Monthly Archives: June 2006

At the Ubuntu Summit

Since Sunday afternoon, I’ve been at the Ubuntu Developers’ Summit at SAS Radisson hotel near the Charles De Gaulle airport outside of Paris.

Actually, the hotel is located in the small village Mesnil-Amelot which is even outside of the airport so that you have to take a shuttle bus to the airport, and then a train from the airport train station in order to get into Paris. Effectively, this discourages most of the assembled assorted geeks from running off to Paris all the time.

The summit is focused on discussing, drafting and approving the specifications that will be implemented in the next Ubuntu release, codenamed the Edgy Eft. As it is, as much of the planning of the release will be done within these 5 days as possible. You can check out the draft of the release cycle here.

There are a goodly mix of people from the community here. First of all, there’s all of the Ubuntu core developers with backgrounds in F/OSS projects such as Debian and GNOME, and fair few of the developers of the associated Launchpad project which is a platform for Open Source development that is still in active development. The connection between Launchpad and Ubuntu is really interesting, as it allows for a continuing exchange between the development of the distribution and the framework and structure through which it is being developed. The Launchpad framework makes certain assumptions about how Open Source projects are developed, and how the different sections of the whole wide Open Source community should coordinate their work. I’ll definitely be looking more into that.

Then there’s also the community volunteers, a fair few of which have been sponsored by Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu and Launchpad, there are people here from the KDE community to help with Kubuntu development, there are people from the Linux Terminal Server Project to help with Edubuntu development, there are XCFE volunteers to help out with Xubuntu – all three of which are subprojects based on the Ubuntu distribution. There are Intel people to ensure hardware compatibility, there are MOTU‘s – the volunteer package maintainers that prepare the software sync’ed from Debian for use in Ubuntu. Lots of activity and lots of different associations and motivations.

Many of the people I’ve talked to are very impressed that so many different projects are represented here. And that so many of the Open Source celebrities are here, hacking on Ubuntu together. People like Jeff Waugh and James Troup (note: Troup doesn’t seem to have his own webpage, so I’ve linked to a rant complaining about his central position in Debian. Mind the bile) work for Canonical and have quite a reputation among the volunteers here.

The format of the days are that everything is divided into discussions of single specifications. These sessions are called BOFs (for Birds Of a Feather, and scheduled based on the specifications in Launchpad through an automated process. Here’s the schedule for Monday. And here’s a picture of a typical BOF in session:

You’ll notice the ubiquitous laptops. Developers tend to bring them along wherever they go. Many have these tiny laptops that really couldn’t possibly be any smaller without it being too small to use properly.

People here are passionate about what they do, and friendly and quite willing to discuss their work. I’m really enjoying myself doing this fieldwork.

In Paris…

I’m in Paris for the first time. I arrived Friday evening and went to stay with Juliette and Jean-Marc in their very small flat near the Place de la Nation. Both of them are students and are working hard on their exams just now, so I got all of Saturday to myself to wander around Paris and get a feel of the city of cities.

The centre of Paris isn’t really like other cities. It’s more like a monument to France. With the boulevards, the museums, the palaces and the actual monuments there is little real people life seeping through. It’s very grand, but it’s not a living urban space. It’s more of a petrified memory of the Imperial past of France. And not just that but it is also a monument to the “greatness of western culture” – of which the French like to perceive themselves as the originators.

I talked with Juliette about it, and she agreed, but she pointed out that this image of Paris is internationally known and branded – it is not the sort of thing that you can change even if you would want to.

As you can see on the picture, I finally got to see the Eiffel Tower, the symbolic power of which I wrote an essay about. The Eiffel Tower is naturally connected to this international image of Paris as a cultural centre.

The real Paris is instead seeping out in the suburbs and in the less visited neighbourhoods of central Paris, in the metro and the back alleys. Paris is known for its many immigrants from the former French colonies but when taking public transportation in Paris, I was still impressed with the cultural mix of people. I find that that is a much better indicator of the life of city.

Off to Paris

Well, I’m finally heading out into the field. The real field, not the virtual one but out to meet real flesh-and-blood informants. I’m very excited, if you couldn’t tell.

The plan is like this: First I’m off to Paris for the Ubuntu Developers’ Summit where all of the core Ubuntu developers will gather to spend a week planning and discussing the next Ubuntu release, deftly codenamed the Edgy Eft.

I’ll be participating in the discussions, and I will be presenting the results of the Census Survey of the Ubuntu community which I have been conducting. I’ve received nearly 300 hundred valid responses and the questionnaire is still open for the curious – though any late responses won’t make it into my analysis.

After what I hope will be a great time in Paris (I’ll also have time to visit some old friends from Manchester), I’ll fly to Barcelona for the GUADEC conference. That is the “GNOME User And Developer European Conference” which is a rather snappy acronym. GNOME is the desktop environment that Ubuntu uses, and several of the Ubuntu developers are also GNOME developers and have strong ties to this project.

The GUADEC is another week of conference but in a somewhat different climate: Where the Ubuntu Developers’ Summit will be an intense work session, the GUADEC looks to be a bit more relaxed and easy-going. There will even be a GNOME football championships during the week. The differences will be interesting to note, too.

Also, very appropriately I stumbled across a song just yesterday by Swedish ragga outfit Helt Off. It’s called “Det brinner i Paris” [.mp3 file from Helt Off’s record label] and it’s about the riots in Paris last autumn where groups of young unemployed suburbanites lit cars on fire in the night. You can find the (Swedish) lyrics here.

Did I mention that it is damn funky?

“Denmark has joined the free world”

This afternoon, I went to the launch of the Danish version of the Creative Commons. I’ve discussed the Creative Commons before, but to sum up: It’s a set of new copyright licenses for creative work intended to make it easy for the creator to give other people some rights not currently allowed by standard copyright.

It is inspired by the copyleft licenses introduced by hacker Richard Stallman in the early 80s, and share the idea that new digital technology makes copying and redistribution so easy that new legal thinking is needed to deal with the torrent of creativity that has been unleashed with it.

The brainchild of Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, the Creative Commons seeks to take these ideals from the software world and apply them to culture in general. The catchphrase of the CC is “Some Rights Reserved” and with the licenses you can allow several different kinds of uses for your cultural content, for instance Attribution (when others distribute your content they must put your name on it) or NonCommercial (you do not allow others to use your content for commercial purposes).

There are six different licenses to choose from, depending on your content. I have had a CC license on this blog for quite a while now, but it isn’t until now that that license is actually valid in Denmark.

At first the Creative Commons were launched in the US, and as it has gained popularity it has been possible to adapt the Creative Commons licenses to other jurisdictions. Denmark is the 34th country to ‘join the world of Free Culture’ as Lawrence Lessig puts it.

Lessig was there at the launch and he did a brilliant keynote presentation. I can only recommend going to one if you get the chance. Rarely have I heard such a lucid performance. It was a different keynote than the one that I have referred to earlier, and I liked this one better. It was more visionary, more constructive. He’s come a long way in the past 4 years.

I couldn’t find an online version of the new keynote (though I didn’t look very hard), but I expect it’ll be available soon enough.

I didn’t stay long after Lessig’s keynote though, as the next speaker was Danish politician Morten Helveg Petersen who has just pushed a motion on Open Standards in the public sector through the Danish Parliament. Though there are some interesting issues concerning the legal status of the incredible amounts of data that the Danish national radio and TV has produced over the years, Helveg managed to make it incredibly boring, and since the sun was shining so invitingly outside, I just had to leave.

Mind the Gap

Just found this cool little Flash program which compares life expectancy and Income per Capita for all of the World’s nations over the past 25 years.

It is quite cleverly done, and there are some quite astounding details that you notice on such a timeline: How China has sprinted up the income ladder, how Rwanda’s life expectancy plunged during the genocide, how Luxembourg is now the wealthiest country in the world – measured pr. Capita.

And then you notice that the whole scale is made out logarithmically rather than linearly. And then you can a better view of how big the gap really is.

Apparently, there’s also a whole webpage dedicated to the visualisation of global statistics of this sort.

Ze Germans were here!

Also, this weekend I hosted 3 German engineering Ph.Ds. Which was somewhat odd, since I don’t really hang out much in engineering circles (well, I’m going to be hanging out in software engineering circles, but this was Chemical engineering of some sort, I think. They’d been to a conference in Lund and had a weekend to spare before going back to Zürich where they are doing their research. So they wanted to come by Copenhagen.

Oh, how I know them? Well, one of them is Thomas, whose room I rented in Manchester. That is to say, he moved back to Germany, and I got my name on the contract instead of his. But back then, we had one week of overlap which was good fun, and it was also good fun to see him again. And his friends Tobias and Philip.

It’s always funny to see what people like about Copenhagen, and the Germans were particularly fond of the Danish hot dogs. I guess it compares well to my fascination with the German Currywurst.

Cultural differences in food is always a favourite topic of mine. One of my professors at the Department of Anthropology is big on food anthropology, and he has a good collection of films that portray food in different cultures and in different situations.

My favourite is clearly Tampopo, which I think everybody ought to see. It is mainly about how to make the perfect bowl of noodle soup. Anyone watching will be sure to be hungry afterwards.

At the Carnival

It was also during this weekend that the Copenhagen Carnival took place. And as always, it took place in the Fælledpark just across from where I live. The sound of beating drums continuing well into the night. Some of the recent years, this has annoyed me thoroughly as I was preparing for my exams, but this year I had time to go out and dance.

Still, I find that though Samba music is very vigorous and pleasant, it also has some militaristic connotations. I know that a group of samba drummers are called a Bateria – this is probably from the french “battre” meaning to beat” – but it reminded me more of an Artillery Battery. At a distance they could certainly sound like one. Again, the whole parade mentality of the Carneval seems inherently militaristic – which is a startling contrast to the sensual, carnevalesque and joyous vibes that they seek to convey.

I suppose that it is this very contrast that activists use to good effect at demonstrations. Eagerly playing and shaking the people to a frenzy of carnevalesque good humour that may difficult to set apart from threatening aggression in the eyes of the police.

By the way, these aren’t my pictures. But rather some that I found on the Carnival website. Would you believe that of all the pictures they have on there, there is only two or three with drummers on them? These samba queens are hogging all the attention…

At the Storytelling Festival

Yesterday, I went to the annual Storytelling Festival at Lejre, a small village 45 minutes outside Copenhagen. It is the site of an old iron age village and it is placed in the most lusciously green scenery you can imagine.

I went with Lars and Maja who hadn’t been before.

And it was a most enjoyable afternoon, wandering around the green landscape, listening to stories of trolls and other surprises, discovering the sacrificial bog:

(you can click on the image to get the full-size version. Note the horseskins in the background)

And finding the little boar piggies:

I even tried to record a little film of the piggies happily rooting through the dirt. Aren’t they adorable?

I can only recommend going to the Storytelling Festival. I try to go every year, and it is always a wonderful experience.

Return to the emergency room

This morning I returned to the emergency room at Bispebjerg Hospital to do a presentation of our Interaction Design project at their morning meeting. This presentation has been underway for the longest time, mostly due to the fact that these people always seem to be busy, and you have to be patient in order to find a date for such a presentation.

When I arrived, the door to the emergency room was locked – presumably because the night shift was still in charge at 8 am. So I rang the bell and was let in. As I approached the counter, I received the “now-what-might-be-wrong-with-you” look from the nurse in charge, all ready with a new journal and a pen. But when I explained that I was here for to do the presentation at their morning meeting, she immediately turned off the professional stare and greeted me in a friendly tone.

I didn’t really notice this when we did our study here the last time around, but today I clearly saw the way that patients are treated is clearly different than from how other people (or professionals) are welcomed at the emergency room. It is a distinct professional care or concern – a pre-examination that categorizes you as a patient from the get-go.

But I digress. I did the presentation using all of our mock-ups and proto-types, and it all went pretty well. There was maybe 20 people in attendence – almost all them women for some reason – and they were very receptive to the ideas that we had developed. They looked at our storyboard [big .pdf!] and they generally agreed with the way that we had reconstructed the flow of imformation around the department.

“It is a bit simplified, though.” One the nurses commented.

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, you missed the step where the journals lie in the window sill waiting to get sorted.” She smiled at the rather intricate procedure that they’ve developed.

They liked the whole idea of both the bracelets and the digital patient map, though some were concerned about the RFID chips that might produce too much electro-magnetic something-or-another which might not be healthy. Not having the slightest clue about the possible dangers of the radio chips, I said so, but pointed out that since these chips are being used in many other different projects, we’ll hopefully know soon enough if they’re dangerous or not.

They also noted that if we were to reuse the bracelets, then we’d better make them pretty sturdy as they would have to disinfect them for every new patient. I had to admit that we hadn’t really thought of that, at all.

But generally, it seemed that they were pretty impressed with how much data we had managed to gather and analyze, and not once did they say that our conclusions were wrong or based on wrong assumptions. It was quite a positive experience, especially since the staff also seemed quite interested in the new technology and the fact that wouldn’t require them to learn intricate new ways of coordinating their work.

As they noted, they’ve been stuck with the same ancient digital journal system since 1993, as all attempts to develop new systems have been deterred in hope of incorporating the latest technology. Hopefully, now that a new national electronic journal system has been proposed, something will happen – and when it does, it would be an open opportunity to integrate something like our patient map with it.

They were also curious as to the actual expenses and possibility of implementing such a system, but I had to admit that we had done little research into how much it might cost – especially since much of the technology involved is still very new, and we designed with Ubiquitous Computing Coolness (UCC) in mind, pretty much unhindered by reality.

I also managed to preach a bit about the virtues of Interaction Design when it comes to taking the users’ view into account, since the traditional way of the users defining the specifications directly to the developers and implementors rarely seem to work well.

After they’d had a chance to ask their questions, od which there weren’t that many, I gave them all of our mock-ups and my presentation notes. They said that they’d make sure that anybody who might be interested got a chance to have a look at it. I hope it makes sense without the presentation.