Friday, November 16, 2007

2007 Federal Election Commentary - Microsoft Laughing all the way to the Bank

In the last days of the Federal Election Campaign of 2007, the Australian Labor Party pledged funding for a computer for every senior secondary student. This makes Microsoft very happy. When negotiating software licenses for schools in the past, Microsoft proposed a volume license for schools, typically though their collective organisations based on the total number of computers that a school had, regardless of their operating system, or how thy were being used. This was, of course, provided at a lower rate under and Educational Licencing schemes. Much of this is hearsay from people I know within the education sector, but it includes Universities as well, and it paints a picture of a situation where Microsoft are indeed collecting a tax from the Australia people and our government is allowing them to do it. Let me ask a couple of questions: - (Reward for effort) What additional effort does Microsoft have to make to receive this revenue? - (A fair go) What risk have they taken in the past that justifies then receiving this reward? - (Taking it to the bank) What is the guarantee on this revenue? This revenue can only be called a tax. It's not 'a fee for a service' or 'purchase price'. It is a compulsory payment that is being made by the Government, through the public schools, and Australians through private schools on our behalf to an oversees entitly. ... and the amount money is not insignificant. In summary: A vote for Rudd is a vote for Microsoft, and a vote for Howard is a vote for the Government that allowed this situation to happen, and also a vote for Microsoft.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Software Freedom Day at Mawson Lakes

For Software Freedom Day last year, an event called "Software Freedom Showcase" was held at Mawson Lakes, organised by MawsonLakes.Org, with the help of many other people in the community. In the lead up to this years world wide event, Melissa Draper has published an article at which discusses some of the fantastic things that came out of last years activities, and the event at Mawson Lakes get a really good mention. Thanks Melissa. The events planned for this year are really starting to heat up, with over 200 teams registered from around the world. This year, the event is being held on September 15. For more information, visit SoftwareFreedomDay.Org

Aussie Coder helping OLPC gets article

There was a recent article about Joel Stanley in Joel is a mate, and has been mentioned here before. The article is here;193757623;fp;16;fpid;0

Monday, July 23, 2007

Adventures in Paramatta

This week I am in Paramatta, New South Wales at SAGE-AU (System Administrators Guild of Australia) annual conference. The conference is being held at The Sebal hotel in Paramatta, which is quite nice as far as hotels go.. not that I travel enough to judge properly. Today I had a tutorial on "Change Management". There were lots of common sense guidelines. ITIL was mention quite a bit.. this is a system that I haven't heard of before, but it is the sort of thing that could be useful, particularly is it helps me put system change requests into context and get more useful stuff done. After a day of being lectured at (as interesting as it was) it was time to go fo a walk and stretch the legs. The park across the road is particularly nice a and green. Looks like there is a production of "King Lear" currently on. I haven't ever seen this play. It would have been worth catching, but there are no tickets available for this week.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Case of the Missing Dish

What is missing from this picture?
For those not familiar with Mawson Lakes, this picture is of the SPRI (Signal Processing Research Institute) building at the Mawson Lakes campus of the University of South Australia.
Normally, there is a dish on the roof which is used for tracking the FEDSAT satellite.
It looks like it was removed from the roof for a brief period (possibly for repair?) and is now back on the roof, much to everyones surprise.

An Operation on an XO

It works! Last week I finally got around to modify my OLPC B2-1 laptop with the mods which I mentioned earlier.. Never trust a software engineer with a soldering iron. With the help of a good friend, Stefan, and a bottle of Red we set about making the hardware changes. After following the 'dis-assembly' instructions from the OLPC wiki, we were able to get access to the motherboard and change the resistor and soldered the connecting wire in place. This image shows the change that was made to allow the keyboard to continue to operate while the processor is suspended. This as been successfully tested from the Open Firmware prompt, where the processor can be put into suspend mode (by typing 's'), keys can be typed, an then when the processor is brought out of suspend, by pressing the power key, the characters then appear on the screen. This is very cool. The second modification involved changing the position of another resistor and adding a short wire link. Unfortunately, in the process of removing the small surface mount resistor it was lost in amongst the solder waste. Luckily, Stefan has a spare 1k surface mount resistor from another project which he scavenged as a replacement. The modification can be seen if the photo to the left, on the top right of the Geode chip. The first mod can be seen coming in from the left below the chip. After reassembling the XO, I was able to test it (as mentioned above) and everything seems to be working correctly. Wahoo! For those that are interested.. also in the above photo is the 'ene' chip (bottom right). This is the system controller chip which controls (above other things) battery charging. This is what Joel Stanley is working on.

So ABC, where are the Open Codecs?

The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) has started offering program videos for download from their website. While this is a great start, there are some things that would make it even better. The BBC is currently under flack from the free and open source advocates in the UK after it proposal to release a video player (iPlayer) which was only provided for the Microsoft Windows operating system using the Internet Explorer. Content which is distributed by the national broadcaster is ment to be unbiased[1], non-discriminatory[2], and freely accessible by all[3]. A deliberate failure to provide any of these would certainly cause a public outcry. The programs and content available from the ABC website are available in several formats but they all currently use restrictive formats, namely Flash and Windows Media player formats. There are a couple of arguments used to justify not using open codecs and protocols. None of them address the three areas mentioned above. Regardless of whether the codecs can be downloaded by the end user for free[4], non-free[5] codecs:
  • restrict access to only the supported computer platforms
  • reduce availability for community members
  • loss of options of assistance and contributions from the greater community
  • cause alienation from viewing public and new media opportunities
Why is this issue important? If you are part of the Australian public that uses restrictive licensed software and codecs you may well have avoided these issues by paying for a license. The downside is that these licenses will continue to have to be paid for. Ubuntu, the popular Linux software distribution, offers built in support for many free and open codecs, straight out of the box, no additional downloads or restrictive licenses required. Support free and open codecs where you can.. more information soon. Notes
  1. Unbiased - as in field of conduct, pursuit or occupation.
  2. Non-discriminatory - against sex, race or religion (etc.).
  3. Assessable - publicly available to everyone.
  4. Free - as in no cost.
  5. Non-free - as in restrictive distribution terms.

Monday, June 11, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

I was fortunate enough to be sent an OLPC laptop, when they did their run of the B2 (the second build of the X0-1). This came about through my participation in the Linux.Conf.Au conference in Sydney, earlier in the year, and was one of the coolest things that has ever happened at any of the LCA conferences.. ever. (Even better than the dunk tank in at the Adelaide Conference - sorry Michael). I've named it sparky, and he's starting to become known as a bit of a celebrity. For more information about the OLPC project itself, see their website:

Connecting Up 07

Sparky recently appeared at the Connecting Up 07 conference in Adelaide in the Linux Australia booth, along with two of his mates. Lisa Harvey, the Managing Director of Energetica in New South Wales borrowed Sparky as an example in her talk - 'Clever Cookies, Innovation in the Non-Government Organisation sector'. Hand delivered by Joel Stanly, the three laptops had just come back from a weekend in Melbourne where they had put in a guest appearance at a teachers conference. Here you see Joel attempting to cross North Terrace in Adelaide, which is currently subject to construction work as the new tram line is being put in. Other people also had a chance to have a look and play. All in all, the everyone who came to the booth got a chance to meet Sparky. There was also a funky piece of networking (if I do say so myself) that was done to get Sparky to be able to access the local wireless internet service.. it involved two other laptops, a crossover cable and a 802.11b network card with some dodgy firmware, but nothing that a periodic shell script couldn't fix. I'll let you join the dots.

Since Connecting Up..

Sparky has also spent two weeks with Dave the 'life kludger', who spend some time looking at accessibility. You can find the writeup, with some great pictures in Dave's blog.

What next?

Sparky needs an operation. In order to fix a couple of hardware issues, he needs someone with some surface mounted component soldering skills. The details are here: B2_Suspend_ECR Watch this space.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Joel Stanley off on Google Scholarship

A good friend and fellow OLPC owner, Joel Stanley is off to the United States on a Google scholarship to work on the power and recharging system of the OLPC laptop. Details of his most excellent adventure can be found here:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

At ConnectingUp07

It has been a while since I have added an entry to this blog, but given where I have been the last couple of days, I thought it was about time I added an entry. I have been at ConnectingUp07, which is a very exciting conference, being held in Adelaide, on using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Not-for-profit sector and community groups. Talks have ranged from business orientated talks (what services are available), how to produce effective web fund-raising campains, and some of the more interesting ICT projects done in the wider Australian community. I have been looking after the Linux Australia booth, and it has been really great to hear from the people in the sector making use of Free and Open Source software in their projects. There are some definite lessons that Linux Australia can learn from this event, both in the information that was presented ("How to develop effective online strategies."), and how we can present ourselves in a way that is relevent to this sector. Some notes:
  • Many of the talks were by businesses and organisations offering services to Not-for-profit sector. This included consulting services, bulk-buying (eg. computer hardware and telecommunications sevices) and software.
  • Free and Open Source software was often mentioned in project reports, where budgets were limited. It was shown that Free and Open Source software was able to solve real problems
  • Online services (myspace, youtube, flickr, blogspot, digg) were described as essential tools for building a community around a particular issue or organisation, as well regular targeted emails. Use of these systems need to be part of a complete online web strategy, and not individually seen as an end itself.
This article was written on one of three 'One Laptop Per Child' (OLPC) laptops which were being demonstrated in the Linux Australia booth.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Linux.Conf.Au 2007

Well.. the annual Australian Linux Conference is over again for another year. As usual it was amazingly fantastic, with a broad range of talks and tutorials. Bloggers and Flickr'ers have been asked to tag their uploads with either 'lca2007' or '', so searching on these in Google should enable you to get a taste of what th event was like. One huge feature this year was that videos were taken of all of the talks.. some of these appeared on the website even before the conference itself actually finished. They can be found on the conference website here: Check them out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

..and we're off to the Linux Conference

It's almost better than Christmas. Linux.Conf.Au is almost upon us again, and this year looks to be better then every before. Already I'm struggling to decide what I am going to see and do as there is just so much happening. The biggest problem so far has been Thursday. I was hoping to be able to give a lightning talk on some of the Community building aspects of the MawsonLakes.Org activities, including the Ubuntu work, but it clashes with the keysigning session (important) and the Open Day (even more important). Either way, it is going to be a fantastic event.