Life[tm] has interceded in my attempts to get a lot of cycling done recently. Yesterday I found that the way was clear to ride to work so I set the alarm for Early O’Clock and made ready to ride.
A typical Canberra winter’s morning greeted me with minus four degrees in still air and who-knows-what with wind chill down by the river. Two pairs of socks, shoes, shoe half covers, knicks, longs, a polyprop thermal, windstopper vest, long sleeved jersey, shell top, silk balaclava, helmet, glove liners and gloves. At 7:00am it was still dark enough that I couldn’t read the dial gauge on the track pump as I topped up the tyres.
The dyno headlights and the insanely bright tail flasher gave me some confidence of visibility and I set off.
And the ride was fine. Cold but fun. Watching the sky light up with the rising sun, watching the frost coating almost everything. Breathing the frozen air.
A highlight for me was a magpie bravely standing on the bike path in front of me and warbling. I could see the breath condensing above his/her beak. Beautiful.
Allan and Rachel first met via a Pink Floyd on-line community. Both were huge Floyd fans. They hooked up in the USA and Allan brought Rachel back to Canberra. A love of Pink Floyd was always a part of their relationship that I could identify with.
Thanks to Spoonboy I recently acquired an Internet Radio (the beers are coming soon Spoonie, I promise). This little box camps on my wireless network and exposes me to thousands of Internet radio stations. I recently discovered that the BBC has a ‘Goon Show’ channel with around the clock uninterrupted episodes of the Goon Show.
Last weekend I found a station out of Russia that streams Pink Floyd 24/7 with nothing at all but their music.
So tonight the kids and I listened to a bunch of Floyd while remembering Rachel. Goodbye Rachel.]]>
Well, an enthusiastic crew in Canberra has been at this for some months and has an awesome bid just about ready to go. The core team features people with extensive LCA hosting experience ably assisted by some inspired new blood.
The year 2013 is rather special for Canberra too. It’s the city’s centenary, so quite apart from the awesomeness of LCA, there will be dozens of amazing things to see and do.
So we’re excited to hear that the bid process will open early and can’t wait to see some great bids. Roll on 2013!]]>
These days there’s a 21st century term for the kind of kid I was. It’s ‘Maker’ and is exemplified by things like Make Magazine and the growing culture of Hackerspaces. It’s about people taking the trouble to learn about technology with a Do It Yourself approach either to making new things or pulling things apart to see how they work or making things do stuff not intended by their original maker. It’s about learning, sharing and seeing what cool new things can come from curiosity and sharing.
I’d like my kids to have the chance to enjoy the same passion for technology that I do, but with ready access these days to a huge variety of pre-packaged technology, kids aren’t often into understanding it for themselves. So this Christmas, I bought Madeleine (11 years old) and Cadell (7 years old) some simple kits from Jaycar, firstly to get them into the swing of making something for themselves, then to teach them new skills like soldering and workshop safety.
Cadell started with a solar powered grasshopper kit. This is a simple assembly job with a tiny solar panel and a pager motor with a cam on its shaft to make it vibrate. Putting it together took moments and it satisfactorily danced about in sunlight, but stopped when shaded. The initial fun gave way to taking it apart again to glue a propellor to the motor and to strap it to a block of foam with rubber bands to make a boat and then… well, he went nuts imagining new uses for a solar powered motor.
Madeleine started with a solar powered bullet train. This involved some tricky mechanical work with tiny gears and wheels along with cutting fine plastic parts from a molded sprue. She was delighted when the train came together and actually worked. Here is 20 seconds of her following her solar bullet train and trying to shoot video of it.
We followed up the mechanical stuff with a sit down lesson in soldering. As a side note, I did the NASA High Reliability Soldering course (aimed at aeronautics) when I was a student at RMIT in the 80s. Then in the 90s I spent a lot of time at Panasonic working on Surface Mount Rework techniques and I taught advanced soldering to techs up and down the east coast of Australia. I haven’t worked full time in electronics for about 7 years now but I still own at least 8 soldering irons and associated hardware. So I know a bit about soldering, though I am certain there’s a lot I don’t know.
Anyway, teaching kids to solder is fun. They love it and I love it. I started with twisting bits of wire together and getting them to get the feel of making a heat bridge with a clean and tinned iron, then introducing solder to the joint. Cadell immediately intuited the way to make a perfect joint, while Madeleine worried a bit too much to get it right first time. Within half an hour they were both competent.
Today we moved on to soldering on a Printed Circuit Board. Cadell woke me up asking to start on his crystal radio. So we had breakfast then got on to that and he couldn’t be held back. To be fair, the kit crystal radio from Jaycar is complete and simple and inexpensive, but I suspect that unless you live next door to a massive AM radio transmitter, it’s useless. The Chinglish instructions are fun, but worthless. Luckily, Cadell enjoyed the building of it so much that he didn’t care at all when we heard nothing from the finished product.
Next Maddy was super keen to build her Clifford the Electronic Cricket. This tiny PCB would require concentration, a steady hand and attention to detail. Initially nervous, Maddy supplied all of those and more. Her soldering was patient, careful and effective. I did hold the PCB for her and offer advice, but she did the work. We worked through identifying components, deciding what to solder first, being careful about solder bridges, keeping it neat and reading instructions. To Madeleine’s delight, the noisy Cricket worked first time.
I’m delighted with the results of teaching my kids a bit about electronics and soldering and making stuff that works. Now Cadell and I are starting on making a Really Big Antenna. Oh dear.]]>
I have finally:
So it’s time to start thinking about what an incredible week it will be. The programme looks fantastic and the keynotes… well, I can’t wait. Where else can you get to hear from the likes of Vint Cerf, arguably one of the pioneers of the internet? As usual I expect to have the painful pleasure of having to choose between concurrent presentations in any given time slot, at least when I’m not helping the Bris crew in any way I can.
If you have been thinking about registering for LCA and haven’t quite gotten to it, now is the time.]]>
First off there is the course run by Andrew Tridgell and Bob Edwards here in Canberra at the Australian National University. COMP8440 Free and Open Source Software Development was first run a couple of years ago and I was fortunate enough to be among the first intake of students for the course. The lecture notes for the course are all released under a creative commons licence in the hope that they may see some re-use. The course covers the history and culture of open source development along with the practical skills needed to contribute to open source projects.
Next there is TeachingOpenSource.org which aims to leverage the open source model to collaboratively develop open source teaching materials via wiki style interaction with people around the world. I haven’t been a regular visitor to their site since doing some editing there a year or so ago, but it looks like the project is still going strong.
Just recently I discovered Robert Day’s CrashCourse web site, where among other things he offers a course in Linux Kernel Programming. This course is quite intriguing and is offered for 39 Canadian dollars (roughly equal to Australian Dollars right now) with the first four lessons available free. Judging by the high quality of the free lessons, the course appears to be excellent value for money. I’d urge anyone with even a passing interest in the workings of the Linux kernel to go and read the free lessons.
I’m sure that there must be other worthwhile resources of this type out there on the net. If you know of any, please link them up in the comments.]]>
For those unfamiliar with TED, I’ll quote from the Wikipedia page: TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences curated by the American private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading”. Do go and read the Wikipedia entry, but the important part is that TED is a platform for one of our oldest forms of idea sharing, an orator and an audience. The lower case ‘x’ appended to the name of the Canberra event denotes a TED conference organised and run by locals rather than by the parent organisation. TEDx events still have to work within the guidelines set down by TED, but this seems to work out as a positive thing rather than an onerous constraint (at least from an attendee’s point of view).
I have watched quite a number of TED videos online via YouTube and indeed this is a feature of TED - talks are all licenced quite liberally and made available online in order to help spread the ideas. If you have never seen a TED talk, stop reading right now and go to YouTube to watch one.
To some extent I knew what I had signed up for when I registered to attend. An array of speakers had been assembled and each would have 18 minutes in a tightly scheduled day to make a compelling presentation. For the most part, I had no idea in advance of the subjects the speakers would address. It’s fair to say that the speakers who came to TEDx Canberra 2010 did not disappoint.
As the rain began to drizzle down on a grey Canberra Saturday, eager TEDx attendees crowded into the foyer of the NLA to register.
And that’s where I caught up with Linuxchix and Haecksen’s Lana Brindley. Lana is a technical writer for Red Hat, a regular blogger and a well known advocate for involving women and girls in open source and technical pursuits. We quickly realised that the downstairs cafe was open and made our way downstairs to join the beverage queue.
The social atmosphere at TEDx is amazing. We’d been in front of the cafe for moments before we met Emile Victor (an aeronautical engineering undergrad from University of Queensland, down for the day), Brendan Jurd (a rather dapper fellow Canberra Linux User Group member I’d never met face to face before) and last but far from least, Liz Dawson - advocate for the homeless. Liz was to speak later in the day but she immediately engaged us in a discussion of funding for services for the homeless, the background to the Common Ground project and her vision for a similar project in Canberra. Lana and I both immediately gave her our contact details to get involved.
And the conference hadn’t started yet.
We made our way into the NLA’s 300 seat auditorium and sought seats somewhere near the middle. The big screen admonished us:
Our host Stephen Collins made us all feel welcome and through the day delivered the perfect laconic balance of respect, wonder and awe to every guest speaker in his careful, though brief introductions.
Stephen first introduced Dawn O’Neil AM, CEO of Lifeline Australia.
Dawn spoke about suicide in Australia in the context of what it means to be Australian. As a nation, we are incredibly good at pulling together to help each other through natural disasters, through physical injuries and through hardship. We are terrible when it comes to mental health and in particular, suicide. Twice as many Australians die each year through suicide than die on our roads. Dawn espouses a culture of suicide awareness and a suicide First-Aid mentality where each and every one of us feels ready to help anyone in a suicidal frame of mind. There are online resources to educate all of us in suicide awareness which we should all be aware of and suicide should be a key component of every workplace OH&S agenda.
Next up was Dr Mitchell Whitelaw from the University of Canberra.
Mitch was one of the preconceived reasons I’d had for signing up to TEDx. I’m familiar with the work he did in visualising the content of the National Archives’ (my employer’s) collection in 2008 and I have been watching his work since. I have at least one rich conundrum (and perhaps several) in my current work for the NAA that might benefit from innovative data visualisation. I was looking forward to Mitch’s presentation as a vehicle for learning something, and while he delivered an interesting and engaging talk, I’d seen most of it before.
In this context, that wasn’t a problem. TEDx speakers are very, very accessible and I was able to take my interests up with him during a later break. We agreed that the area I need to work on falls within his area of expertise and we will work out ways to apply his skills and those of his students to addressing some complex visualisation issues.
Following Mitchell, we attendees learned that the covenant a TEDx crew enters into, involves screening a number of well known TED videos from prior conferences.
The first of these was a very powerful presentation from Kevin Bales about slavery in the present day. There are 27 Million real slaves in the world in 2010.
Did that affect you like it did me? Twenty seven million people in slavery.
Kevin spoke about the ways in which vulnerable people are harvested into slavery, the slave value of a human being in 2010 (about $90 vs $40,000 in days of yore) and about how slaves can be made truly free. Slave liberation is not just a matter of money, it involves education and the opportunity of citizenship. Making the whole world slave-free and slave-proof would cost approx $10.8 billion, which is a lot of money but a pittance in global terms against what slavery represents.
Free slaves of course pay a freedom dividend by becoming a contributing part of their local economy. Kevin also made the point that the modern world has made slavery illegal almost everywhere and pushed it to our periphery where it represents in global terms, fewer people and less money as a proportion of global population and cash than ever before. But it’s still evil and we need to wipe it from the face of society.
More to come..
I decided that on the final day of the conference I would take some time out of the hotel to try to visit the cultural district in ‘downtown’ Santos on the other side of the island. Since I was up early, I walked down the road to take another look at the beach and the flowers of the beach front garden (above). Then I returned to the hotel and caught a taxi across Santos.
Taxis in Santos all appear to be small four cylinder, four door cars with manual transmissions - quite unlike the large six cylinder automatic cars used across most of Australia. The driver and I managed to surmount the language barrier so we set off to the coffee museum. Once he realised that I was a foreigner, he put two and two together and concluded that at some point I would need to get to the airport 80km away so he enthusiastically pressed his business card on me. I didn’t need to understand Portuguese to know that he wanted a call to get that job. Unfortunately for him, my hosts had a driver arranged for my return journey but I had no way of explaining that so I smiled and pocketed the card.
The coffee museum is nestled in the cobbled streets of the oldest part of Santos, adjacent to the docks. I had been looking forward to this visit and as a cultural centre it didn’t disappoint, though as a museum it’s clearly underfunded compared with what I’m used to seeing. Armed with my trusty camera phone, I wandered around the building being impressed by my surroundings.
The centrepiece of the museum is the trading floor where the buying and selling of bulk coffee was done. The beautiful wood and leather furniture is in good condition and a spectacular stained glass skylight illuminates the place.
After looking through the whole museum, I took myself to their cafe with great anticipation. This would surely be the pinnacle of coffee experiences. I ordered from their English language menu and sat back to await coffee perfection. I didn’t need to wait long but the experience was rather disappointing. The coffee I can buy at home is far nicer. Maybe they export all the good stuff?
Opposite the coffee museum is an avenue (above) completely populated by coffee shops. In retrospect I think that I should have selected one of them for my essential Brazil coffee experience. If I ever get back there, that’s what I’ll do.
Leaving the coffee district, I set off to walk through the downtown area in search of interesting things. Many of the old buildings feature beautiful architecture including plenty of stained glass. My problem was that having no local language, I couldn’t tell what was a gallery or museum and what was an office. I stepped into one particularly historic looking building to admire its stained glass, only to find myself in an accountant’s office.
Sticking up above Santos is the mini mountain of Monte Serrat. I’d heard that the view from the top was worthwhile so I set out to find my way up there. This brought me to the Funicular station.
The Funicular is a balanced cable car system where one car is pulled up on a cable while another is lowered as a counterbalance. This creates something like a very slow train capable of climbing up and down the very steep slope of the hill. It’s a great tourist attraction and has apparently been one since the early 20th century. I bought a ticket and having just missed a departure, waited half an hour until I was hauled to the top. The view from the top has the potential to be spectacular, but the ever present smog meant that there was almost no view at all. I used the half hour before the Funicular’s next trip to walk all over the top of the hill in search of views, and climbed to the highest point of the Funicular building, but mostly what I saw was smog and this communications tower.
Looking at all of those dishes from just a few metres away had me wondering just how much RF I was being soaked in. I got the feeling that concepts of occupational health and safety aren’t taken quite as seriously in Brazil as they are in Australia, so I hastened to get away from the radio tower.
Hot and sweaty and with the morning almost over, I caught a taxi back to the hotel for a shower, a change and a return to the conference.
The highlight of the afternoon session for me was Professor Tom Nesmith’s discussion of the ‘Archival Society’ in which he contends that society as a whole has not embraced the importance of archives as an asset for national development. As an educator, Professor Nesmith is interested in finding ways to improve the skills of archivists not just in the technical aspects of the profession, but in making themselves relevant to and recognised by society.
As proceedings drew to a close, the organisers summoned all of the speakers for a group photograph.
With the conference over, everyone relaxed and started planning a celebratory dinner to finish things off. While this was going on, my host drew me aside and informed me that my driver would meet me in the hotel lobby at 3:00am for the trip to the airport. I was somewhat taken aback. Three o’clock in the morning? Any plans for a night out evaporated right then and there. I spent 10 minutes saying goodbye to people then returned to my room to pack up and get an early night.
Sure enough, at 3:00am the driver was waiting in the lobby. This time I had only a driver and no translator. The driver spoke no English, but this didn’t stop him helpfully pointing out places of interest as we left Santos. Fortunately my few days in town had given me enough familiarity with Santos to mostly know the places he was pointing to. What did disturb me though was the lack of headlights. As we set off into the darkness with little or no street lighting, I found I couldn’t see the road ahead. I couldn’t see because the headlights were not switched on. I tried to discuss this with my driver, but none of the words I could think of for ‘light’ or ’see’ came close enough to their Portuguese equivalents for him to understand me. I think he thought I was nuts. It turns out that within city limits most people just use parking lights and save their headlights for the open road.
Then we approached, in the darkness, our first red traffic light. And we didn’t stop. This was becoming rather disturbing. Red lights would sometimes convince him to slow a little, but never would he stop. I later found that this is a strategy employed after dark to avoid car jacking. Great.
We made it to Guarulhos airport with plenty of time to spare and as I checked in, the British Airways staffer apologised and told me that my 7:00am flight would be delayed about 45 minutes. Unconcerned, I passed through security screening and passport control to find a seat in a gate lounge to sit and read for a few hours and watch the sunrise. In an unfortunate reversal of the usual, the coming of daylight didn’t make it easier to see outside because daybreak coincided with the arrival of the fog.
The airport was immediately closed to take offs or landings and a long, confused and chaotic delay began. The 45 minute delay tuned into 2 hours, then 3 hours and eventually almost 5 hours. Once the fog lifted, aircraft started to arrive and very soon all of the terminal slots were full. Planes were parked all over the airport and along with hundreds of others, I was moved to a packed holding area to catch a bus across the tarmac to a waiting 747.
We finally left Guarulhos for Buenos Aires but I knew that I had already missed my Qantas flight to Sydney by several hours. At Buenos Aires I was hustled across the airport with a handful of other passengers and squeezed onto a packed Chilean LAN flight to Santiago in Chile. The diversion would mean that instead to arriving home on Sunday night I’d be back at Monday lunch time but the payoff was a good chance to see the Andes up close as we flew along them to Santiago. At Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago I had a 6 hour delay before boarding another LAN flight - this time to Auckland. I spent much of the time trying to get a message back home to say I’d been delayed. After failing to get my mobile or the public telephones to work, I looked for wireless internet access. I finally found it in the Pacific Lounge where I also found drinks and snacks, all for about seven dollars.
We left for Auckland at about midnight and flew through darkness for 13 hours. I was again wedged into a little economy class seat, but this time with a window. The seat-back entertainment system had a fine selection of movies but the audio on mine was broken so it wasn’t much use. I wasn’t very successful at sleeping so I spent much of the flight looking out of the window at stars.
In Auckland we had to disembark, get security scanned, then get back onto the same plane for the trip to Sydney. I begged for another seat to get some leg room and I was granted a very roomy emergency exit row with a perfectly functional entertainment system. Yay!
It was no surprise in Sydney to find that my luggage had not traversed the airport in Buenos Aires as quickly as I had, but it was almost a bonus because I didn’t have to muscle it through customs or check it back into Qantas domestic for the flight to Canberra. On the ground again I’d managed to take 44 1/2 hours to get from my hotel in Santos to home in Canberra.]]>
When Brazil’s Association of Archivists first invited me to speak at their congress, I offered to supplement my conference presentation with a half-day workshop dealing in some detail with our digital preservation software. Ideally I wanted people to bring in their laptops so that after demonstrating the operation of our software, I could help people to install and configure their own copies of the system to learn from. Aside from bringing their own computers, we decided that it would be useful if participants could be fluent in English because no translation would be available and I speak no Portuguese. A total of ten people pre-registered for my seminar and a handful more turned up on the day.
Anyway, the day started with another session of talks in the main auditorium with simultaneous translation. I sat at the front with my headset on and the netbook on my lap. I decided to make a quick check to see that all of my software components were in place for the afternoon’s workshop so I used one of the memory sticks full of our code that I’d brought along to give away and set about unzipping and trying out software. I quickly ran into a problem when I found that a couple of the bzip files on the memory stick wouldn’t unzip. These were files I had downloaded from our sourceforge site in Canberra less than a week ago. Perhaps I messed up the download? With free hotel wireless available from my auditorium seat I decided to use the local Brazilian sourceforge mirror to download the files again. It took a few minutes but it soon became evident that some of the bzips at sourceforge were broken. I emailed the team back home to take a look but knew I’d be on my own for a while due to the 13 hour time difference.
The morning’s presentations included one by another of the overseas guests, Professor Bruno Delmas from France. His talk was made doubly interesting to me because of what the translators told me immediately before it. Apparently, only one of the translators was fluent in French. So he would be creating a simultaneous translation from French into Portuguese and his colleague would listen to the Portuguese and render it into English in parallel. This ‘Chinese Whispers’ form of simultaneous translation resulted in an interesting set of words that sometimes almost made sense but I think I’ll need to seek an English copy of Professor Bruno’s paper in order to properly understand his musings on the dematerialisation of the document.
I left the morning session early and returned to my hotel room to assess all of the pieces of software I had brought along and to attempt to build the missing pieces from source. Most things were working and the only obviously broken pieces would not affect anyone at the workshop unless they were Linux or Mac users wanting to install only one software component. I figured correctly that the risk in that case was quite small. For the workshop, I changed from my suit to my National Archives of Australia Xena Digital Preservation shirt. A little bit of marketing can go a long way.
There was some initial confusion in the seminar room when the infrastructure people wanted to insist on me using their computer rather than mine to do all of my demonstrations, but we eventually sorted that out and I managed to get the netbook talking to their projector and plugged into power for the long haul. People trickled into the room and I was gratified to see that my audience would consist of nearly all of the invited speakers, some Brazil and Santos archives people and the event organisers. All of them understood English and most were able to converse in English.
For those who hadn’t seen my keynote and to reinforce the concepts for those who had, I started with a brief slide presentation explaining the NAA approach to digital preservation. This led naturally into a demonstration of Xena and a bit of an exploration of the various outputs created during a Xena process. Next up I detailed each of the steps of processing a digital records transfer into a digital archive and this led to a detailed demonstration of the Manifest Maker and a full run through of the DPR. With everyone on the same page in terms of the operation of the software I checked to see what operating systems we might be installing on. Everybody had brought along machines running one variant or another of MS Windows.
Johanna Smit from São Paulo University volunteered the use of her new EePC netbook for me to demonstrate the use of our all-in-one DPSP installer and I connected it to the projector. I displayed and explained the contents of the memory sticks that I’d given out and walked through a software installation while others followed along on their own machines. Annoyingly, some quirk of the Windows setup on Johanna’s netbook prevented the menu entries for our software from pointing to the new installation but this issue didn’t occur on any other machines. I overcame it with some manual intervention but it made an otherwise smooth demonstration just a little less smooth.
The session concluded with some excellent discussion of the limits of our capacity to process digital records and some speculation on what factors may influence our ability to scale up our operations in future. The participants seemed generally impressed with the polished look of our software and our documentation. The test now will be to see if anyone goes away to play some more and contacts us as a result.]]>
With my day one keynote behind me and my day three workshop off in the future, day two would be my day to take in some of the congress and hopefully get outside the hotel for a quick look around.
Having chatted over dinner with Professor Geoffrey Yeo, I was keenly anticipating his paper presentation. He did not disappoint. Drawing on a great British tradition of academic oratory, Professor Yeo delivered a cogent, clever, nuanced and challenging argument in support of the uniqueness of instances of digital records.
I’ll admit I was caught between furiously scribbling several pages of notes and just admiring his skill as a presenter. The subject matter happened to be close to my personal interests in digital preservation, so I was engrossed. At times I found myself in disagreement with his suggestions, but more often in vehement agreement, particularly when he concluded that it is “…impossible to have a complete list of significant properties [of digital objects] because they are contingent on user perception…” Oh yeah - testify! Take that, all you significant properties adherents!
His exploration of the concept of uniqueness or originality is one that has not received enough intelligent assessment in the digital domain, and it’s past due for careful consideration. I have long advocated that we cannot know what facet of a digital record will be important to a future researcher. Aspects other than obvious content may assume more importance than we currently imagine.
It’s fair to say that Professor Yeo’s talk rather eclipsed the remainder of the morning for me.
In the afternoon I returned to my room to do some further preparation for my workshop, then changed into shorts and T Shirt for a look at the Atlantic ocean. The beach front was a two block walk and I crossed the wide sand to touch the Atlantic for the first time.
The weather was warm but the heavy haze made it not quite what I would call beach weather. A queue of huge transport ships were just visible off shore, lining up to enter the port of Santos. I walked the sand for a kilometre or so, looking at the trolleys of the mobile beverage vendors with their collections of folding chairs for their customers to sit at. In the distance I saw what I thought were a pair of Lifesaver ’swim between’ flags, but when I got there I found that they were each a different design and were the advertising flags of two different beach trolleys.
I crossed back from the beach to the famous beach front garden and I marveled at the paving which looks like mosaic ceramic tiles. Most of the pavement along streets is similar to this:
Having seen quite a few potholes in footpaths, I wondered at the fragility of paving with ceramic tiles. Then I discovered that it’s actually done with bricks of different types of rock:
That made more sense.
I had thought I might walk up to the Historical district to see the coffee museum and other historical attractions, but I was running out of daylight and energy, so I shelved those for another day.]]>