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News from a barn

It’s summer again (allegedly) and Bristol Wireless is sitting in the countryside playing with technology. We’re providing the technical infrastructure and running some of the workshops at Hacktionlab (news passim), which is being held this weekend at Stepping Stones Housing Co-operative, Highbury Farm in the picturesque Wye Valley. We’re using the barn as a dining and work area and have the LTSP suite set up in here, as you can see from the picture, and Lloyd has the site covered by wifi. We even have a VoIP telephone on site (some mobile networks don’t work here at all) which has a Bristol Wireless extension number.

Mike, Andy, Lloyd and myself arrived on Thursday evening as the advance party, spending yesterday (and part of Thursday evening) preparing the space and site facilities for the main arrivals on Friday and Saturday.

As I started writing this Mike Harris has a large group of people sat around in the grass listening to an introduction to satellite technology, whilst Andy is providing sterling support as a flipchart easel. 😉

After lunch, which is on the point of arriving, Lloyd is doing an introduction to wireless and some software-based sessions on video and aggregation are planned for later this afternoon.

Flying on the DC10plus

dc10plus logoThe last 2 weeks yer ‘umble scribe has been to 2 events organised by DC10plus, a collaborative project that has grown up between the finalists (Bristol, Birmingham and Shropshire, Ealing, Hull, Norfolk, Nottingham, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Stratford on Avon and Sunderland) of the Government’s Digital Challenge, who have formed an alliance to spend £2 million of funding to increase digital inclusion and stimulate innovation, amongst other things.

On 3rd June Connecting Bristol‘s Kevin O’ Malley and myself were up in Sunderland – winners of the Digital Challenge – for Communities Building Capacity Practitioner Workshop, in essence a good chance to look at what they’ve been doing. Our first call of the day was the Wearside Community Development Trust centre in Southwick, where we had an introduction to the day including overviews of Sunderland City Council’s Community IT, e-Neighbourhoods, Electronic Village Halls, Community e-Champions, Community of Interest websites and a demonstration of Hexagon – a communication tool. Afterwards we all piled into a minibus for a visit in the rain to 2 electronic village halls – St David’s Community Project and the Jubilee Community Centre, ending up in Easington at the old Miners’ Institute, now given a new lease of life as a Community Access Point.

There are some very strong points to the work Sunderland is doing and what they are planning for the future (e.g. the use of wireless networking using mesh technology). Perhaps I was most impressed by the concept of the e-Champions, members of the local community who encourage others in their areas to make greater use of ICT. The best story we heard was of a ladies’ slimming club who ended up doing the full CLAIT programme; that wasn’t their intention but the IT room was the only one available for hire for their meetings! The Communities of Interest websites are another strong point – cheap to set up (£100) and maintain (£20 pa). The principal positive point was the emphasis on it being people that mattered – not the technology, the latter being just a means to an end. Sunderland’s programme is nevertheless heavily biased towards the use of proprietary software – not much evidence of free/open source and one of my concerns was that by teaching people in deprived communities to use expensive proprietary packages is that it might force people into the arms of your friendly local Jolly Roger software supplier. However, I do wish to thank all the people I met in Sunderland for their hospitality, friendliness and hard work in arranging such an interesting day.

This Wednesday just passed, the DC10plus Communities Building Capacity folks came to Bristol for a day-long session at Knowle West Media Centre‘s brand new building. Attendees at this event included parties from Sunderland, Ealing, Aston in Brimingham, Shropshire and Bristol. Andy Sabel and myself went along from Bristol Wireless to demonstrate free and open source software with our mobile LTSP suite running 6 thin clients and a couple of standalone laptops, including an old PIII running AntiX, a lightweight, but fully featured Linux distribution. While the delegates were busy with their morning session, Andy and myself were in the next door room setting up the suite. Facilitator Ed Mitchell gave us a spot at the end of the mid-morning break to introduce ourselves and to let people know we’d be showing off our wares at lunchtime.

Lunchtime duly arrived and Andy and myself had to nibble sandwiches between talking to our steady stream of visitors, whose tech knowledge varied from none at all to IT professionals. I believe we had people from all the delegations come to see us and experience using free and open source software, such as the GIMP image editor and the Open Office suite. Included in our kit was the power meter, enabling us to demonstrate how LTSP could save on energy bills (under 200 watts for the LTSP suite) – an important consideration these days given the trend in electricity prices. The AntiX laptop demonstrated how old hardware can be given a new lease of life and avoid the usual upgrade cycle common with some operating systems that require new, more powerful hardware just to do the same old jobs. We also gave out live CDs, which we hope are now being put to good use.

Finally, our thanks go out to Kevin of Connecting Bristol for assisting us in attending these 2 events.

Attending a call to Hacktion!

Bristol Wireless is pleased to be taking part in HacktionLab, which takes place on the 13th, 14th and 15th June at Stepping Stones Housing Co-operative, Highbury Farm in the Wye Valley.

LTSP at G8 protest, Stirling 2006 HacktionLab aims to be a rural weekend of workshops and gathering together for nerds, hackers and activists to get together and exchange ideas and skills. Some of the workshops include free software video editing, open source streaming, mobile communications using 3G and satellite technologies, LTSP and recycled computers, renewable energy, skill-sharing for video encoding, podcasting and hosting. There will be a shared cost for the event and a fifteen pound donation will be kindly requested.

Bristol Wireless will be taking along its infamous LTSP suite and lending a hand with wireless and tech.

If you’re interested in taking part then how about signing up and letting us know of your dietary requirements and joining the mailing list.

Experience the world of work at Bristol Wireless

We’ve been on new ground this week at Bristol Wireless. All week we’ve had Guy and Isaac, two pupils from Fairfield High School, with us in the lab as part of their work experience.

BW: “What have you been doing with us this week?”

Guy: “We’ve been learning about Linux, LTSP, hardware, building a computer from scratch and installing the operating system and software, networks, routers and making Cat5 network cables and servers.”

Isaac: “First of all, we’ve been building computers from scratch by wiring everything to the motherboard and doing various Linux installs – Debian and Ubuntu – as well as learning various commands for configuring the system.”

BW: “Is this your first major experience with Linux and free/open source software?”

Guy: “I’ve had a dual boot Linux/Windows laptop for about a year, but this is the first real chance to explore it really and get taught how to use it.”

Isaac: “Yes. I’ve always used Windows in the past. To me, Linux seems safer and easier to use.”

BW: How do you think our setup at Bristol Wireless performs in comparison with other systems you’ve used?

Guy: “It’s faster, more interesting and generally beats other popular systems by miles. It’s the most computers I’ve ever seen with them all working properly in one place.”

Isaac: “The only other system I’ve used a lot is the one at school and the school system seems very limited in comparison.”

BW: “I hear you both installed your own web servers earlier this week and then tested their security. Whose server was breached first?”

Guy: “Sean showed and helped us to set up our own Apache2 servers. Isaac’s cracked first!” 😉

Isaac: “His did!” 🙂

Editor’s note: at this point a bit of friendly banter breaks out between our 2 interviewees.

BW: “Has you found your week with us useful and what did you enjoy best?”

Guy: “Yes, it’s been incredibly useful, I’ve learnt a lot and also got a really cool computer out of it. My favourite command is ssh.”

Isaac: “Yes and the best thing was that we had a free rein to learn new skills and use them in a practical environment.”

BW: “Thanks for your answers and your company this week; it’s been a pleasure having you here.”

Liverpool hosts Open Source City

Alastair Ball has told us the forthcoming Open Source City event being held in Liverpool as part of its programme of events as European Capital of Culture.

Open Source City logo Taking place from 20-22nd June, Open Source City is being billed as a “micro-festival of open source practice in the production of media art and music” and is being organised by folly and SoundNetwork. Open Source City offers a programme of art, workshops, masterclasses, talks and concerts to shed light on the growing impact of Free/Libre Open Source Software on the creative practices of today, particularly in media, art and music.

Artists and speakers involved include goto10, Access Space, Polytechnic, Simon Blackmore, Tom Chance, MediaShed and 64 Studio. The festival will be based at Mello Mello, 40-42 Slater St, Liverpool L1 4BX.

Full details can be found on the folly website, as can the festival programme.

Coming soon – An Adventure in Technology

Our old mate Shevek is putting on a little event at the end of June at Trinity Community Arts. Full details are – taken shamelessly from his recent post to the Bristol and Bath LUG mailing list – are as follows:


I am co-organising an event called “An Adventure in Technology” as a follow-up event to the Linux fest many of you remember from 2003; but this time, thanks to Trinity Community Arts, it’s going to be much bigger and much better.

It’s going to be an all inclusive event where everybody is encouraged to bring something along, talk about it, swap ideas, and build things on site. It doesn’t have to be Linux based, but a lot of things will be. We will have presentation spaces, demos and workspaces for your own projects and everyone will be encouraged to explain what they are doing and learn from others.

Of course nobody knows quite what people (including you!) are going to bring until the day of the event, but we’ve tried to get some concrete programme items so that you know what to expect, including:

  • Presentations on fun topics by guest speakers from London, Eindhoven, Birmingham and further abroad. I have a fair idea of who they are, but I’ve not written them into the programme yet.
  • Hardware swap-shop.
  • Bring-a-problem, solve-a-problem.
  • Amateur radio and maybe even TV broadcast.
  • A Linux/OSS-based recording studio where you can play.
  • Robotics, graphics, Second Life, GL demos.
  • Hardware hacking and workbenches.
  • Social and games spaces, power, networking and consoles.
  • Licensed premises and bar.

The event web site* is and you should feel free to post information there if you have an idea or want to run a session. There will also be a list for people who decide on the 28th that they want to give a talk.

If you want any particular resources or facilities for any toys you are bringing, please post on the web site, or ask one of us, and we’ll do our best to make sure it happens.”

Maybe you’ll be there too? 🙂 Sounds like a fine reason to spend the weekend in Bristol.

* = The website also includes an event blog.

Gnucash – an accountant writes

Malcolm, a friendly chartered accountant who helps with our books, recently emailed our treasurer his opinions on Gnucash, the personal and small-business financial-accounting software that runs on GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS X and that other unspoken OS from Redmond. His words are reproduced below:

Couldn’t resist the lure of FREE* software, so downloaded it and imported a Quicken file into it. It worked pretty well, not 100%, but with a bit of practice it shouldn’t be too hard to work out why some transactions drop out. It certainly looked good and was easy to use.

If you were starting from a blank page, mapping errors wouldn’t be a problem of course, but it might take several trials to finally make sure that all data get mapped from an Intuit file to a Gnu file. More practically, you could import the chart of accounts, but lose all the history and just start with the prior period’s closing balances carried forward.

It isn’t as good as Quicken was, and in particular you can’t pick a payee and run a report of all payments made to XYZ… Instead you have to run a report of all payments made to all payees sorted a-z and then scroll down to XYZ. Standard reports are very few, but the custom report designer is pretty flexible, and lets you choose any start and end date, as Quicken does. It’s pretty much on a par with QuickBooks SimpleStart, which is also free in the US, although there is still a modest charge for it in the UK. If you don’t need VAT or the £ symbol, you can use the $ version though. Good psychology as when users find they need more crunching power, they upgrade to the full product more often than not, on the devil you know basis.

The way Gnu copes with VAT seems quite laborious though, requiring quite a lot of master file maintenance to set up an extra level in the chart of accounts, so that income and expenditure are first separated into VAT/non-VAT and then each of those sectors has to be broken down into the normal profit and loss categories, interest, council tax and wages, etc in one, and sales, goods, stationery, etc. in the other. You then have to build custom reports to select and aggregate the VAT-designated items into one report. Aaaaaargh!

Gnucash seems much more of a replacement for Quicken/MS Money personal finance software than for QuickBooks at this stage, although enthusiastic users could create QB-style standard charts of accounts and VAT templates and compile them into code for the General Good perhaps. However, three or four days of non-volunteer data processing and conversion time costs a lot more than another copy of QuickBooks. It would suit a lot of small traders though. The use of QIF (Quicken interchange format I think) as standard probably means that if anyone has the patience to keep their books on it, it could be exported into real QuickBooks for easier handling, again subject to an accurate mapping template between the two charts of accounts. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, but not quite there yet.

Best Regards,


* = That’s also free as in freedom Malcolm, as well as free as in beer 😉

Local 21st Century marketing seminar

Our friend Kevin of Connecting Bristol has written to give us another date for the diary. On 19th May Connecting Bristol will be supporting a seminar, in association with Business West, aimed at giving a comprehensive overview of using online ‘new media’ channels and making the web work hard for your organisation – whether it’s in the corporate, community, charity or public sector.

Here are the basic details:

Full details are on the Connecting Bristol blog.

The Virtual Commons Night @ St Werburghs CC Sunday 11th May

Bristol Wireless are hosting an evening of radical geekery at St Werburghs Centre (Horley Road) on Sunday 11th May from 5.30pm. You’re invited to try out some of the excellent projects they’ve been developing with free software and discarded computer kit, listen to talks on the rise of the Creative Commons movement, learn about the history of Bristol Wireless and watch a movie (from 7pm) on the rise of the Linux Operating System. Bar open all evening. Tunes & stories from 8.30 to 10pm from Radio Vague ( The Sunday Roast – ), Easton’s biggest free software internet radio broadasting network. Donations Welcome!

Digital inclusion – reaching the unreachable…

Digital Inclusion Conference, The Brewery, London, Tuesday 30 April 08

Only two-thirds of people go online in the UK. The remaining third don’t use the internet at all. That’s 17 million people who are ‘digitally excluded’. This conference set out to address this remaining third. The government are so keen to address this issue that they’ve even created a new ministerial position for it: Minister for Digital Inclusion (currently Paul Murphy).

This conference was hosted by ukonline centres, a quango which administers funding to encourage ICT in the community and is sponsored by the big boys, including Microsoft, BT, Intel and the EU. The conference was well attended by people from government offices, city councils and other national public bodies. When asked to raise our hands if we were from a voluntary project, only four people did out of at least 200 people. Seeing as how much the government is willing to fund large organisations to meet the challenge and BW felt that we are doing our own little bit in getting people connected, we went along hoping for funding opportunities and contacts.

BW also felt able to give an insight into some of the issues being addressed. Half of the 17 million who don’t use the internet are in social groups D and E – the poorest in our society. BT’s attempts to connect the nation fail when they refuse to give connectivity to families with CCJs (county court judgements or poor credit history). BW consider information to be a right, not a privilege, and offer free access for all through our wireless network.

Matters discussed were quite wide-ranging and interesting: one speaker made the comment that kid’s play areas had been cut by 85% in the physical realm, but that 85% had been taken up by the internet and suggested that education was necessary to keep kids safe. However, speakers’ comments and topics of interest varied downwards from this to what a jolly good thing email is, to how great it was to send digital photos by email to the ‘Great Firewall of China’ and how the UK could benefit from such far-thinking policies. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Stephen Gowland, Digital Challenge Programme Director for Sunderland City Council, described how difficult it was to spend the £7m Digital Challenge winnings, having spent nearly a year trying to fill the positions with staff still struggling to meet his objectives. What Bristol Wireless would have done with that £7m (apart from tucking it safely behind the bar of our favourite hostelry) would have been to enhance the projects which we’ve already got running here in Bristol, with the people who are already in place running them: for example, more supported housing community rooms providing access and training, a larger wireless network, financing media companies for local IPTV, radio and so on.

On a lighter note, I did get to talk to some of the ukonline centre’s movers and shakers, who were interested in Bristol Wireless’ open source model. Free software for the masses, low-spec PCs running the latest operating systems and programmes, which means that hardware is easily and cheaply available. (See £50 PCs from BW …)

Thanks to Connecting Bristol and ICT Hub South West for the opportunity to attend this conference.

For more media coverage check out this link.

We’re in Debian Weekly News!

Ben Green writes:

We are in Debian Weekly News!

We are down the bottom with:

“Co-operative Breathes New Life into Old Machines with Debian”

We’re in the news for the 21st April 2008 and the actual piece in question highlighted by Ben reads:

Co-operative Breathes New Life into Old Machines with Debian

Bristol Wireless is a co-operative set up to develop a free-to-access broadband intranet using radio, with the emphasis on supplying ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) that are relevant, permanent and affordable to communities that find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. The group is working together with Voscur and Byteback Computing to provide access to computers built on Debian to the people of Bristol. Byteback provide the wiped machines to Bristol Wireless; we install Debian Linux on them and use the machines in our grant-funded projects in deprived inner city areas.

Russia to monitor wi-fi use

Australia’s Computerworld reports that Rossvyazokhrankultura, the Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service, has a draconian-sounding policy of registration being required for every wi-fi device and hotspot in the country, according to a report this week from Russian news agency Fontanka.

Vladimir Karpov, the deputy director of the agency’s communications monitoring division, said that Rossvyazokhrankultura’s interpretation of current law holds that users must register any electronics that use the frequency involved in wi-fi communications.

Aside from public hotspots, the registration requirement also applies to home networks, laptops, smart phones and wi-fi-enabled PDAs, Karpov is reported to have said, and registration only permits use by the owner. Quite where this leaves travellers taking their laptops or other wireless devices is not mentioned, but for Russian residents this move looks like involving lots of paperwork, bureaucracy and delay.

Read the full story on Computerworld.

Volunteer tutor wanted

Sean Kenny posted the following email to the Bristol Wireless mailing list today:

“A small group of Golden Age* trainees have recently lost funding for their Computer Class/Club at a weekly venue in St Pauls. They are looking to replace the City of Bristol College trainer with a volunteer to teach very basic skills. If you’re interested, please contact me through Voscur on 0117 9330508 or mail seank (at)”

Can you help? If so, please contact Sean as outlined above.

* Would these be the same as Silver Surfers? Or are they more valuable? Ed. 🙂

Embedded Linux masterclass in Bristol

Another date for your diaries folks! Richard Blackburn has written to inform us of this year’s UK Embedded Masterclass – a workshop dedicated to using Linux on embedded devices. Working with an ARM processor, the workshop will combine theory and practice and give delegates an insight into the working of Linux in the embedded environment.

Two sessions of the workshop are being held: in London on 8th May 2008, and again in Bristol on 13th May.

“The open source nature of Linux has made it a big hit with engineers,” said event organiser Richard Blackburn. “Being able to get ‘under the bonnet’ of the software holds a lot of attraction for engineers and we have already received a number of registrations for this workshop, places are going fast.”

The workshop will be run by Feabhas, a leader in embedded systems training. Feabhas works with many of the UK’s leading hi-tech development companies and has been at the forefront of using Linux in embedded devices. The workshop will show engineers how to configure a standard Linux kernel for use in a cross development system and the steps to write, compile and download an embedded Linux application with real hardware.

“This is an ideal workshop for engineers wishing to assess the suitability of Linux for their next application or for software engineers who are developing applications for embedded Linux,” said Jo Cooling of Feabhas. “We have been a keen supporter of the Embedded Masterclass since the first event 6 years ago, it will be a good chance for engineers to come along and not only develop new skills but to also explore the latest technologies and learn from industry experts in a non-sales environment.”

Attendees of the Embedded Linux Workshop will need good C programming skills. Some knowledge of operating systems and Unix or Linux commands will be helpful, but not essential. The course presents embedded concepts applied to Linux, using an ARM development board as the target (ConnectCore Wi-9C Digi JumpStart Kit for Linux). The host development system will be a standard PC running Linux. The target will serve as an example of a simple embedded system which can control hardware via a simple digital I/O interface.

The Embedded Masterclass is now in its 6th year, with over 800 embedded engineers having registered for previous events. Each event comprises technical presentations covering issues at the cutting edge of embedded development.

“We want engineers to go away feeling that the whole event has been a productive use of their time,” said Richard. “So we work hard to ensure each presentation imparts really useful knowledge and that each presenter is a true expert in their technology. Often, the presentations can get quite interactive, which is exactly how we want it to be.”

The event also includes a tabletop exhibition. Some of the world’s leading embedded systems tools, hardware and software vendors have already signed up as exhibitors, including MontaVista – a world leader in embedded Linux solutions, Enea – a world leader in operating systems and development tools for mobile phones and wireless infrastructure equipment, SDC Systems – a leading UK supplier of development tools and software testing solutions, Barric – leading UK manufacturer of complex electronics hardware and Telelogic – a world leader in UML system modelling tools.

“The tabletop format for the exhibition has been good for us,” said Richard. “This means that there is more focus on the technology and less on the sales/marketing. It makes for a better environment for engineers to learn about the technology, it simply makes it a lot more friendly and less competitive. As the event has grown, it’s been easier to attract the more important world class players. With people like MontaVista and Enea on board, we feel sure engineers will want to come along and learn about their new offerings.”

The Embedded Masterclass is free to engineers and technology managers. Attendance is limited, so early registration is advised. The Embedded Linux workshop is at a special price of £95; again places are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. For more information and registration, visit the Embedded Masterclass website or contact Richard Blackburn at Energi – richard (at)

Making (radical) history

Down with the fencesA date for your diaries: on Sunday 11th May next, Bristol Wireless will be hosting an event entitled ‘The Virtual Commons’ at St Werburghs Community Centre. It will form part of Bristol Radical History Group’s forthcoming ‘Down With The Fences’ programme, which runs from Thursday May 1st to Sunday May 11th 2008.

The fortnight of events is dedicated to the struggle for the commons of all kinds then and now.

For our contribution, we’ll be hosting an evening of Creative Commons fun including talks, demonstrations of free software uses and a film screening. In addition, we’ll have the bar open too!

The provisional programme for The Virtual Commons is as follows:

  • 5.00-7.00pm – Interactive workshop on Open Source Software
  • 7.30pm – Film: ‘Revolution OS’ – a documentary film made in the United States in 2001 and directed by J. T. S. Moore, which traces the twenty-year history of GNU, Linux, open source and the free software movement. This will be followed by a talk and discussion on open source software.

See here for details of Bristol Radical History Group’s programme of events.

Click here to download the trailer for Revolution OS (18 MB).

Dove St update

As part of a longstanding commitment to Dove Street Action Group (DSAG), Bristol Wireless are developing a wireless network around the flats.

Dove St Traffic graph

This work had been funded by UFI under the user journey project. There is still some infrastructure left to install, but the first two households have now been connected. Both are really pleased with their new connections and are looking forward to learning more about the internet. Neither household has been internet users in the past, so there is plenty to learn and explore for everyone. The project participants will be taking part in several weeks of structured training in their own homes.

Next step is to get everyone set up with email addresses, one family is keen to install and try out Skype so we will probably try that next week.

Hounding the filesharers

Your average canine lives in a world of smell: they have nearly 220 million smell-sensitive cells over an area about the size of a pocket handkerchief (compared to 5 million over an area the size of a postage stamp for humans). Needless to say, this facility has been put to use in so-called sniffer dogs, such as Lucky and Flo, a pair of black Labrador Retrievers, the first animals trained to detect optical discs by scent. Lucky and Flo are sponsored by the MPAA and FACT, as part of an initiative to combat copyright infringement of films and DVDs.

By now you may be thinking what this all has to do with IT and community networking, apart from the fact that DVDs are digital technology? Well, the likes of Lucky and Flo are sniffer dogs and the concept of sniffing packets is not unknown in network engineering. At this point it’s time to introduce you to the product of exhaustive Bristol Wireless research, Jaffa, the world’s first (to our knowledge) packet sniffing dog.


Jaffa is owned by Bristol Wireless volunteer Dom and is a close companion of Chloe, who gets into pubs as a spelling dog for the dyslexic. 😉

Anyway, Jaffa has undergone extensive surgery for implants à la Captain Cyborg and can now be connected to a network wirelessly or via Cat5 cable (don’t ask where!) and uses his immense canine olfactory capacity to monitor network traffic. “We’ve trialled Jaffa extensively on our network in recent months,” says Bristol Wireless spokesperson Avril, “and he has proved very effective at distinguishing different types of network traffic after intensive training. In particular, Jaffa’s been most proficient in detecting packets illegal filesharing content. This will help safeguard us from the attentions of media company lawyers, as we want to be seen as responsible network operators.”

Avril continues: “When illegal content is detected, software installed on Jaffa’s implants can forward a message containing content type, timestamp, IP address and MAC address to Bristol Wireless network engineers by email and SMS, enabling them to take rapid action and if necessary disable a user’s access to the network”.

The white rabbit vanishes

Easterhegg 2008 in Cologne has now vanished, like the rabbit down the hole in Alice in Wonderland and – besides the souvenir mug and T-shirt – what’s left besides memories? I hope to try and answer that question.

Grandpa's hi-tech Notices Remember to lock your session

It’s been a wonderful long Easter weekend in the Rhineland, including the unexpected sight of snow every day. Cologne itself is a fine city, with a history stretching back 2,000 years. It has a fine local style of beer – Koelsch. Finally, it also has a cheap, modern and efficient public transport system (trams, buses, local rail), that’s still growing. Looking at Germany more broadly, I’d guess Linux and open source software is more popular than in the UK judging from the dozen plus Linux magazines available in newsagents there compared with our paltry 3 or 4.

Easter Monday’s planned post didn’t happen as I stayed up till 4 am working on revising the first bit of the translation of the current Datenschleuder, the Chaos Computer Club’s magazine. The current edition contains a copy of the fingerprint of the German Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. How it was obtained, I don’t know, but a few hundred geeks now able to fool a suitably configured fingerprint scanner into thinking they’re a German government minister draws attention to the dangers of adopting biometrics widely, especially for trivial purposes. It also mentions the existence of Chaostreff Bristol, the first successfully established Chaos group outside the German-speaking world.

The name of Bristol Wireless is now better known in Germany and elsewhere (there was a strong Dutch contingent too). Unfortunately, I missed meeting the OpenWRT crew in that were Cologne, so we’ll have to make up for that when they visit Birmingham in May.

Although there was work going on all over Easterhegg, there was loads of fun too: in any direction you looked folks were laughing. Technology is a means to an end: it can be fun; it all depends what you do with it, which brings us round full circle to the reasons why Bristol Wireless was established.

Since I last mentioned photos of the event on Flickr, there’s now a Flickr Easterhegg 2008 group, which is well worth a visit.

Finally, some special thanks: C4 (Chaos Computer Club Cologne) for organising the whole event, the kitchen/bar crew for 24/7 service, Elmar (mcfly) for the initial invitation, Frank (toidinamai) for the chauffering, Yannik (yankee) for somewhere to sleep and everyone for being so kind about and tolerant of my rusty German. 😀

Still following the white rabbit

It’s Easter Sunday in Cologne and, while the rest of the world is tucking into confectionery normally involving chocolate, the main hall at Easterhegg 2008 exists in a world of its own. Indeed, in the lobby just outside is a sign pointing outside and reading ‘Real World‘.

blink0 ticket Today's specials blink1

Yesterday was very profitable. As I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to get to see the folks from Freifunk. As things turned out, I met them entirely by chance; standing outside having a cigarette, I struck up conversation with a neighbour wearing a hoodie with the St Pauli FC skull and crossbones logo and he happened to be a Freifunker! We spent the next half-hour or so discussing technology (they using meshing on a large scale), developing local content and politics. There’s still a digital divide here in Germany and if you’re more than 15 km from an exchange, there’s no DSL and that means no broadband. Some ISPs are prepared to offer wifi is such areas, but at an exorbitant €50 per month. At the beginning of May, Freifunk is holding a three-day conference in Berlin billed as the Wireless Community Weekend, aka wcw2008. Details (in English) are on the Freifunk wiki.

My other great joy of the day was meeting the Blinkenlights crew, who combine technology with art with project such as the PixelCurtain. They’re responsible for the Easter Bunny lighting rigs in this post, but also play with entire buildings. All their kit is available from off-the-shelf components too! (Plenty of food for thought there – Ed.)

An Easterhegg virgin writes…

Easterhegg 2008Every year Germany’s Chaos Computer Club (CCC) organises a cosy event (250 people or thereabouts). This year’s is being held in Cologne in a converted 19th century chocolate factory (which has also served time as an armoury) now owned by the city council and run as a community building with art gallery plus cafe. I’m writing this in the venue’s main hall, now decked out as a hacklab, complete with bar and all-day breakfast buffet.

Your scribe arrived in the rain at nearly 9 pm yesterday evening and after a quick bottle of maté – the quasi-official event beverage – it was straight down to work in a session entitled ‘Introducing CCC Translate’: a small group of volunteers has been working since the end of last year to bring the work of CCC on security and privacy to a wider (i.e. non-German audience). Looking into the future, the next project will be producing a complete English edition of CCC’s ‘Datenschleuder’ magazine and perhaps adding more languages to the translate project.

Anyway, it’s time to tackle the excellent breakfast buffet and then go and hunt out some folks from the Freifunk free wireless project for a natter.

Finally, Easterhegg 2008 also an event wiki if your German’s good enough; if not you can always plug the content into Google Translate. 😉