Roger Whittaker

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FLOSSUK Unconference

Tuesday 12th November 2013

The 2013 Unconference was held on 26th October 2013 and was hosted by the BCS Open Source SG and held at the BCS building in London. The event was sponsored by Andrews and Arnold Limited.

The day started with a session where various people offered talks the details of which were written on "postit" notes by Kimball and stuck to a whiteboard: the talks were voted on and put in order of popularity. The process was uncomplicated and easy, and led to a day full of interesting talks, some of which had been prepared in advance, or for other events, and some of which were genuinely off the cuff knowledge transfer from experts in a field.

The talks started with Adrian Kennard of Andrews and Arnold, who gave a very useful (and completely off the cuff) talk that could be described as "what everyone needs to know about IPv6", or even perhaps "everything you ever wanted to know about IPv6 but never dared to ask". Adrian's knowledge was practical and clearly expressed, coming as he does from an ISP that offers IPv6 blocks to customers as a standard offering. The talk certainly cleared up quite a few of my own confusions on the subject, and was very well received by the audience, with many questions afterwards.

Cornelia Boldyreff of BCS gave us a description of the activities of the BCS OSSG, which holds events both in London and around the country, some of which sounded very interesting. The group runs events on open source topics of general interest as well as conferences aimed at advising on government procurement. It is not necessary to be a BCS member to attend any of these events. See:

Phil Hands then spoke about git-annex and the git-annex assistant which allow one to track large files and binary data using git without actually putting them into the git repository.

Two talks on Python followed. Cornelia Boldyreff gave a general overview of Python and why you should use it, and Andrew Richards gave a useful survey of some the available books for learning Python, as well as one or two valuable web resources. His views on all of these were based on how useful he had found them for his own extensive and practical needs when learning.

Kimball Johnson talked about solving the well known Inglenook Sidings" shunting puzzle programmatically, but going further and taking up the challenge of creating an Arduino controlled layout to demonstrate the solutions in practice.

An excellent buffet lunch and time for individual chat and discussion followed.

After lunch, Kay Dudman demonstrated some animations made using Scratch, both for the purpose of teaching programming via Scratch and also to illustrate algorithms graphically: one example given being "bubble sort".

Phil Hands spoke about the EOMA-68 CPU card from Rhombus Tech: the brainchild of Luke Leighton. This device is in a PCMCIA card sized format, and has an Allwinner A10 processor with 2G RAM, and USB3, SATA, ethernet connections and an SD card slot. Although the current number of these devices in circulation is small, Phil noted that another batch is to be produced, and that a KDE tablet based on the EOMA-68 is being planned.

Dominic Cleal of Red Hat spoke about the Foreman systems management tool, and its use together with other tools. Foreman is a lifecycle management tool that integrates with configuration management tools such as puppet for installation and configuration of physical and virtual servers, with an attractive web interface and REST API.

Jasper Wallace of London Hackspace spoke about DNSSec and the importance of its implementation. He mentioned DANE (DNS-based Authentication of Named Entities) as well as how DNSSec can be integrated with other services including SMTP and SSH.

Carles Pina of Mendeley spoke last year on "olefactory notifications": that was a hard act to follow, but he managed to amuse us further with "MIDI madness" -- data "audialization": the conversion of data to music. This led to a number of anecdotes being shared among the audience, particularly old stories about detecting what various legacy systems were doing by listening to the noises they were making.

Alain Williams described a problem with encrypted disk partitions that he had wished to solve for his customers to enable secure backups, and how he had used udev rules to solve it.

Jan Kim of the Pirbright Institute gave an interesting talk about the use of BioPython to solve problems in genetics by comparing and processing genetic sequence data.

Craig Gallen spoke briefly on OpenNMS and the work being done partly in association with Juniper Networks on improving its network visualisation capabilities.

For the final talk, Adrian Kennard spoke again - his talk on "printer drivers" had gathered few votes when offered. But what he described was both extraordinary and interesting: how he used ghostscript and other standard open source printing technologies to create multiple virtual printer drivers under Linux to drive the Epilog laser engraving machine, which can both cut plastic and engrave on surfaces. Different virtual drivers were used to run the machine in different modes, and Adrian showed us impressive examples of the results.

Social discussions continued after the end of the day.

This was a most enjoyable event, and proof that the unconference format can work very well for our audiences. The venue was ideal, and our thanks go out to Andrews and Arnold for sponsoring the event and to BCS for providing the venue and event registration.