EuroOSCON 2006, Brussels

I attended EuroOSCON, 9/19 to 9/21 in Brussels. The conference seemed to be a tad smaller than last year, at least I got the impression that there were not quite as many people showing up to the keynotes.
This years conference seemed to be a lot more socially focussed compared to last year, there were not that many pure technical sessions, but lot’s on social impact of OpenSource, OpenData, OpenWhatever….
Session quality on average was good to very good, some fantastic. Only a few were really bad.
Summary: was it worth going. Absolutely. Getting your mind expanded with some new ideas is always well worth your time, IMO.

Highlight sessions (or, stuff you should look up if you are interested at all)

Alex Russel (DOJO) on Ajax on Mobile Devices.
Alex delivered one of the best talks on Mobile Devices, the problems the operators have, and why we should wait 5-10 years before we even think about Ajax on Mobiles, that I have ever heard – or even imagined. I went into there thinking, this is going to be a stupid hacker talk on how to show a Google Map on a Nokia phone with Ajax, but, instead, he blew me, and the audience, away with a superbly delivered talk, with lot’s of facts, data, anecdotes that clearly outlined the problems the mobile industry is in.
Recommended reading/listening for everyone interested in mobile stuff.

Michael Sparks (BBC), Timeshift everything
I reported last year on the BBCs Kamaelia project. This was, for me, just a status update, if you have not looked into it before, and you are interested in language models for massively multitasking/parallel operations, this is for you. The current project they have in prototype, and will have in production as soon as the machines arrive, is BBC Makro, a system that takes the DVBT broadcast from BBC, and records everything they do, all the time, and creates video streams for podcasting out if. I want that at home 🙂

Tom Steinberg (, A hackers guide to democracy is a nonprofit that creates community driven democracy sites in the UK. The talk was about the issues arising, and the changes in the democratic understanding that those movements can result in. The sites work by scraping existing data that, in the political domain, is normally very inaccessible (badly formated, not searchable) and presenting it a more approachable format. They then add rankings, ratings, ordering, email push notifications, communication… Due to all that they do out-google the original sources, as they, just due to the format change, climb in page ranking. One of the best things he showed was a site that allowed a voter to ask his representative to “speak up on current issues” via an HTML page. The more people signed up, like “I want to hear him talk as well”, the more pressure this puts on the the politician (the system sends out reminders at certain thresholds).
Robert Lefkowitz, Architecting Babel
From my experience with his talk last year, i did expect a thought provoking talk again, he is one of the smartest, or at least best educated, speakers I have seen on stage in my life. This year he is arguing for source code translation. As english is not really the worlds number one language, and as software crosses further more into non english speaking countries, we are alienating this community by forcing english on them. The current results are forks in open source projects for different languages. Initially, i did not really buy his argumentation, as, in the end of the day, you still need a basis for communication later down the road, and that can as well be english. But, when you consider source code, especially OpenSource source code as the cheapest and most broadly available teaching material for students in the developing world, this becomes more of an issue. This might not go as far as rewriting all compilers etc, but i can easily imagine an advanced babelfish extension for Eclipse etc…

Other stuff

My talk about GData
Due to the fact that i was following a keynote with Q&A in the big room, I unhappily lost 10min out of 40 in speaking time. That did not increase my performance (rushing through stuff is no fun), but i still had probably 100-120 people in the audience and got lot’s of questions during the next 2 days. The feedback was positive, but one really important thing emerged. They liked the idea of GData, but not having it on search is a big mistake. That I was not able to say “yes, it will happen” was conceived as plain stupid (not on my part, but on “our” part as a company). The other thing that came up was aggregation – Google does serve normal feeds, why not have a queryable GData interface on top of those?

Steve Coast,
Those guys are trying to create free/public geodata information. Amazing project, with lot’s of hurdles. mainly that most users of geodata have the assumption that they need 100% coverage to have it be usable.

Adrian Halovaty
, Journalism via Programming
Starts with the statement that journalism right now is broken. There is a decline of newspaper circulation, the mechanism of story selection, and the data story. In journalism you start with structured data, and create stories, and on the way to the public you loose the structure of the data. Contrast that to Wikipedia, Google Base, and Craigs List, which are just frameworks that need data, contrary to journalism that is data looking for a framework. He then demonstrated and who are examples of how that structured data can be used in different context.

Jan Muehlig,
Jan is the CEO of an usability consultancy. He focussed on the missing usability aspects of open source development and what could be done to fix this by getting more usability experts involved. If someone is interested in usability and knows nothing about it, he should get the slides and read them (they are on the Oreilly website). They do already have some impact and some volunteers, they are working on the Gimp and other projects. The main challenge is getting those experts into the OS community as they are primarily focussing on closed source software. What i really liked was the line “Features do not create a user experience on it’s own”.

Florian Holzhauser, Jabber – not just instant messaging
Florian is a member of the jabber foundation and he gave an overview presentation of what you can do with jabber. Listening to him, jabber is the best thing since sliced bread, and if you do any connectivity at all, you should and could use jabber. It was a talk directed at a different audience. Slides and marketing speech.

Jim Purbrick, The creation engine
Jim is the technical directory for Second Life. This was an interesting talk about how to create community involvement in this virtual world. 2ndLife has 60% community participation, 140.000h of game time get logged each day and 25% of that time is used constructing things. The factors leading to this are: instant gratification, always on creation (you can always build, no special design mode), collaborative creation, culture of teaching (they build a tower of knowledge there…) and share & distribute (by default created items can be cloned and modified). By now, real companies, like American Aparell are entering to sell virtual and real clothing…

Mathias Marten, From Europe to USA
MySQLs CEO talks about the experiences his company made when they moved large part of the operations from Europe to the USA, cultural differences etc.

Mobile Groupware,
I attended some sessions about mobile computing, as i am an avid user, and this conference had some good information and sessions. This was sadly not one of them. Badly presented, the premise was the “always on and no cache” promise of mobile communication, the example was a PIM application. This is an OpenSource effort in J2ME, with a few guys working on it so far. They did explain how they work with exchange4linux and other OS collaboration servers, etc, but I doubt the audience, which was small overall, was on their side. This might partly be to blame on the wrong focus (real time collaboration, where this approach might add value, is not best illustrated using a calendar application).

Jim Zenlin, Director Free Standards Group
The title of the talk was: “Why Open Standards Are Crucial to Protecting Your Linux Investment”, and maybe he ever got around to explaining it… But. After 2minutes he was already talking about why the South lost against the North in the US Civil war (no standard rail system), and that Linux is in an open war against Microsoft. And he continued, although he got protests from the audience, with this (quote: “This is my talk, if you don’t like it, have your own session”). I left after 15min.

David Bitton, CEO Wengo, Freedom to call, freedom to code
It was a presentation of an OpenSource success story. They are a subsidiary of the 2nd largest France telecom. Wengo is an OpenStandard/OpenSource Skype alternative. They had 1 million users in the first 8 months, make money for the telco by offering premium services, and hope to have GoogleTalk integration by EoY. Interesting was the quote that he states that internet giants like MSN, ICQ etc are perceived as direct competitions to the telcos. I did not realize they knew… They have more than 40 people working on Wengo, which is rather large for an Opensource project.

Florian Mueller,
He is the guy who successfully fought against the Patent Initiatives in Europe in the past. He got frenetic applause, and his keynote just focused on how to successfully lobby for patents. The problem seems to be that the political left embraces the commons based approach already, where the right wing sees all new models as a thread to commercial viability. The very outspoken activist in the OpenSource arena sometimes add to the problem, as their enthusiasm is overreaching (wonder who he was talking about…). He emphasized the need for top-down lobbying, bottom up alone won’t work in the political arena. What is needed are serious studies showing that the new models are in deed creating economic benefits for society.

Damian Conway, The Conway Channel 2006
It was the usual Perl talk, about 2 modules he wrote. I just saw him deliver (lightening talk session in between) the &#8220;101 things i love about Perl 6&#8221; in 5 minutes, so i was surprised he was back in action already :). I am not a Perl head, the little i know was not enough to really appreciate what he has done there, but some of things were just amazing language additions. The List::Maker had some nice features, i loved the < 4d6 > notation, but Contextual::Return was really neat. It allows for lazy evaluation of function returns.

Adrian Holovaty, Django,
He showed how Django was used to build, which was a very &#8220;hand&#8217;s on&#8221; way of demonstration the power behind Django. Nothing he talked about surprised me as being &#8220;unusual&#8221; in a web development framework, but it appeared to me as being very very well thought through and executed well. Restless design, no filename extensions, template inheritance, simple presentation orientated template logic. Especially the auto generation of database admin UI is, i assume, a real timesaver. Certainly the framework i am going to use for my personal site projects that i have in mind.

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Published in: on September 22, 2006 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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