GUADEC talk: done! And a new project.

I gave my keynote at GUADEC today, on the subject of “From Open Source to Open Everything”, loosely based on this blog post from last year. I think it went pretty well, except that I ran badly overtime into the lunch break, for which I can only apologise and blame myself for hitting the wrong option on my laptop and not getting a timer on-screen, realising too late, then thinking I could muddle through without it rather than stop to fiddle with my laptop once I’d started talking. Ah well!

Sadly, after lunch, I was so wiped from the nasty head-cold I picked up somewhere in my travels, that I came straight back to the residence and slept all afternoon. If anyone was looking for me to chat about my talk, please hunt me down tomorrow.

I need to clean up my notes and post them, but stay tuned for a blog post version of my talk here sometime in the next couple of days.

In my talk I touched on a whole range of “open” communities including some in the green/eco/sustainability space. This morning I also attended a talk about “Gnome and the Systems of Free Infrastructure” by Federico Mena Quintero, from Mexico, who touched on similar topics. Federico and I have been talking about this stuff a bit over the last few weeks, to see what similarities we had in our talks. The other day we had lunch together and somehow the subject of open data for food crops came up: Federico asked me whether I knew of a free source of information telling you what crops grow in what climate regions at what times of year, and I said I didn’t know one, but that you’d have to look at information published (usually) by the agricultural departments in various places.

Or, of course, you could crowdsource it. Thinking about that idea, I realised it was in some ways similar to Ravelry, the awesome knitting community and database of all things knit-related. Nobody used to have a huge collection of all the knitting patterns in the world til Rav came along. Then, by each individual knitter putting in their own projects and notes, the aggregate of all of it became a useful general resource. Now you can do a complex search/filter for exactly the knitting pattern or yarn you’re interested in, based not on a centralised authority, but on each person adding their own small part to the whole.

If we wanted to, people growing food in their gardens and allotments and on their balconies in containers could do the same. If I posted, “I planted tomatoes in my garden in Melbourne on the 1st of November” and everyone else did likewise, we’d wind up with an extensive database of food plants, including things like heirloom varieties and where to source them from. We could also build a histogram of the distributions of planting times for every location. Eventually, we could build in tools for sharing your harvest with your local community, saying eg. “I have a tree full of lemons, does anyone want them?” or facilitating seed-sharing and other community gardening activities.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this over the next day or so, and I realised it’s something I really want. Really really want. I want a resource that’s like Ravelry, but with a focus on food gardening, especially the sustainable/organic/heirloom end of that scene. My perfect site would have a strong community committed to sustainability both in the green sense and in the sense of a successful online community. I’m also thinking of Dreamwidth as inspiration, especially with regard to its ethics and the way its developer community works. I’d definitely want this whole thing to be open source and community-built.

So, consider this a launch announcement. If this is something you’re interested in, here’s where you can sign up to be part of it: mailing list, Dreamwidth community. If you’re interested on any level please do join — we will need all kinds of people from coders to gardening experts to people willing to try out early versions of the site as we build it. As I talked about in my keynote today, I would really like this to be the sort of project where we don’t have false barriers between developers and users, but where every person who’s involved can be part of the process of building this thing together. And again inspired by Dreamwidth, I’d love to help anyone who wants to learn to code as part of this, regardless of prior experience. Heck, I’ll probably be picking up a newish-to-me language/platform for this, so we’ll probably all learn together. (That said, if you’re a Ruby or Python person with solid experience of medium-size-and-complexity web apps, and want to be part of this, let’s talk!)

Oh, also, a quick note… “harvest project” is my working title for this thing, but I guess we’ll need a real name and a domain to match at some point; if you have any bright ideas let me know. (ETA: we decided on “Growstuff”.)

From Madrid to A Coruña

Yesterday I took the train from Madrid to A Coruña, a six hour trip that caused a fair bit of consternation among the GNOME people who brought me here. I’ve been telling anyone who asks that I’m not in a hurry, I like to see the countryside, that I’d rather not have the environmental guilt of an unnecessary flight, and that I just like trains. All this is true, but people seem incredulous til I tell them that after this conference I’ll be spending another two months taking trains all around Europe. At that point I guess they put me into the “mildly eccentric tourist” box rather than the “bizarrely idiosyncratic business traveller” one.

When you take long-haul trains, it’s always a toss-up whether the scenery’s going to be interesting or whether you’ll end up going through boring farmland and the semi-industrial back-lots of small towns. This trip had a bit of both, but there were enough cute villages, medieval churches and old buildings in various states of ruin to keep me watching out the window.

The land west of Madrid is mostly flat with dry, yellowing grass and plantations of trees (mostly some kind of conifer? I couldn’t place it) and, delightfully, sunflowers. I was on the sunward side of the train for most of the trip, so the sunflowers on my side were facing away from me, otherwise I would have attempted a photo out the window. It was actually a bit strange to pass through a Mediterranean landscape without seeing Australian flora. I found myself looking out the window for eucalyptus trees or familiar scrub along the railway tracks, but there was nothing I recognised.

Heading into Galicia, the land got greener and hillier, and when I arrived in A Coruña the weather was mild and damp, compared to the blasting furnace of Madrid. At A Coruña, I ran into some other GUADEC people and got a ride to the conference accommodation, which is a university residence up in the hills. Driving up there along winding roads through the university campus, with the car windows open, I got a sudden whiff of something. I looked around but couldn’t find the source. Then we rounded a corner, and I found a whole bank of eucalypts planted along the road, letting off their scent as if after rain. I don’t like to think of myself as one of those people who is always looking for the familiar when travelling in foreign places, but I guess I am one. I suppose being pleased at the presence of Australian native plants is a fairly mild version; I’ll reassure myself that I’m not one of those tourists who eats at McDonalds all round the world.

Anyway, after meeting some people at the pre-reg and reception, a restless night’s sleep, and a pretty decent breakfast (so glad there were decent protein options! I’d been worried), I’m now at the conference itself, about to watch Jacob Appelbaum’s Tor keynote. Onward!

The Itinerary Of Dooooooom!

Okay, I think I’ve got it together enough to post. Here’s where I’ll be in Spain, France, and the UK between July 24th and October 8th. If you’re in any of these places and would like to catch up for a beer/coffee/meal/tourist adventure, let me know. If you’ve travelled in any of these areas and have tips, let me know.

(Exceptions to request for tips: yes, I already have a Eurail pass; yes, I know about booking British tickets well in advance via thetrainline.com; yes, I know the Olympics are on at that time and know about getaheadofthegames.com.)

Summary:

July 24th-August 7th: Spain, including Madrid, A Coruña, Cordoba, Barcelona.

August 7th-21st: France, including Avignon, a friend’s place nearish to Lyon, Strasbourg, Paris.

August 21st-September 30th: England and Scotland, including the south coast from Dover to Portsmouth, London, York, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, and Cornwall, with shorter side-trips along the way to various stuff.

October 1st-8th: Back through France and Spain to Madrid, and fly home.

More detail

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Keynoting GUADEC, travelling in Europe

This is exciting! I’ve been asked to keynote GUADEC, the Gnome Users and Developers European Conference, in A Coruña, Spain, at the end of this month. I’ll be talking about my experiences with the world of open stuff since I stopped primarily being an open source developer a few years ago, about the ways open source software has inspired other movements, and about what we can learn from those other open projects in turn.

After the conference, I’ll be sticking round for a couple of months (side note: damn, I’m glad I already dropped out of school and didn’t have to make that decision in a rush) and playing tourist and visiting friends in Spain, France, and the UK, travelling extensively in all three countries. If you live in any of those places and would like to catch up — or even better, offer crash space — please let me know! I think there will be a couple of group gatherings in London at least.

Meanwhile, has anyone had experience travelling with the ebook versions of the Lonely Planet guides? How did you find them? I’d love to avoid carrying a couple of bricks around with me, but I’m wary about their usability, especially as the sample chapters available through iBooks crashed the app. Just in case it’s relevant, I have a first gen iPad and a Nook onto which I side-load books using Calibre. (Not being in the US, I can’t use the Nook store. If anyone knows workarounds for that, I’m interested to hear them.)