DebConf 10: Day 1
This week, I am attending DebConf 10 at Columbia University in New York.
The first day of DebConf is known as Debian Day. While most of DebConf is for the benefit of people involved in Debian itself, Debian Day is aimed at a wider audience, and invites the public to learn about, and interact with, the Debian project.
These are the talks I attended.
Hans-Christoph discussed Debian and free software from a big picture perspective: why software freedom matters, challenging the producer/consumer dichotomy, how the Debian ecosystem hangs together, and so on.
Andy discussed FLOSS adoption in governments, drawing on examples from Peru, the city of Munich, the state of Massachusetts. He covered the reasons why this is valuable, the relationship between government transparency and software freedom, and practical advice for successful adoption and deployment.”
The panelists discussed the use of technology in education, especially free software, some of the parallels between free software and education, and what these communities could learn from each other. This is a promising topic, though the perspectives seemed to be mostly from the education realm. There is much to be learned on both sides.
This talk covered the student projects for this year’s Summer of Code. Most of the students were in attendance, and presented their own work. They ranged from more specialized projects like the Hurd installer, to core infrastructure improvements like multi-arch in APT.
Mushon gave an excellent talk on open design. This is a subject I’ve thought quite a bit about, and Asheesh validated many of my conclusions from a different angle. I’ve added a new post to my todo list to go into more detail on this subject.
Some points from his talk which resonated with me:
- When collaborating on code, everyone must reason with one collaborator: the computer. This forces a level playing field and a common encoding.
- Collaborating on other types of creative work is more difficult in part because of the differences encoding/decoding information between different individuals
- Making this easier for design work requires improving motivational factors and language as well as tools and processes
- Many design decisions are actually rational, and are compatible with a group consensus project. Too often, I hear that design can’t be done collaboratively, citing “too many cooks in the kitchen” analogies, but I have never believed it.
- Mushon’s own project, shiftspace.org, seems to be a browser-plugin-based system for collaboratively remixing web applications. I haven’t looked at it yet.
- Leadership and openness are not mutually exclusive. This is another pet peeve of mine, and there are so many examples of open leadership in the free software community that I don’t see how anyone can think otherwise.
- Mushon’s presentation is available in revision control so that it can be freely used and improved
Councillor Brewer paid a visit to DebConf to tell us about the work she is doing on the city council to promote better government through technology.
Brewer seems to be a strong advocate of open data, saying essentially that all government data should be public. She summarized a bill to mandate that New York City government data be public, shared in raw form using open standards, and kept up to date. It sounded like a very strong move which would encourage third party innovation around the data.
She also discussed the need for greater access to computers and Internet connectivity, particularly in educational settings, and a desire to to have all public hearings and meetings shared online.
Jon is a very engaging speaker. He drew parallels between the development of player pianos, reproducing pianos, reed organs, pipe organs…and free software. He even tied in Hedi Lamarr’s work which led to spread spectrum wireless technology. To be quite honest, I did not find that these analogies taught me much about either free software or player pianos, but nonetheless, I couldn’t help but take an interest in what he was saying and how he presented it.
Biella and company explained all the ins and outs of the event: where to go, what to do (and not do), and most importantly, whom to thank for all of it. Now in its 11th year, DebConf is an impressively well-run conference.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the week!