Well here we are again, another year, another LugRadio Live. For anyone who has never heard of it, LUGRadio Live is a community conference for supporters of Free and Open Source software.
Some big changes are taking place this year though, as the date had been altered from July to October, the venue has moved to the Newhampton Arts Centre just outside Wolverhampton, and unfortunately the conference is only for one day. Still, these points aside it remains an excellent event. Here’s a quick summary of what went on, and of the talks I attended:
Brock Craft – tinker.it
Brock is from London-based design-studio tinker.it, he spoke about the open-source hacking platform Arduino. Arduino was designed to be a cheap and easy method for learning about electronics and hardware hacking, and as a quick method for building devices. Brock gave examples of its usage by artists, designers and hobbyists, and it certainly seems like it could have many ingenious uses, including the RFID cat flap which Brock had built for his own feline friend.
Gervase Markham – Mozilla Drumbeat/BBC Basic
Gerv spoke firstly about Mozilla Drumbeat, which is essentially a grass roots campaign to keep the web completely open to all. Gerv mentioned net neutrality, the mobile web, and closed application stores such as the Apple app store as examples of threats to the web. The project’s motto is ‘people, ideas and action for a better internet’ and it’s certainly an admirable aim we should all support! In the spirit of the conference’s ‘back to basics’ theme Gerv then presented his first ever program, written at age 8, a ‘choose your own’ adventure style game written on a BBC Micro. Gerv is a charismatic and engaging speaker, and the presentation raised a few good chuckles from the crowd.
Matthew Somerville – MySociety
Matthew works for MySociety, a registered charity probably best known for their work with the Number 10 petitions website. Matthew spoke about the various projects they have undertaken over the past few years. These include TheyWorkForYou, which can alert users when their MP speaks in Parliament, and holds transcripts of Hansard from 1935 onwards. It has also recently started hosting videos of parliamentary proceedings. Closely related to this is WriteToThem, which allows anyone to contact their MP directly, and HearFromYourMP, which is essentially the opposite.
Matthew also spoke about some projects which are designed to make life easier for people and communities, for example FixMyStreet which allows members of the public to report problems such as potholes and graffiti to their local council quickly and efficiently. MySociety has produced some excellent and easy to use services and hopefully this will continue.
Des Burley – A Real Lawyer Speaks
Des works for the independent law firm Martineau, and came to speak about trademarks and licensing in free/open source software. He covered the reasons why people would want to trademark software, what can be covered/protected and the differences between trademarks and copyright. He also spoke about the harm that can be wreaked by patent holders, with the model railway software designed by Jacobsen being a good example.
Andy Robinson – OpenStreetMap
OpenStreetMap is a project designed to provide everyone with a complete, open and free mapping facility. I already had a little background info on OpenStreetMap from a talk given at Manchester Free software last year, but it was really interesting to see how far the project has come since it’s conception, and that we might soon reach a point where the information stored in the OSM database is of better quality than that of any mapping company. Andy also gave the interesting example of the work done in OSM to build the first complete and accurate map of the Gaza Strip, which was then being used in the humanitarian relief effort during the Gaza war in January this year.
Steve Lamb – The Changing Face of Work
Steve Works for Microsoft, but don’t let that put you off, honest! Steve has been at loads of the LRL events and always puts forward an excellent talk to present to us freedom-lovers. Steve spoke about giving employees more freedom and flexibility in their use of technology, whilst somehow creating a balance between work and home technology. He quite rightly suggested that it can be counter-productive if an employer forces specific tools or devices onto employees, and there were many excellent points to agree with.
The event was well organised this year, with the main stage featuring three big screens. One featured the presentation slides as they were delivered. One was used by an excellent portrait artist who sketched each speaker as they were on stage using the Gimp and a drawing tablet. The final screen featured a live twitter feed (or ‘twitterfall’), to which any conference attendee could tweet using the #lrl2009 hashtag, all tagged messages then appeared live on-screen. This produced some hilarious moments during and in-between talks, as ASCII drawings and abuse were consistently twittered by the delegates throughout the day. The conference music was excellent as always, with Rage Against the Machine, Paramore, Bowling for Soup, System of a Down and the Offspring all featuring prominently!
During the recording of the live show, the presenters announced that this really was the last LugRadio event, although it was later discussed that if someone else were to arrange the event next year, then the LugRadio presenters agreed to attend to provide another dose of their unique presenting style. So hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from the LugRadio crowd and I’ll be back in Wolverhampton next year!
With LugRadio Live having been cut down to just one day this year, it was obvious that someone would come along to fill the void. OggCamp is an ‘unconference’ (ie: an unorganised conference) where rooms are set aside and anyone can turn up and offer to speak on any free/open source related subject.
The event was held in the Connaught Hotel, around 10 minutes walk from the centre of Wolverhampton. The schedule of talks for the three rooms quickly filled up, and I attended a few fantastic presentations. I attended Tim Dobson’s presentation on his DFEY group, and Bruno Bord’s talk entitled ‘Explaining programming to my grandmother’. Although my favourite was presented by Andy Stanford-Clark with his talk on his ‘Twittering House‘ (as featured on the BBC) which tweets such events as power consumption, windows/doors opening, light/appliances being turned on/off, phones ringing, as well as other useful information about the house.
His most recent addition being an SMS controlled Rudolph light display on his roof. This tied in with other cool little projects Andy had been working on, such as monitoring his local ferry using the ship’s radio frequencies which were then fed into Twitter, and eventually adopted by the ferry company as their live ferry update service, it was very entertaining to see how much could be achieved on such a small budget.
OggCamp certainly filled the void left behind the second day of LugRadio, and hopefully OggCamp will continue even if a LRL event can’t be arranged for next year. All in all, an excellent weekend, I met some nice new people, put some faces to names, and caught up with old friends. Roll on next year, in whatever form it takes!