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GPS in BS next weekend

On 24 and 25 February 2007, OpenStreetMap volunteers will be adding Bristol to the global mapping revolution. Contributors to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project are meeting in Bristol with the aim of completely mapping the streets and other major features of the city.Anyone wishing to take part in the mapping weekend are asked to meet at Watershed, 1 Canons Road, Bristol at 10.00 am on either or both days to collect GPS mapping units before going their separate ways to map the city for the rest of the day, with a brief get-together for lunch at convenient pubs. In addition, participants will also be contributing to gathering data for Connecting Bristol’s Wi-Map project, which is currently mapping open wireless networks around the city.

The OSM project was started in 2004 to enable anyone to use maps in creative, productive or unexpected ways. The use of traditional maps is hampered by legal and technical restrictions that severely curtail their use. The OSM project aims to create free geographical data, like street maps, that can be used anywhere by anyone. OSM contributors, will be driving, cycling, and wandering the city with GPS units recording the routes of as many streets, cycleways and footpaths as possible. The tracks recorded over the weekend will be added to the online database where anyone in the world with access to the internet can browse, annotate, reference, edit and use the data.

Collaborative mapping is a rapidly growing activity and is being driven in part by technology (cheap GPS equipment and online collaboration tools such as Projects such as this have as their prominent feature their knowledge production and ownership ethos. Under such open-source models, rights of authorship are decentralised and the knowledge gathered is seen as a common resource that can be distributed and re-used without restriction or licence. This approach has real potential to enable people to create their own knowledge and encourages re-use of cartographic resources in novel and creative ways.

The map data produced over the weekend will contribute to, one of the leading projects in the open-source mapping field. Currently, OSM has mapped large portions of the country, including all the motorways and most primary roads. We hope that an intensive effort to build a map of the whole of a city in a weekend will inspire others and help to build momentum across the country. As an open organisation with no membership requirements, we welcome the participation of anyone, young or old, who will be in Bristol on the weekend of the 24 and 25 February. Anyone interested in taking part should contact Steve Coast (steve at asklater dot com) or Andy Robinson (andy at ukstreetwise dot com). Alternatively, you could visit the Bristol wiki page and either add your name to the or find out more about the project.

In your aerial… and on your hard drive?

Ben Green reports that there is a metapackage available for the forthcoming Bristol Wireless Linux distribution, which is based on Debian’s latest ‘etch‘ version.

The version available for testing, codenamed 0.1.0, can currently only be obtained by people connected to Bristol Wireless network, since it resides on the magico server, which is not accessible to the public. However, those inside the network will be able to try it out by adding the server to their sources.list file and executing the following command:

$apt-get update
$apt-get install bristolwireless

Furthermore, Ben adds that potential testers will need Debian current testing distribution, codenamed ‘etch’ and sources in your sources.list too and that, at the moment, it should just work from a basic etch install with the X11 graphical desktop on it.

As part of the project, Ben has also written a dedicated wiki page on creating a metapackage and Debian repository.

Returning to Ben’s announcement email, it’s obvious he’s put a lot of hard work into this project and now needs the help of others to take the project forward, or as he states: “Please test, test!”

Ultimately, Bristol Wireless hopes to install this, its own Linux distribution, on the refurbished machines it supplies to potential network users and others.

Werburghs ‘joins’ the backbone

Following the recent exceptionally stormy weather of the last couple of weeks, Bristol Wireless’ Lloyd Cohen and Rich Higgs have paid a visit to Holroyd House on Windmill Hill – our most exposed location – and Armada House in Kingsdown to check the condition of the bolts holding our antennae to the buildings.

While they were there, Lloyd writes, they set up a new 5.8GHz connection to St. Werburghs Community Centre (affectionately known as WCC), our operations base. On Monday Lloyd also spent some time up a ladder in the freezing wind swapping out the client end of this link at WCC and, after the resolving of some software problems, the link went live on Tuesday.

This means that servers hosted in St Werburghs are now ‘on the backbone’ as it were, improving both VoIP services and website hosting.

New address for City Council website

As of 23rd January, Bristol City Council is changing its website address to make it easier for visitors to remember and use.

From that date the new web address for the council will be The hyphen and ‘city’ previously used in the old address,, are being dropped to shorten the address and to bring it more into line with the format used by the majority of other local authorities.

The new address will be used for all of the council’s specific departments, e.g. libraries, which will now take the new, shorter address, e.g.

The move will doubtless also please followers of at least one of the city’s two football teams, i.e. those playing in blue and white, who no longer have to type the name of their long-standing rivals into their browsers when visiting the virtual Counts Louse!

We’ve got backbone!

After lengthy installation, testing and all the bureaucratic hoop-jumping with Ofcom and other bodies with the kind assistance of Westcom, Bristol Wireless’ 5.8 GHz backbone infrastructure has completed all its testing and legal procedures and is now live.

bw network coverage
Bristol Wireless' network coverage

As you can see from the above map, we have wide coverage of the central Bristol area with our 5.8 & 2.4 GHz infrastructure in Easton, Kingsdown and Windmill Hill. The Knowle West Web network (shown by the small red area near the foot of the map) is also linked into the Bristol Wireless network, which in turn connects to the BMEX network at the University of Bristol’s Merchant Venturers Building.

A quick bit of calculation with an OS map reveals that our rooftop level access gives Bristol Wireless network coverage of approx. 15 sq. km. To the best of our knowledge, this gives us the largest community wireless network in the country… unless, of course, you know differently, in which case, please contact us.

There’s an end of May

Today we bid a fond farewell and wish bon voyage to May, otherwise known as Yu Wei Li, who is returning home to Canton province in China.

May studied global computing and multimedia at the University of Bristol before she started volunteering for Bristol Wireless at the end of 2005. Although she’d never used Linux before, she went through the usual Bristol Wireless volunteer induction programme, involving doing operating system installations on donated and refurbished hardware, and quickly came to realise its power. When it came to making use of her particular skills, May led the development work on the video jukebox currently being tested before being let loose on the Bristol Wireless network.

Last Friday night we had a farewell gathering at the Windmill pub for May, at which she was presented with a new Bristol Wireless T-shirt as a momento of her time with us (we now hope to see it being proudly worn in various parts of China – Ed.).

May, we’ll miss you and wish you all the best for the future. Please stay in touch.

Website update

After extensive testing behind the scenes, Bristol Wireless’ website has undergone a makeover and is now wearing its new clothes in public. In addition, the more observant will note that the Bristol Wireless logo in the top right of each page has also changed to the design we commissioned from Beef. We have nevertheless retained the ‘in your aerial’ strapline which roots us firmly as a Bristol organisation.

Your correspondent would like to thank our web wizard Chris Wach for all his work on the update. When are we upgrading WordPress Chris?

Suite news from the Hill and the Burg

Bristol Wireless’ networking guru Lloyd Cohen has posted to our daily list covering what he did before the Christmas holidays with Debian Linux, a pile of recycled computers and two accommodating locations in Windmill Hill and St Werburghs.

He starts by saying that before Christmas we installed two new LTSP suites.

The first was at Holroyd House on Windmill Hill, in the community room at the base of the building. This entailed BW volunteers Jim Farrand and Lloyd dropping a run of weatherproof ethernet cable down the side of the building from our equipment in the liftroom on the rooftop 18 floors above. The suite comprises a server (configured by Ben Green) in the lift room and 3 diskless thin clients booting on the ground floor. Holroyd House is just one hop away from our interconnect at BMEX in Bristol University, giving it one of the best internet connections in the city.

The second suite was installed at Mina Park Hostel. Lloyd spent a day running cable through the building to the rooftop where Lloyd installed an all-in-one wifi box client which seems to be working well. Although Lloyd has had to revisit the hostel to correct a loose cable – the occupants seem happy and are using the system. The server is a recycled Dell PowerEdge server, the two clients are redundant machines recycled as thin clients. Several of the permanent residents are considering running extra cable through the building at their own cost so they can extend the access to their rooms.

Playing games in Bart Nil

On Wednesday 13th January, Bristol Wireless’ Sam Rossiter attended and participated in the first public run of the Digital Challenge Game developed by Drew Mackie and David Wilcox as part of the Government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge.

The venue was Community at Heart in the ‘deprived’ Barton Hill area, which local residents had been invited to attend to put forward their ideas. Drew, David and Sam all addressed the assembly before the game started: Drew and David explained how the game was to be played, whilst Sam outlined Bristol Wireless’ involvement in the city’s developing final bid, emphasising our interest in such projects as online mapping and community history (both of the area and the local people), as well as making network connectivity more common. Kevin O’Malley of one the main co-ordinators of Connecting Bristol, also sang for his supper.

The premise of the game was very simple. With members of the local community working in groups, design a project that may be implemented under the Digital Challenge. After this, the groups are again divided; in smaller groups a character from a set of half a dozen or so typical characters designed by Drew and David is put through the project for 4 years. At least once over the 4 year storyboard, Drew will confront your character with a real-life event (pregnancy, illness, crime, etc.).

For a more complete report of the event, there are three readily accessible sources:

  1. David Wilcox’s blog piece;
  2. Kevin O’Malley’s report on Connecting Bristol;
  3. A local resident’s view on Straight Outta Easton.

IRC – some changes

For those who don’t subscribe to the Bristol Wireless mailing list but like to drop into the chat channel for a lurk or a laugh, you might like to read the following email from Mike Harris of

Hello All,

Yesterday I migrated the IRC service from the old server (soon to go offline) to the new (just put online) and found out that some, including I think a CGI script running on-line still use the old server name to connect to IRC. This was deprecated a long time ago in favour of and today I’ve switched off the old IRC service.

So please everyone use from now on. All the channels are the same. Thanks.



If you’re having difficulty logging into the chat channel, you’ll need to tweak your chat client accordingly; then you’ll be able to see all your old mates, including getting eggzy, our resident bot, to start Google fights!

Liberté, Egalité… Linux!

La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, starts with the lines ‘Arise, you children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived’. For the deputies (MPs) elected to the French parliament, the Assemblée Nationale, the ‘jour de gloire‘ will be one in next July when 1,154 French parliamentary workstations will start running a Linux OS with the suite, Firefox and an open source email client. It is reported that the choice of Linux distribution and email client have still to be decided.

The project formed the basis of a study by Atos Origin, whose conclusions convinced the French parliament to make the switch.

A parliamentary spokesman said: “The study showed that open source software will from now on offer functionality adapted to the needs of MPs and will allow us to make substantial savings despite the associated migration and training costs”.

This will be the first case of a French public institution switching its PCs onto a Linux operating system. Previous open source initiatives concerned servers – as happened with the Ministry of Agriculture – or OpenOffice and Firefox, which are now in use by France’s gendarmerie.

The decision has been welcomed by French open source supporters. Benoït Sibaud, president of the Association for the research into and promotion of open source computing, said that the decision to migrate to open source will allow the Assemblée Nationale to have greater control over its IT, without depending on any one vendor and to make better use of public money.

The original French report is available on ZDnet France.

Bristol and Manchester announce wireless network plans

In the last week both Bristol and Manchester, both finalists in the government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge, have announced wireless network plans.

Firstly, in Bristol Cityspace, one of the country’s leading providers of urban digital networks, and the operator of the city centre StreetNet network, announced its selection as Bristol City Council’s preferred partner for a major expansion of the existing 3 km long StreetNet wireless network originally deployed as a pilot by Cityspace in 2004. The Connecting Bristol blog also reports that Cityspace is keen to work with Bristol Wireless on the network expansion.

Full details are available in the press release.

Meanwhile up in Manchester on 1st December, the City Council issued a Request for Information & Comment as the first step in plans to launch a broadband wireless network over Manchester that the Council hopes will eventually cover an area of up to 400 square miles and 2.2 million people. If fully implemented, the network would cover 90% of the Greater Manchester area and be the largest single city broadband wireless area in Europe. In addition, it would be as large as all other city-based wireless networks in the UK put together and encompass not only central Manchester, but also include surrounding boroughs such as Salford and Tameside.

More details of Manchester’s plans can be found on the ONE-Manchester blog.

Princess Royal Gardens – the suite gets sweeter

It’s been a few months since your correspondent last visited Princess Royal Gardens in Redfield. Since that time the LTSP suite has been refurbished and upgraded.

The suite now comprises a new server – now running Debian – and 7 thin clients. In addition, the rat’s nest of wires and cables has now disappeared from the floor at the foot of the common room wall; it’s all been hidden in trunking screwed to the wall and the whole setup is looking very tidy and proper.

New tables have also appeared, kindly donated by Unity Information Systems of Clifton and the whole suite is now ready to act as a proper training facility, not just for the residents themselves (and their visitors), but also for the wider community, as outlined in Ronnie’s letter recently posted on Connecting Bristol.

Ronnie also says that Princess Royal Gardens will be giving the new set-up an official launch in the near future, which will be featured here, luckily with some pictorial accompaniment.

Announcing Announce

As part of its continuing development, Bristol Wireless has recently reorganised its mailing lists with a new addition, which is now ready for action.

The main list, the public list for all general discussion, is still there, subscribers will notice no difference and the URLs remain the same as before:

* Main mailing list:
* Main list archive:

List admins for the main list are Ben Green and Mike Harris.

The major development is the new Announce list. This is a public list specifically for those who just want updates and news from Bristol Wireless. A mailing will be sent, for example, every time there’s a new item posted to Bristol Wireless News.

Links for the Announce list are as follows:

* Announce mailing list: Please use this link to subscribe (and let’s get this list moving!).
* Announce list archive:

The list admins for the new list are Ben Green, Mike Harris and Steve Woods.

Another wifi petition

Hot on the heels of TV’s Gadget Show organising an online petition for free wifi access, comes news of another. This new one features on the Government’s 10 Downing Street website, which has recently started an e-petitions section.

This new e-petitions service is explained by Downing Street as follows:

Petitions have long been sent to the Prime Minister by post or delivered to the Number 10 door in person. You can now both create and sign petitions on this website too, giving you the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience and to deliver your petition directly to Downing Street.

The text of the free wifi access petition, posted by Kieran White, reads:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to provide free wireless internet access in all major cities in the UK.”

If you want to sign the petition (and you probably do, because you’re reading this), you have to be a UK citizen and must sign before the closing date of 27th December 2006.

Swedish Police to go open source

Computer Sweden reports that the Swedish National Police Board wants to save 200 million SEK over the next 5 years with open source solutions. It is estimated this will save at least 50% on the Board’s current IT costs, as well as providing more freedom of choice, according to Lena Charpentier, the Board’s Director of IT. The plans are mostly concerned with server applications, rather than desktops, and are reported to include:

  • Suse Linux as the operating system;
  • JBoss as an applications server;
  • MySQL for databases; and
  • Apache for web servers.

They also have some plans to try out Open Office on desktops machines, although there are not believed to be any plans to trial Linux on desktops.

If your Swedish is good enough, you may fancy reading the original article.

TV show campaigns for free wifi

This week on The Gadget Show on TV’s channel Five, presenter Jason Bradbury explored Norwich’s pilot scheme to provide the city with free wifi internet access for its people.

In the show’s opinion this is a great idea, but does not go far enough. The Gadget Show wants to see free wifi in every major town and city in the UK – for business, tourism, the future and for anyone and everyone who relies on or uses the internet.

If you agree with the show’s opinion, please sign up to its online campaign.

US Court rules: free software and GPL are legal!

The Register reports that in a recent anti-trust case, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that free software (that’s free as in speech, not beer!) and the General Public License (GPL) under which most free software is released are both legal.

The case was brought by one Daniel Wallace who claimed that since the source code for Linux is free and free software companies have all contributed to the source under the GPL, those companies have formed a predatory pricing conspiracy to force smaller developers out of the market. By giving software away, they have stifled competition, creating an environment where small developers cannot compete. In the plaintiff’s case the GPL functions as the conspiracy element, since it is a common effort to stifle any potential competition.

In his summing up Chief Judge Easterbrook stated that “the GPL and open-source software have nothing to fear from the anti-trust laws.”

The full story can be read in the Register.

Improve your blogging skills

The good folks down at Bristol’s Watershed who are involved in Connecting Bristol, the city’s bid for the government’s £7 mn. Digital Challenge, have been amazed at the interest shown in in the Connecting Bristol blog in all ways – reading, commenting on and writing it.

Indeed they’re now so fully convinced of the merits of the weblog that a blogging skills and discussion exchange is to take place on Tuesday, 5th December 2006 at Watershed, starting at 5.00 pm.

This is a free event open to existing and prospective bloggers to share ideas, tips and tricks. Other items on the menu may include: why blog in the first place, or what makes a blog worth reading anyway? Some blogs out there hardly get any traffic, others thousands of reads a day – why?

There’s a limit of twenty places for this event, so reserve yours by sending an email, but be quick!

Citywide Solar Powered Wifi

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota recently reported that the city of St. Louis Park could become the first city in the USA to provide all its residents with access to a solar-powered, wireless internet service.

The service, which – if approved – could start as early as next autumn, would be powered by some 400 solar panels 20 to 30 feet in the air on street furniture. The panels would connect to batteries storing the solar power and to radio nodes that would send and receive signals from computers. The St. Louis Park City Council is due to vote on the matter on 6th November.

So far, 300 customers have been involved in trials of the wifi network, which has still to be connected up to capture the sun’s energy.

Read the full Star Tribune story.

Additional information from St. Louis Park City Council.