Tuesday afternoon was GIS afternoon. Patrick Sunter gave a really amazing talk about urban planning, demonstrating mapping transit time across a city like Melbourne interactively - drop a pin on the map and in three seconds or so the new isocron map would be generated. This allowed them to model the effects of proposed public transport changes - like a train line along the Eastern Freeway (get this done already!) - very quickly. Then Blair Wyatt demonstrated SubPos, a system of providing location data via WiFi SSID beacons - doesn't work on Apple phones though because Apple are into control. Matthew Cengia gave a comprehensive introduction into OpenStreetMap, then afternoon tea. I skipped the lightning talks since I normally find those a bit scattered - any talk where you spend more time hassling over how much time you have remaining and whether or not your technology is working is a talk wasted in my opinion. I needed a rest, though, since I was struggling with a nose and throat infection.
Then we headed off to dinner at the Apple Shed in the picturesque Huon Valley. Local ciders, local produce, good food, good company, good conversation. All the boxes satisfyingly checked :-). I bought a bottle of the Apple Schnapps to sample later.
Wednesday morning's keynote was by Mark Elwell and showed his experience as an educator looking at Second Life and OpenSim. This was a different take on openness - demonstrating how our desire to create and share is stronger than our greed. The things that SL and OpenSim have done to lock up 'intellectual property' and monetise people's interactions have generally hindered their success, and people still put hundreds or thousands of hours into modelling things just for the satisfaction of seeing it in a virtual world. It was a good reflection on one of the many reasons we create free open source software.
Casey West, Thor's younger brother, gave an excellent review of the 'time
estimation' methods we've traditionally used in software engineering - the
waterfall model, agile development, and scrum - and why they all usually end
up with us
lying making up how much time things take. One
thing he said which struck home to me was "your company invests in
you" - it was the answer to the problem of support (and security) being
seen as a cost rather than a benefit. Kathy Reid gave an excellent talk
about how to guide your career with some excellent speaking tips thrown in
(an acknowledgement of country and assistance for hearing impaired people,
amongst others). I skipped Paul Fenwick's CKAN talk as I wanted to prepare
my lightning talk for later (hypocritical? Yes, I suppose so :-) ).
In the afternoon Chris Neugebauer gave a good demonstration on why HTTP/2 is going to rock, Scott Bragg talked about one of the more esoteric uses of BitCoin block chains, and Arjen Lentz showed the benefits (and absence of fail) in teaching primary school children to make their own robots (including soldering). Michael Cordover gave a highly anticipated talk on his progress trying to get the Australian Electoral Commission to reveal the source code for its "EasyCount" software that's used (amongst other things) to count Federal Senate elections. It's disappointing that the closed mindset exists so strongly in some areas of government - the reasons and the delays and the obstructions were more than just simple accident.
We then had a set of "Other Skills" lightning talks - people talking about other things they do outside of programming things. Unfortunately I can't remember many of these because I was preparing for mine, which was on constructing my electric motorbike. This was well received - quite a few people came up to me afterward to talk about motorbikes, and the practicalities of building an electric one. It's always satisfying to talk with people that don't need the basics (like "can't you put wind generators on it to generate power as you move?") explained.
The Thursday morning keynote was by Richard Tubb, talking about how we can create opportunities and use the situations we find ourselves in to open up and improve our lives, and showed some of the things achieved in the GovHack Tasmania he ran. Sven Dowideit, the author of Boot2docker, gave a good demonstration of the things you can do with containers - particularly good for build systems as they can be stripped down to avoid unexpected dependencies. Then I gave my talk on my experiences with logs and how we can improve the logs our programs generate; the feedback I got was good, but I'd like to add more examples and an actual library or two to implement the principles I talk about. Then John Dalton gave a talk about how to use ssh's tunnel flags; it was a good overview of how the various options work.
I don't remember what I was doing after lunch but I don't remember the first talk - I think I was resting again. I did see Jacinta Richardson's talk on RPerl, which is basically a library that compiles your Perl code into C++. It's useful for computationally intensive things but the author of RPerl seems to have bizarre notions of how to interact with a community - like refusing to look at Github issues and requesting they be put on his Facebook page instead. We had a couple of 'thunder' talks - the main one I can remember was Morgan's talk on her PhD on Second Life and OpenSim (her mentor was Mark Elwell), which touched on the same points of social and open interaction.
After afternoon tea we had Pia Waugh speaking via Hangout from her home in Canberra - she wasn't able to attend in person because of imminent child process creation (!). She talked about GovHack, leading some of the projects to open up government processes and her work in dealing with the closed mindset of some people in government departments. Pia is always so positive and engaged, and her energy and enthusiasm is a great inspiration to a lot of people who struggle with similar interactions with less-than-cooperative bureaucrats. Sadly though, it was another demonstration of how we really need a high speed broadband network - the video stalled occasionally and Pia's voice was garbled at some times because of bandwidth problems.
We had another set of lightning talks which I stayed around for - and good thing too, because Fraser Tweedale demonstrated an amazing new system called Deo. It's essentially "encryption keys as a network service": a client can store a key in a network server and then request it later automatically. The two situations Fraser demonstrated for this were unlocking your Apache SSL certificate when Apache starts up (using a pass phrase helper) and unlocking LUKS disk encryption automatically when a machine boots (using a helper in LUKS). Since I'd recently had a customer ask for this very thing - machines with encrypted disks for data security outside the corporate network but that boot without user intervention when in the presence of the key server - this was hugely useful. I'm watching the Deo project eagerly, and have changed my attitude to lightning talks. If only more of them could be like this!
As is common with open source events, OSDC 2015 was collecting money for charity - in this case, the Tasmanian Refugee Defence Fund. After Lev Lafayette donated $1000 to the cause, I decided to match it. The few glimpses we get into the abysmal conditions in our costly, closed offshore detention camps are harrowing - yet we don't see (many) people in them saying "you know, take me back to Syria, I'll take my chances there". We're only hurting the poorest of the poor and the most desperate of the desperate, and only because of the xenophobia created by the Coalition and the conservative media. We're damaging people for life, and burdening our own society in coping with the problems we've created. In my opinion we're going to find out in the upcoming decades just how bad that problem really is. Anything we can do to alleviate it now is a good thing.
Overall, OSDC 2015 was a great learning experience. The "hallway track" was just as beneficial as the talks, the food was good, the venue was good, and I was glad I came.
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