same as last time – Trinity Community Arts, our near neighbours and another organisation committed to using free and open source software. Finally, the Techadventure Google group is already firing off a flurry of messages (thanks to whoever signed me up! 😉 ) and I’ll be there on the day to cover the fun.

LTSP help wanted in Senegal

Every now and again one’s previous work comes back up again to haunt – just like the previous night’s dodgy takeaway meal.

Generic LTSP setup

This has just happened to Bails, one of Bristol Wireless’ longest serving volunteers, who yesterday posted the following message to the BW mailing list:

Last year I was requested to put together an LSTP server and several clients for a friend. These were subsequently shipped out to Senegal. They have now arrived (12 months later) after the hassle of getting them through customs (via a neighbouring country).

We set the system up so it should JFW. But now the computers have arrived in Senegal, they have realised they have no technicians who understand Linux or LTSP.

If anyone is in that region and could help would they please reply to this thread and I will put them in contact with the people on the ground.



For the Francophones out there, here’s a French translation of Bails’ message:

L’annĂ©e derniĂšre j’ai prĂ©parĂ© un serveur LSTP (Linux Terminal Server Project) et plusieurs clients lĂ©gers pour un ami. Ceux-ci ont Ă©tĂ© ultĂ©rieurment expĂ©diĂ©s au SĂ©nĂ©gal.

Ils sont maintenant arrivĂ©s (12 mois plus tard) aprĂšs les ennuis de les dĂ©douaner (par l’intermĂ©diaire d’un pays tiers voisin). Nous avons installĂ© le systĂšme d’exploitation et le serveur et les clients doivent ainsi fonctionner sans aucune intervention ou configuration ultĂ©rieures. Depuis l’arrivĂ©e des ordinateurs au SĂ©nĂ©gal, on s’est rendu compte qu’il n’y a aucun technicien qui comprend Linux ou LTSP.

Si quelqu’un dans la rĂ©gion peut offrir de l’aide, vous ĂȘtes priĂ©s de rĂ©pondre Ă  ce fil et je vous mettrai en contact avec les personnes sur site.

Merci Ă  l’avance

Can you help Bails out here? If so, can you please subscribe and respond to our mailing list (details here).

5 Spanish villages fined for providing wi-fi

image of scalesSpanish site Dos Hermanas Wireless reports that five villages in Girona, northern Spain, that have been bypassed by the telephone companies, decided a few years ago to install their own WiFi networks to provide internet access to residents. The regulator, the Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) has now fined them for breaking the law, as the service was not notified to and registered with the Commission.

In 2006, the CMT received a number of anonymous emails about some villages (Bordils, Campllong, Espinelves, Fornells de la Selva and Quart) in the Province of Girona offering wireless access to their residents at a price of between six and nine euros per month. The villages had contracted Gesmedia to take charge of building and operating the network infrastructure.

The ambitions of the villages were modest: one or two lines and ADSL for people to meet the demand of a population that in no case was more than a couple of hundred inhabitants. All localities had coverage problems and in some areas connections were not possible.

The local authorities are deemed by CMT have breached section 6.2 of the General Telecommunications Law, which requires those involved in operating a network or providing an electronic communications service to notify the CMT.

The mayor of Campllong (400 inhabitants), LluĂ­s Freixas, was indignant with the CMT’s decision. “We got into this situation by providing a public service, by replacing someone, an agency or operators who have not done their work,” he said. The nearest telephone exchange to the village is three kilometres away and its wiring is old and inadequate, according to the mayor. “There was no coverage,” he adds. In the absence of companies providing a service, they decided to take action themselves, “so people could read their email or use the internet,” he explained.

Some of the local councils told the CMT they were unaware they had to register and all agreed that network operator Gesmedia had not done its job properly. None of the local authorities receive any financial benefit from the service, for which subscribers pay Gesmedia.

Read the story in the original Spanish.

Hat tip: Global Freifunk


Over the last few weeks Bristol Wireless volunteers have been installing seven LTSP workstations for public use in the foyer of Easton Community Centre in Kilburn Street.

Easton Community CentreIn keeping with our greener credentials, the Compaq workstations (also known as clients. Ed.) run on minimal power, having no moving parts such as hard disks and optical drives; they were originally used as desktop machines by the National Health Service and were donated to our project through Byteback Computer Recycling in Hartcliffe. The new Dell server we’ve chosen to run the suite and all the user applications is also very low-powered, but very efficient.

We’ve installed our own flavour of Debian Linux (news passim) sporting the Bristol Wireless desktop and your usual suite of tools – web browser, word processing, graphics software, etc. – most users will want to utilise.

There’s recently been a change of management in the ECC and we wish the new team well. Those readers with good memories will recall that Bristol Wireless was associated with the centre for many years in the past and we’re very pleased to renew our collaboration.

A laptop for Palestine

Hello Tosh gotta new laptop?Bristol Wireless volunteer Acesabe is currently doing the final installation and configuration of a laptop due to go out to Palestine in the near future through the good offices of Bristol Computers For Palestine, who are currently raising funds for computers for educational and community use in the West Bank.

The machine itself is a Toshiba Satellite 4060XCDT with a PII processor and, in view of its vintage, Acesabe has installed the latest version (codenamed Toussaint Louverture) of the lightweight AntiX distribution.

Talking to a representative of Bristol Computers For Palestine, I learnt that the organisation has already got a batch of 16 full-sized desktops and monitors already crated up and ready to go: all that’s required is a reliable contact in Israel to take delivery and they can then be delivered to the West Bank. This, along with the intransigent attitude of the Israeli authorities, have been the major obstacles to date. Laptops, on the other hand, are easier to get their final recipients as they can travel as normal cabin hand luggage on aeroplanes.

Researching this piece, we learnt there’s a Palestine Linux Users’ Group, so there’s a friendly group of people locally who’ll be able to help with any queries users may have.

Finally, if you have any laptop(s) you could donate, Bristol Computers For Palestine would be pleased to hear from you; contact them through their website. Any personal data can be deleted if necessary.

Venezuela buys 1 mn. Linux laptops

The BBC reports that, as part of a $3bn (£1.66bn) bilateral trade deal with Portugal, it will be buying one million low-cost laptops for its schoolchildren.

Portugal is manufacturing the blue and white laptops under licence from Intel and the machines are broadly based on the design of Intel’s Classmate computer, which will also sport digital cameras and a broadband net connection, as well as running a version of Linux (what else? Ed.) developed in Venezuela.

Read the original story here

Lincoln requests bids for city centre wireless network writes that Lincoln has issued a request for proposals for bids for the installation of a city centre wireless network.

Lincoln Business Improvement Group (BIG) has received a grant of ÂŁ150,000 to be used to help fund the cost of building the network; BIG regards this grant as seed money to encourage a service provider to build and operate the network, from which it would receive a share of the revenue. The services envisaged include applications delivered to a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone such as two-way SMS, along with video surveillance, video conferencing and VoIP telephony.

Read the original news piece here

Hat tip: Global Freifunk