LibrePlanet 2010 day 3

Free network services – A discussion session led by Bradley Kuhn, Mako & Matt Lee : Libre.fm encouraged last.fm to write an API so they didn’t need to screen scrape; outcome of the network services story still unknown – netbooks without local productivity apps might now work, most users of network office apps are using them because of collaboration. We have a replacement for twitter – status.net, distributed system, but nothing like facebook [yet?]. Bradley says – like the original GNU problem, just start writing secure peer to peer network services to offer the things that are currently proprietary. There is perhaps a lack of an architectural vision for replacing these proprietary things: folk are asking how we will replace ‘the cloud’ aspects of facebook etc – tagging photos and other stuff around the web, while not using hosted-by-other-people-services. I stopped at this point to switch sessions – the rooms were not in sync session time wise.

Mentoring in free software – Leslie Hawthorne: Projector not working, so Leslie carried on a discussion carried on from the previous talk about the use of sexual themes in promoting projects/talk content and the like. This is almost certainly best covered by watching the video. A few themes from it though:

  • for anyone considering joining a community, they are assessing whether that community is ‘people like us’ – and for many people, including both women *and* men, blatant sexuality, isn’t something that fits the ‘people like us’ assessment. Note that this is in addition to offensive and inappropriate aspects of the issue.
  • respect is a key element here: respect your community, respect potential contributors, and don’t endorse (even silently) disrespectful behaviour
  • Codes of conduct might be a good idea
  • The lack of support in the community has for at least one project led to a complete loss of the women contributors to that project – and they are still largely lacking many years later.

We then got Leslies actual talk. Sadly I missed the start of it – I was outside organising security guards because we had (and boy it was ironic) a very loud, confrontational guy at the front who was replying to every statement and the tone in the room had gotten to the point that a fight was brewing.

From where I got back:

  • Check your tone
  • help people be productive in your community
  • cultivate creativity
  • know yourself
  • do not get caught up in perfectionism
  • communicate – both big stuff, but also just take the time to talk – how are you going, etc.
  • Share your mistakes
  • Guide don’t order
  • Recognition = Retention
  • Recognition = Delegation – its ok to let other people be responsible for stuff
  • http://bit.ly/MentorGuide
  • http://bit.ly/MentoringArticle

Chris Ball, Hanna Wallach, Erinn Clark and Denise Paolucci — Recruiting/retaining women in free software projects. Not a unique problem to women – things that make it better for women can also increase the recruitment and retention of men. Make a lack of diversity a bug; provide onramps – small easy bugs in the bug tracker (tagged as such), have a dedicated womens sub project – and permit [well behaved :)] men in there – helps build connections into the rest of the project. Make it clear that mistakes are ok. On retention… recognise first patches, first commits in newsletters and the like. Call out big things or long wanted features – by the person that helped. Regular discussion of patches and fixes – rather than just the changelog. CMU did a study on undergrad women participation in CS : ‘Lack of confidence preceeds lack of interest/partipation’. Engagement with what they are doing is a key thing too. ‘Women are consistently undervaluing their worth to the free software community’. ‘Its the personal touch that seems to make a huge difference’. ‘More projects should do a code of conduct – kudos to Ubuntu for doing it’ — Chris Ball.

I found the mentoring and women-in-free-software talks to have extremely similar themes – which is perhaps confirmation or something –  but it wasn’t surprising to me. They were both really good talks though!

And thats my coverage of LibrePlanet – I’m catching a plane after lunch :(. Its a good low-key conference, and well put together.

LibrePlanet 2010 Day 2

John Gilmore keynote – What do we do next, having produced a free software system for our computers? Perhaps we should aim at Windows? Wine + an extended ndiswrapper to run other hardware drivers + a better system administration interface/resources/manuals. However that means knowing a lot about windows internals – something that open source developers don’t seem to want to do. We shouldn’t just carry on tweaking – its not inspiring; whats our stretch goal? Discussion followed – reactos, continue integrating software and people with a goal of achieving really close integration: software as human rights issue! ‘Desktop paradigm needs to be replaced’ : need to move away from a document based desktop to a device based desktop. Concern about the goal of running binary drivers for hardware: encourages manufacturers to sell hardware w/out specs; we shouldn’t encourage the idea that that is ok. Lots of concern about cloning, lots of concern about what will bring more freedom to users, and what it will take to have a compelling vision to inspire 50000 free software hackers. Free software in cars – lots of safety issues in .e.g brake controllers, accelerators.

Eben Moglen – ‘We’re at the inflection point of free software’ – because any large scale global projects these days are not feasible without free software. Claims that doing something that scales from tiny to huge environment requires ‘us’ — A claim I would (sadly) dispute. Lots of incoming and remaining challenges. ‘Entirely clear that the patent systems relationship to technology is pathological and dangerous’ – that I agree with! Patent muggings are a problem – patent holders are unhappy with patents granted to other people :). Patent pools are helping slowly as they grow. Companies which don’t care about the freedom aspect of GPLv3 are adopting it because of the patent protection aspects. Patent system is at the head of the list of causes-of-bad-things affecting free software. SFLC is building coalitions outside the core community to protect the interests of the free software community. We are starting to be taken for granted at the high end of mgmt in companies that build on free software. … We face a problem in the erosion of privacy. We need to build a stack, running on commodity hardware that runs federated services rather than folk needing centralised services.

Marina Zhurakhinskaya on GNOME Shell: Integrates old and new ideas in an overall comprehensive design. Marina ran through the various goals of the shell – growing with users, being delightful, starting simply so new users are not overwhelmed. The activities screen looks pretty nice ;) The workspace rearrangement UI is really good. The notifications thing is interesting; you can respond to a chat message in-line in the notification.

Richard Stallman on Software as a Service – he presented verbally the case made in the paper. Some key quotes… “All your data on a server is equivalent to total spyware” – I think this is a worst-case analogy; it suggests that you can never trust another party: kindof a sad state of paranoia to assume that all network servers are always out to get you all the time. And I have to ask – should we get rid of Savannah then (because all the data is stored there) – the argument for why Savannah is not SaaS is not convincing: its just file storage, so what makes it different to e.g. Ubuntu One? “If there is a server and only a little bit of it is SaaS, perhaps just say don’t worry about it – because that little bit is often the hardest bit to replace.”  “Lets write systems for collaborative word process that don’t involve a central server” — abiword w/the sharing plugin ? :) RMS seems to be claiming that someone else sysadmining a server for you is better than someone else sysadmining a time-shared server for you: I don’t actually see the difference, unless you’re also asserting that you’ll always have root over your’ own machine’. The argument seems very fuzzy and unclear to me as to why there is really a greater risk – in particular when there is a commercial relationship with the operator (as opposed to, say, an advertising supported relationship).

LibrePlanet – GNU Hackers Meetup

GNU Hackers meetups are a face to face meeting to balance the online collaboration that GNU maintainers and contributors do all the time. These are  a recent (since 2007) thing, and are having a positive effect within GNU and the FSF.

The LibrePlanet 2010 GNU Hackers meetup runs concurrent with the first day of LibrePlanet.

We started with some project updates:

  • SipWitch – a project to do discovery of SIP endpoints and setup encryption etc. This looks quite interesting, and is looking for contributors.
  • Bazaar – I presented an update on where Bazaar is at and what we’re focusing on now and in the future:
    • short term: merging and collaboration:
      • merge behaviour
      • conflict behaviour
      • develop a rebase that can combine unrelated branches
      • looms to be polished, or pipelines extended – something to manage long-standing patches for distributions, or other environments that need long lived patch sets.
    • long term
      • continuing optimisation of network and local perf
      • meta-branch operations – mirror collections of branches,
      • work with many branches at once (many branches in one dir (a-la git, hopefully less confusing)
      • easier ‘get up and go’ for new contributors
    • now and forever
      • keep fostering community growth
      • we’re aiming for negative bug growth- get on top and stay there

Felipe Sanches presented his list of things that should be on the high priority project list:

  • accessibility since 1st boot
  • reconfigurable hardware development (FPGA tools) – this is particularly relevant for handling e.g. wifi cards that have a FPGA in the card, so we can replace the non-free microcode.
  • nonfree firmware issue

–lunch–

John Eaton on Octave. John compared the octave contributors – 30 or so over the years, and never more than 2 at a time. The Proprietary product Matlab that Octave is very similar to has 2000 staff working at the company producing it. Users seem to expect the two products to be equivalent, and are disappointed that Octave is less capable, and that the community is not as able to do the sort of support that a commercial organisation might have done. Octave would like to gain some more developers and be able to educe users more effectively – convert more to become developers.

Rob Myers, the chief GNU webmaster gave a description of his role: The webmasters deal with adding new content, dealing with mail to webmaster@, which can be queries for the GNU project, random questions about CDs, and an endless flood of spam. The webmasters project is run as a free software project – the site is in CVS (yes CVS), visible on Savannah. Templates could be made nicer and perhaps move to a CMS.

Aubrey Jaffer on cross platform. There is a thing called Water which is meant to replace all the different languages used in web apps – generates html, css, alters the DOM, does what you’d do with javascript. So there is a Water -> backend translator that outputs Java for servers, C# for windows, and so on. (I think, this wasn’t entirely clear). He went on to talk about many of the internals of a thing called Schlep which is used as a compiler to get scheme code running in C/C#/Java so as to make it available to Water backends in different environments.

Matt Lee spoke about GNU FM – GNU FM is a free ‘last.fm’ site. The site is running at http://libre.fm/.  24ish devs, but stalle after 6 months – whats next? Matt has started GNU Social to build a communication framework for GNU projects to talk to each other – e.g. for each GNU FM site to communicate on the back end, with a particular focus on doing social functionality – groups, friendships, personal info. The wiki page needs ideas!

GNU advisory board discussion…   too much to capture, but focused GNU wide issues – things like how projects get contributors, contributions, coordination. Teams were a big discussion point, bug trackers – how to coordinate teams followed up of that, and there is s ‘GNU Source Release Collection’ project to do coordinated releases of GNU software that are all known to work together.