FOSDEM - Saturday

2011-02-15 20:17 More posts about Brussels Fosdem General

Day one at FOSDEM started with a very interesting and timely keynote by Eben Moglen: Starting with the example of Egypt he voted for de-centralized distributed and thus harder to take over communication systems. In terms of tooling we are already almost there. Most use cases like micro blogging, social networking and real time communications can already be implemented in a distributed, fail safe way. So instead of going for convenience it is time to think about digital independence from very few central providers.

I spent most of the morning in the data dev room. The schedule was packed with interesting presentations ranging from introductory overview talks on Hadoop to more in depth treatment of the machine learning framework Apache Mahout. With an analysis of the Wikileaks cables the schedule also included case studies on what use cases can be implemented by thourough data anlysis. The afternoon featured presentations on the background to more data analytics for better usability at Wikimedia as well as talks on buiding search applications.

In the lightning talks room a wide variety of projects was presented - in only ten minutes Pieter Hintjens explained the gist of using 0MQ for messaging. That talk included "Hintjens law of concurrency: e = m * c^2, where e is effort needed to implement and maintain, m is mass - that is the amount of code written and c is complexity.

For me the day ended with a very interesting presentation by Matthias Kirschner/FSFE on one of their campaigns: has the very narrow and well scoped goal of getting links to unfree software off of governmental web pages. Using a really intuitive example they were able to convince officials of linking to their vendor neutral list of pdf readers: "Just imagine a road in your city. At this road drivers will find a sign that tells them the road is well suited to be used by VW cars. Those cars can be obtained for test drive at the following address. Your government." As unthinkable as such as sign may be that same text is included in nearly all governmental web pages linking to the acrobat reader.

What made pdfreaders successful is the combined effort of volunteers, its very narrow and clear scope, it's scalability by nature: People were asked to submit "broken" web pages to a bug tracker, campaign participants would then go and send out paper letters to these institutions and mark the bugs fixed as soon as the links were changed. Letters were pre-written and well prepared. So all that was needed was money for toner, paper and stamps.

One final cute example of how that worked out can be seen at