Debconf6 day -5: Manyana and it is still hot

It is evening of the third day and we are still netless - "manyana" is all that we know and people have accepted that. Hacking is being conduced efficiently - the local network is up and there is local Debian mirror in the LAN.

The mornings are very nice here - it is not too hot yet and the water sprinklers also improve the situation further.

I took a walk to the Oaxtepec town itself which is a couple minutes away from the Debconf6 venue. I hoped to find a currency exchange, but I had no idea where to go and the city is planned rather randomly, so I did not find it and got lost. Additionally I was brave^Wstupid enough to take this walk barefoot and by the middle of the day the asphalt was getting very hot. Luckily I managed to find a person who spoke tiny bit of English, showed him the wristband of the hotel and he immediately suggested to drive me there as he was just going to go in that direction. So I got back fast and relatively safe.

People are getting a bit bored without the Internet. And what do Debian people do when they get bored? Right, they start playing Mao. I joined after the game was running for an hour and with a bit of luck won once before the game ended in implosion. My rule went unused.

It is late in the evening but the Internet is finally up. Hurray! In seconds the hacklab become much more quiet - the number of people there doubled, but the talking seized. People flooded the IRC. In an hour the spell was broken - the lunch is here, and the hacklab is to be closed for the night. Hard choice.

After my failure to find a currency exchange during the day, Enrico agreed to help me - he would withdraw some money from a local ATM and give it to me in exchange for my pounds and euros. The closest ATM is in the town, so we went there after the dinner. It is strange that I did not notice the bank with the ATM before because it has an advertisement put up on a ~30 meter pole. It seems that in Mexico the cooler you are the higher your advert is. On the way back operation "thirst clenching" commenced - beer was acquired from the local 24 hour shop. We were told before that the security guards of the hotel did not want us to bring any alcohol from the town following the "pool accident", but the operation went on anyway. It was a long walk and now I finally now some places in the town that have some value to them. Thanks for the help, Enrico!

I will need that money very much tomorrow. Why? Read on :)

Note: I have decided to not put photos inside these blog entries for now because it consumes too much time. Instead I will do an update of these pages sometime after the Debconf is over and will also upload all pictures to at the same time. I will also then make a new post in the blog saying that I did so and having in it links to all appropriate locations.

Debconf6 day -6: Netless pooling

The Internet is not up yet, so the productivity of people here is very different now - some have no way to do what they want, but on the other hand some are benefiting from the lack of interruptions and disturbances and having a very productive hack session in the offline.

Hacklab Other part of hacklab Wider view of hacklab

In addition some people (including me) had to move from one hotel to another hotel, where all the other Debconf people were staying. That required finding places, packing things, moving things, giving away keycards, getting new keycards, moving things again, unpacking things, ... It basically took all morning and a good part of the afternoon for those involved. (Note: we really want/need a key/keycard for every person in the room)

The dinner was a three dish set. Learning from yesterdays experience meals were preselected in two sets: normal and vegetarian. Those not liking fish (which also includes me) had to settle for the vegetarian main dish which was a tomato with sweet corn and some salad - not too filling. The food in general is quite simple and very tasty.

Praying for the Internet Wild photography He is on the normal menu Gunnar's table Vegetarian table

One must remember to drink a lot of water, but not tap water.

The most important device in the hacklab

In the afternoon some DD's (including me again) went to check out the pool system which seems to be the center of this place. There is a lot of people in and around the pool at all the time it is open (8:00 to 18:00). Swimming is quite tiring, but you can rest by holding to the wall or by climbing out and sunbathing a bit. Trampolines look scary. Strange discussions ensue among people clamping for the wall of the pool.

POOOOOL! No consumo humano

Dinner was just as nice as lunch, but one more bit of knowledge emerged there - if there is something on the table and you do not know what exactly it is, be sure that it will be be hot. Very hot. Especially if it is green.

There was an organizational meeting right after the dinner. It seems that a lot of things can go late when setting up a network coverage for a holiday resort on a hill some way out of a town: uplink is plagued by line of sight problems, lots of wires to be put on roofs, hotspots, ... It should be fixed tomorrow - "manyana" is the key word here. It was even said that the key phrase of the conference should have been "Debconf 6: manjana" instead of "Debconf 6: hot and spicy". The "wild Debconfers vs. the security guards" issue got some coverage too. The conclusion is not to swim in the pool in the night. Especially not naked. I should go look at the local sauna tomorrow.

Hyperactive network guy

The place looks just wonderful - here are some more picture of the surroundings:

Sunny pool area Diving tower and the pool Parliament tower Hills near the hotel Looking down the ridge A small chappel on a cliff The funiculeur Look, there is a penguin too! Walkways at night Night panorama from the tower

Debconf6 day -7: Arrival

I did not know that I will be moving to UK when I bought my Debconf 6 aeroplane tickets. For that reason my journey to Debconf 6 started in Cranfield, UK. I had to spend 40 (!!!) pounds for a return train ticket to Stansted and additional 50 pounds for a return aeroplane ticket from London (Stansted) to Riga.

London subway trains

Additional feature of this fact is that I had a night to spend in Riga where I had to be awake (as I came to Riga late at night and had to be back at the airport at 5 in the morning) and a few days to spend with my family on the way back.

On the way to Riga I used Ryanair and now I can compare experience with their fiercest competitor - EasyJet. The conclusion is that I liked Ryanair experience better: there is a bit less shouting announcement and less organisation in general, which somehow worked just as good, but felt better. We will see how they will handle my request to add a bike to my return ticket when I will be coming back from Debconf.

Riga was a lot of fun - ate a bunch of good local food in Lido, spend some value time with my girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend, I am not quite sure about that) and got a taxi back to the airport. Nostalgia fixed up.

Latvian dinner at Lido

From Riga to Mexico I was flying with KLM via Amsterdam. KLM is not a low cost airline, so you get the food and drinks for free on the plane. I already got used to this service not being there for most EU airlines in the last few years. The service was very good and the food was fun, but what I like the most was the Amsterdam airport - a very large and comfortable place. There was no free WiFi, but there were some free power sockets which helped me to spend my 8 hours there in with a bit of comfort. The transatlantic flight was fun: several meals, a lot of sleep, the King Kong movie (utter crap, the effects are only interesting thing and only from a professional point of view), nice view of Iceland mountains covered in snow.

Ad sign at Amsterdam Airport Iceland mountains Mexico airport

Then we took a taxi from the Mexico City airport to the Debconf place. My memory of the trip is very episodic: Heavy rain. Got into wrong car, had to change. Small green taxis overtake us. We overtake a train that runs in the middle of the motorway. A lot of ads of large people in suits standing with a smile and welcoming hands. Politicians. :P Mountains. We had to pay ~190 peso for the road tools in addition to the 1900 peso taxi charge (for 7 people). Two hours in a taxi. The driver only knew about the Oaxtepec aquapark (which is also here). The security guards at the park entrance know about Debconf place and point the way for the driver. After a kilometre another security checkpoint did the same again. Hotel reception. Gunar with his wife there.

Taxi company managers in Mexico Rain in Mexico Lots and political ads in Mexico City

This is a resort. Four different swimming pools (including one with 10m diving tower), several hotels, shops with swimming stuff and junk food, mango trees, several restaurants, conference places, football and basketball fields, lots of tourists relaxing. Bunches of cats around in the night.

In total I left Cranfield place at 9.00 GMT on the 5th of May and arrived to the Debconf place at around 21:00 CDT on the 6th of May which amounts to 41 hours of travelling. Ugh, no wonder I felt like a zombie at the dinner.

Zombie walk

The dinner was fun - a lot of ~20 people wander into the restaurant an hour before closing, argue about what to order for around an hour and then start eating. We left almost 1.5 hours after the place was supposed to close. And then I got to my room (the door had to be opened via security as my roommates were out somewhere) and crashed within minutes. The last thought was something along the lines of 'Now that was a fun 48 hour "day" ...' :)

Zombie Lars First dinner (for me, at the debconf6)

TUX Magazine Issue 13 review

Another issue of TUX magazine in upon us and I review it while waiting for an Internet connection at Debconf6.

Linux laptop ad: I am planning to get a new laptop soon. I am looking at Dell Inspirion 1705 because of WUXVGA screen, NVidia Go 7800 video card and the Core Duo processor. I should look into the Linux laptop market to see if any Linux laptop provider is providing or planning to provide something like that.

Kevin Shockey nicely summarizes the main reason why free software is better in to one word - "control". Cost control, hardware control, support control, feature control, virus control - free software users have it all. That is a nice executive level thing to say when people ask you "Why Linux is better?", I must remember that.

A review of F-spot is in the magazine. The "excellence" of f-spot's RAW support is way over rated. A more advanced filtering by tag would also be very welcome.

If you need an Quickbooks replacement for Linux, make sure to read the article about MyBooks professional. It is commercial and costs around 60$, but in my mind accounting is one of few areas where free software model still needs to mature a bit. I know nothing about accounting (and I do not want to), but the article is quite optimistic and makes it look almost easy.

Project management is one thing that I do want to know about, so the article about task planners is a very useful thing. A couple weeks ago I spent several hours trying to make a nice Gaant chart of my research project in MS Project, but it was much too complicated for me. Imendio Planner proved to be a much more understandable alternative. Taskjuggler is a more advanced KDE app that defines a project in a text file. I am not sure that I am that savvy. However, looking at the way these planers deal with project costs I can not stop to wonder why isn't there some kind of integration between planners and the accounting software - it would be nice to mark a vacation for a person in one place and then automatically have the project plan updated and a vacation cost planned in the accounting software.

It is funny how the articles in TUX magazine are always relevant - the next one is about Scribus: the publishing tool that I used just a few days ago to make an A1 poster describing my research project at the Cranfield University. It was very easy in general, but I found that I had to use Inkscape to make a diagram that I needed (just some boxes and arrows) and that fonts got a bit pixelated when transferred from Inkscape to Scribus either via SVG of EPS. Apparently I missed the Scribus drawing toolbar.

Reviews of FreeMind and Wengo Phone gave me the inspiration to check those services out. FreeMind is a mind mapping thing. I do have a need for those quite frequently, but I never managed to get something like this working better then a plain piece of paper. Maybe FreeMind with its keyboard shortcuts will do the trick. On the Wengo side everything looks nice and dandy, but I really really would love to see a combination of Gaim, Wengo and Ekiga in one nice app with integration to Evolution and a synchronization to my phone book of my Palm Treo. I will also note that Wengo uses ALSA and is free software which makes it head and shoulders technically better then Skype (which is reviewed later in the issue). Also the dial-out prices seem to be better.

Firestarter is reviewed next. I would really love to hear how well it integrates with the Network Manager, which is all the rage nowadays.

A review of waterproof point-and-shoot cameras follows - it is probably a clever plot to make us geeks go out to the beach at some point. :)

Neverputt is the game review of the month and I fully agree with all the praise in the review. The game is clearly superior to all other mini golf simulators out there and is in my mind one of the best free software games out there.

I think that TUX magazine has great potential and I would even tolerate some more advertisements in it if that would help the writers to get even better content in. It is quite an innovation in the publishing world and I really hope that it is successful.

Friends visiting or 24h of British transport nightmare

Friday - I find out that two of my best friends along with a few coworkers while going to a their company conference in Dallas, USA will be stopping for almost a day in London, tomorrow. I am very happy and agree to show them around the London. Only one of them has been here before.

Saturday, 11:10, Cranfield village, my home: I look at the printout from the Milton Keynes travel authority website stating that a bus from Cranfield to MK will leave Cranfield Crane Way at 11:20, so I leave the house and walk 100 meters to the Crane Way stop. To help me pass the time I start listening to LUGRadio. After around a half an hour I realise that the bus is still not here. I wonder if I did not get the schedule right, so I decide to walk to the Cranfield University (~35 min) to check it on the Internet there.

12:00, halfway between Cranfield village and Cranfield University: I decide to try hitchhiking along the road with absolutely zero luck for the whole half an hour. Now I am at a decision point - I am standing at the junction: one way goes to the university and the other goes to Milton Keynes. I decide to be brave and went on along the road to Milton Keynes still hitchhiking.

12:05, halfway between Cranfield University and North Crawley: I see the Cranfield-Milton Keynes bus go by in the direction of Cranfield, it should come back at some point.

12:20, North Crawley: After a bit of asking around I manage to find the bus stop and in five minutes the bus comes. The ticket from here to MK cost a pound less then from Cranfield. (8 km walked, 2 pounds spent) Happy :)

13:20, Milton Keynes central: I got out of the bus one stop after the shopping centre with all the other passengers, thinking that it was the railway station, but it was actually not - it appears that the bus stops in the shopping centre twice. The railway station is a good walk away.

13:50, Milton Keynes railway station: I planned to go from here to Gatwick airport with a direct coach service that I found on the MK transport authorities web site, however the train station staff had no idea about it. They recommended me to go to Watford Junction as there is a direct line to the Gatwick, so I agree. (11 km walked, 13 pounds spent)

15:30, Watford Junction: The line to Gatwick is closed for repairs, so the staff sold me a ticket to Gatwick via London Euston and London Victoria stations. I also remembered that my friends fly-in at 16:30, so I got a bit worried whether I will make it in time. (11 km walked, 23 pounds spent)

16:00, somewhere in the London tube (aka underground or metro): the ticket did not say the intermediate destinations, so I got a bit lost along the way, but luckily some officers after looking at my ticket bounced me towards the tube and then bounced me around there until I got to the Victoria station.

16:35, London, Victoria Station: My friend call me saying that they have landed. I look at the timetable and see that the next train to Gatwick is in half an hour and will take another half an hour to get there, so I decide to stay in Victoria station and tell my frinds how to find me there. I sit down and continue listening to back episodes of LUGRadio, laughing aloud at some points and attracting a few strange looks.

19:30, London, Victoria Station: My friends arrive. Take a look at the time. They got a bit lost between the airport, the airport hotel and the airport railway station. Fun.

19:30-21:30, London, various places: I take my friends trough one of the traditional sightseeing routes (on foot) managing to take a look (an a picture) on (in order) Westminster Cathedral, Buckingham palace, St. John's Park, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, the Eye of London, Golden Jubilee Bridge (which is the best place to take picture of Big Ben now that there are some repairs on the Westminster Bridge), Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Square. I was just planning to take them by tube to the Tower when they cried for mercy and just asked for a place to eat. So I look at the map and my notes and we choose to go to the main Duke of York up near the King's Cross by tube. (23 km walked, 28 pounds spent)

21:55, London, somewhere near King's Cross: after taking a few "shortcuts" and walking trough completely empty streets for the last 10 minutes we come up to the tiny place called Duke of York only to find it ... crowded to the point where we could barely get into the door. We come up with a backup plan - going back to the Victoria station and looking for some place to eat along the streets there not far away from the station itself. So we go there. (28 km walked, 28 pounds spent)

22:10, London, Victoria Station: after finding another full Duke of York just across the Victoria station entrance and not wanting to go to a pizza house or an American stake house in London, we finally settled on a Scottish Stake House. The manager was Italian and the waitress was Russian, but it did only added to the fun. The food was really nice if one managed to pick a dish without bones in it. The dinner went to 15-20 pounds per person. (29 km walked, 28 pounds spent (on transport))

23:59, London, Victoria Station: after seeing my friends run off to the last train to the airport (last one that their return tickets were valid for), I felt relieved and went to the ticketing office expecting to get home without much trouble now. In reply to my request for a ticket to Bedford or Milton Keynes the ticket officer said "You want to get to Bedford? At midnight?" in a totally unbeliving tone. That made me worry a bit. "You have to go to the King's Cross station and then go to King's Cross Thameslink. You might just get the last train at half past midnight."

00:01, London, Victoria Station: I take a look on the tube map and decide that I just need to take the Central line in any direction and it will take me to King's Cross in no time at all, so I hop into a train going East. After a few stops I discover that trains from the green District line also run along the same tracks that the Central line trains and I had just got on the wrong one. No problem I think - I will just get out at Tower station and get on to the next Central line train. (29 km walked, 31 pound spent (on transport))

00:20, London, Tower station: I get off the train just as announcer says that this train will not go further along the District line and is terminating here instead. I check the timeboard and it says that a Central line train is due in two minutes. The announce goes on to say that due to planned repairs a few lines are closed in some parts as of 20 minutes ago, then he proceeds to read out lines and stations - I stand by the tube map and as I look at it all the lines that go trough King's Cross are getting closed one by one in all directions for at least three to four stops from the King's Cross.

00:25, London, Tower station: Remember about that Central line train that should have been here 3 minutes ago? Well, it is not on the board anymore, actually there is no trains on the board anymore at all. Lots of people on the station are getting nervous.

00:30, London, Tower station: My last train to Bedford is leaving, but I am still stuck in the Tower. Additionally the announcer says that all the lines around the place where I am sitting experience huge delays due to massive electrical discharge problems. Fun. At this point I understand that I will not get anything from the tube and that I will not get out of the London tonight, so I get out of the station and start walking towards the King's Cross. The weather is nice, but a bit chilly.

03:10, London, King's Cross: Hey I am here, where are the trains? The station opens in 5:30. It starts raining and gets colder. Still fun. (50 km walked, 31 pound spent (on transport))

04:30, London, surroundings of King's Cross: I find a 24 hour e-Cafe that is charging 2 pounds for an hour of Internet. At least it is warm. (51 km walked, 31 pound spent (on transport))

05:30, London, King's Cross Thameslink: The station is being opened only to say that due to track repairs no trains are leaving King's Cross Thameslink until 11:30, but that the trains will go to Bedford from West Hampstead and there will be a special bus going there from King's Cross bus stop in a few minutes.

05:40, London, King's Cross bus stop: The rain gets stronger. Around 40 people are standing at the bus station and asking driver of every bus that stops there: "Are you the special bus?" to which drivers shake their heads and leave in a hurry.

05:55, London, King's Cross bus stop: A bus comes that is labeled "The special bus that is replacing the train", everyone gets in - it is free after all. The bus departs along the route of the train stopping along the way, but not opening the doors (because everyone who knows about the bus is already on it).

06:12, West Hampstead: the bus arrives to the station and we see that there was a train to Bedford due at 06:10. As we look at it, the sign changes saying that the train is delayed for a half an hour to 06:40. people swear a bit and cramp into a small waiting room on the platform trying to warm it up by breath. The plan is largely successful. (52 km walked, 45 pounds spent (on transport))

06:40, the train arrives. Happy, sleepy.

08:10, the train arrives to Bedford. Happy, very sleepy. Walking slowly to the bus station. It could be a bit closer to the train station, or at least there could be a fully marked route.

08:55, the bus 159, Bedford - Cranfield is on the route. I am the only passenger. I nod off around the half way and wake up 300 meters before Cranfield Swan stop (which is the stop right after the one near my house, but is right near my friends Dmitry's house). I get off the bus in a hurry. (54 km walked, 48 pounds spent (on transport))

08:56, Cranfield village: I discover that I have just lost my phone (Palm Treo 600). I remember that I was listening to the LUGRadio on it in the train and I think that I remember listening to it on the bus. I run to Dmitry's place and call my number. Nothing is ringing in my pockets, so the phone is gone. I hope it is on the bus and the driver can hear it ring. Adrenaline is the best thing in the morning.

09:06, Cranfield village: the bus 159 goes to the Cranfield University and then comes back to Bedford via the village again, so I am standing in the stop trying to catch it, hoping that I will not have to go all the way to Bedford or London in search for my phone. I am lucky, the bus stops and the driver hand me my phone.

I went back into the Dmitry's house to have a cup of tea, tell him this tale of fun of travelling in UK and watch a movie and got back home around noon.

55 km walked, 48 pounds spent on transport, some more on food, 24 hours of ... Fun ... Fun ... Fun :D

First week in UK

Again, this article is mostly event description that would mostly interest my relatives, but this part of it still goes to the Planet in case someone out there would be interested in how I am doing here.

I spent the first week in Cranfield, UK settling in in all possible ways.

First of all I found, rented and moved in a shared house off campus in the Cranfield village. My new address is Springfield Way 14, Cranfield, Bedford in case anyone is interested. It is a nice, relatively newly built house in a street full of very similar houses. A quiet neighborhood close to a shop and not too far from the campus. The house has four bedrooms for students, a living room, bathroom and kitchen. At the moment only two of four rooms are occupied.

The university campus is 2-3 km away from the village and there is a bus service around twice per hour going there, but I prefer walking to the campus and plan on getting my bike here when I will be returning from Debconf6. Now it takes me around half an hour to walk from my house to the campus, but it will only take 7-10 minutes on a bike.

Also this week the final topic of my research was decided. Unfortunately much of it is sensitive business information, so until I clear with my supervisors what exactly can I divulge here, I will not be speaking about my research in this blog. I am pretty sure that I can say that is related to Web and A.I.

Cranfield village is an interesting place - it is not your typical British village. In Cranfield almost all the life is around the Cranfield University and its airfield. Most of the villages 10k inhabitants are in some way connected to the university. That leaves a very unique mark on the place.

What follows is a braindump of first impressions or things that I noticed as strange to me:

  • Sky seems to be bigger here. I think the main reason is that at least this part of Britain is very flat, so horizon is low and the sky takes a larger part of the view. Also large formations of clouds contribute large part of that feeling.
  • Lots and lots of birds, rabbits and squirrels.
  • Prevalence of very small shops. There is no supermarket in Cranfield - there are two shops that pretend to be supermarkets, but in a similar sized town in Latvia there would be 2-3 supermarkets each at least twice the size of these shops here plus around 5 smaller shops sprinkled across the town. Also we do not have the tendency to shop for a week.
  • We do not have that many "buy one, get one for free" deals.
  • People look at you very strangely if you say that you enjoy a good walk
  • There is much higher tendency to pay in cash here
  • Banking is much more complicated
  • You can not get starter kits of prepaid cards in small shops

Cranfield - arrival

My first 24h in Cranfield. This will mostly be interesting for close friends or relatives.

After getting to Luton airport I proceeded out and got on a free "plane-train" bus that brought me to Luton train station where thanks to an advise from a station staff person I got on an express train that got to Bedford in one stop. The train was just beautiful and the railway system in general left a feeling of perfection - up to second schedules, lifts everywhere, electronic button controlled doors even for the toilet. The staff at the Bedford train station showed me direction to the bus station, but frankly I wouldn't have found it if I didn't ask again a few time along the way. In the bus station I was surprised by the news that I had to wait almost two hours until bus to Cranfield which was not pleasant considering that the temperature was approaching zero and I foolishly did not take any of my winter clothes. After the long wait and a long drive the friendly bus driver dropped me off at the Cranfield Swan. I oriented myself with my printout out of Google maps and went searching for Dmitry's house which luckily was close and was found on the first try. It was clear that I arrived to England - the first thing Dmitry asked was if I would like some tea. Which I did, after the freezing cold. After some hot tea with chocolate I felt alive again and felt so good that even agreed to Dmitry's suggestion to go and see the campus. It was around midnight. For around half an hour we walked trough part of Cranfield village and by the airfield around the quiet side of it. The sky was clear and blazes from other towns could be seen all around the horizon. Together with a very bright moon it made a very nice picture but I could not take it properly because I still have no tripod. On campus Dmitry showed me a few buildings. In Cranfield students can access most campus facilities 24 hours a day using key cards. That is a very nice feature. We also saw a couple students in the computer lab (at one past midnight from Saturday to Sunday!). We walked back by another road taking a look at a few other strange buildings and places along the way. It was even colder then before, but it was less noticeable as we walked. Only when we came back and sat in the kitchen drinking some tea, I remembered that I did not sleep the night before and started to feel tired.

After we woke up (around 11) we ate a 'traditional' English breakfast. In all honesty I must say that I am not used to that ... eating breakfast I mean. I forgot to print out (or save down) addresses of places that I planed to see about renting a room, so we had to go back to the university campus to look up the addresses in my Gmail. Along the way we accidentally stumbled on my new boss - prof. Tiwary. He is a very helpful person. I am really looking forward to working with him. After that we quickly visited the two places I had in mind for the room rent - I was basically already decided on one of them and the fact that could have moved into the other one only after a week also helped to make my decision. I am moving in tomorrow evening. After we had some experimental cooking from Dmitry and visited local supermarket (in Latvia we would call shops that size "kiosk" or "gas station appendix") I can only prepare for sleep now.

All in all I like this place. The whole of Bedfordshire is made up of houses in very warm and classical British style. And the university campus is made generally in the same way but with a modern twist to the place. From one point of view I am in a small village, but from the other side I am just surrounded by some of worlds most densely populated and densely civilized places.

We will see how it goes from here.

Berlin Schoenefeld airport rant rap

Berlin Schoenefeld airport first impressions - chaotic, lots of long walkable corridors and staircases without elevators, outdoor walking stretches, anal security with super extra checks announced on loudspeaker, (luckily) lacky computer system, Huge gaps between connections, terrible tax free zone where CCs are not accepted, no power in sockets, no free wifi, existing wifi doesn't work, mini mirrors in pissoirs, 1 monitor per 200+ meters, usually not visible from sitting places, some monitors do not show all info, impossible to find out where the flight will be until it is open, no healthy food in tax free zone at all, delays are announced in German but do not show up on monitors, no seats near gates.

I'll expand this article with more details when I have more time (yeh, like that's going to happen :P).

HOWTO present like Lessig

This Friday I gave a Lessig style presentation to a group of project managers about what free software is and how can they use ideas from free software project management practices in their projects. The presentation went well so I'd like to share the bit of experience I gained while doing it.

First of all, I will not be putting up the presentation here as it is in Latvian and thus will be of no use for those that do not speak Latvian. There are several examples of the style available online if you want to see that in action.

The basic idea of a Lessig style presentation is to have a huge number of slides where most slides has only one word, number or picture on it. Also key part of the style is to change slides in such a way that the word on the next slide appears in your narrative exactly at the moment when you put that slide up. The slides basically serve as a highlighter to your speech.

I found no good description on how to prepare a presentation in such style, so I had to figure out my own way, which is exactly what I will describe in this post.

At the start we need a topic for the presentation. A Lessig style presentation is no different from any other presentation in that you need a topic and a message that you a familiar with and that you want to convey to your audience in a way that would be familiar to them. I would suggest on deciding what effect do you want your presentation to have on your audience. In my case, I was presenting at a conference of professional project managers. Most of them were not even related to IT management. What I want to do is simple - I wanted them to start contributing to free software projects or making some of their subordinates contribute to free software projects. (Note: "contribute" and not just "use")

Now, like in every other presentation, we need to find a way to sell that action to our audience. In my case I choose to show them that free software project are more complex then almost all their usual projects (because of geographical disparity, lack of monetary incentives, lack of project management knowledge, ...) and still we have successful projects! From that I formed an idea that we must be doing something incredibly innovative management-vise, but we do not know what it is, because we do not have the project management expertise. So, if they want to take over something good free software projects to their own projects, the only way it to get deeply involved in free software projects to find out how it works first hand in our natural habitat.

Now that we have a natural flow of the presentation all worked out, we should start putting it down. First I simply wrote down the whole presentation as would now present it - a load of plain speaking text. Write down everything that you would want to say, including jokes, side notes, remarks and everything else you could possibly say during that presentation. Trim it down to ~1 A4 page for each 15 minutes of the presentation time (depends on your speaking speed).

When that narration text is done, go over it again and mark each important word in bold. It is ok to have three important word in a single sentence or to have one important word for 3-4 sentences. However if you have less then 0.5-1 important words per sentence then I would suggest you to try to get some water out of your speech.

Now we can finally open our OpenOffice Impress and start making a presentation. Make a title slide. Make an ending slide (with a call for questions and your contact information). Then make a slide for each important word in your narrative. I had 58 slides in the end that I went trough at a nice pace within 18 minutes, so do not be afraid of the numbers here. Do not forget to have a plain background (single color works best) and large and very readable font. However it is best if your text is always only one line on the slide - that way there is not need for brain to switch context for the second line.

Now that you have a heap of slides made from your narrative, forget the narrative and polish the slide flow. Divide your presentation into some kind of sections, for example, with a clear start slide "<examples>" and a clear end slide "</examples>" at which you can say "Let's look at some examples of what I just described" and "There are many more way to do that, but these were the 5 most popular" respectively. Lessig style of presenting demands a lot of attention from the audience, so you need a few breakpoints in your speech where people that have "lost you" midway of a section could catch up and still enjoy the following sections. Review if the slides are clear in their meaning and if they are in a logical order - reorder and clarify them as you see fit while still retaining one word, number or image per slide. This is also the place to replace words with images if you wish to. However, keep in mind that images must be extremely simple - no extra objects, only one thing or concept. I did without images - that way I had a simple presentation with a lot of consistency.

When you have optimized your slides, it is now time to rewrite your narrative using the new slides as the main flow line of the presentation. Include text from your slides literally into your narrative. Add some texts to say at beginning and end of the segments. At this point you should be up to 1-1.5 A4 pages of text for a 15 minute presentation. Do not forget to highlight your slide words in bold. We are almost done.

For Lessig style presentations printing out the slides is a useless waste of paper, the ideal handout is the final narrative document with the slide words highlighted in bold. however sometime it could be beneficial to handout the first narrative document, so that the handout does not have much correlation with what you present, so that the people would be forced to pay attention to your presenting and not just read from your handout.

Now for the tiny part of actually giving the presentation. Be confident and open. Do not stand behind a podium or a desk. Do not lock your hands or put them in your pocket. You will ideally have a wireless device to advance your slides - keep it in your hand ready to switch to the next slide without needing to give audience any indication that the next slide is coming. Be sure not to advance too far - it is very disturbing to your flow to have to find a way to go back a slide in the middle of your talk. Basically the impression should be that you are just casually talking to your audience (with all the passion and enthusiasm you have) and the screen behind you just reads your mind and highlights your words. For the best effect you should be starting to say the next slide word just a fraction of a second before displaying that slide and have the slide up when you are just finishing to say the slide word. Try to look at the screen or your notes as little as possible. The idea is that you are freeballing here and you only need to hit your slide words in their order along your speech, do not let your written narrative confine you. You are restricted only by time and the interest of your audience with guidance from your slides and some hints from your written narrative. I can not stress this enough - you must know by heart what is on the slide on the screen behind you and what the next slides are going to be. The other stuff can be changed on the run if you feel confident enough about it.

Such way of presentation gives you unprecedented flexibility - if you just say your key words your presentation could be over in two minutes, but if possible it can expand to fill an hour and adapt to a bunch of different audiences. For example, in my case I was presenting the second to last presentation of the day, so my audience was very delighted when I compressed my presentation from a half an hour to 18 minutes to compensate for previous speakers running late.

In addition to that you can have section that you can skip depending on the situation. For example, I was not entirely sure of how much the managers I was going to present to know what exactly free software is, so I have an intro section in my presentation. At the beginning of the presentation I asked the audience to raise their hands if they know what free software was. Half of them did. That was good in three ways: first, I was pleasantly surprised that so many 40+ year old non-IT managers knew what free software was all about, second, I now knew that I still need to go trough that intro section as half did not know what it was, and third, I immediately grabbed full attention from everyone in the room by asking them to do something physical. That is a very nice move. You can always ask people to raise their hand for something, but if you feel that you have enough authority you can do even crazier stunts, like ask everyone to stand up, close their eyes and point to where they think North is. Any physical activity request from the presenter gives him the attention of the room, so it is a nice trick to play in the beginning of the presentation.

It is always useful to have good presentation skills, so just live and learn.

( Digg this!, it )

RMS Turin speech thoughts

There is a transcript of RMS Turino speech up on Groklaw. So to follow up on my earlier thoughts about GPLv3 I will look at the transcript of RMS's speech in Turin and write down what I think about it here, so I can refer to it later and maybe so that other people can skip reading that huge piece of text on legal stuff, especially as there is nothing really new there.

First RMS goes on to his now tradition rant about "intellectual property" being a meaningless term that lumps together three completely unrelated laws with different rules. I fully agree on that and I have used the very same argumentation in my speeches for last couple years.

RMS summarises GPLv3 like this:

 And the overall effect of GPL version three will be basically the same as version two, protecting the same four freedoms, but doing it somewhat better, dealing with some problems which we've encountered and adapting better to various different laws around the world. 

It is clearly visible trough the drafts of GPLv3 that it really is intended to protect the same freedoms, but better. People that do not want their freedoms protected, should not be using any version of GPL anyway - BSD or MIT licenses should be good enough for them. However, if we do want to protect our freedoms, then we should that as good as possible without restricting them.

RMS explains the new patent clause - it was implicitly assumed that distributor that distributes a program under a free software license implicitly promises not to sue users of that software for using it. With what is going on in the legal world (especially the SCO case) it is only natural that RMS would want to codify such implicit promises. He also raises a good point on a person having an exclusive patent license distributing GPL software that uses patented technologies that this license grants him the rights to use and distribute, but noone else. That goes very much against the spirit of GPL, so it had to be fixed in some way. I am not sure if the proposed fix by this specific revision of the patent clause is the best way, but that loophole must be closed in one way or another. (And no, eliminating software patents is not a satisfactory option - it is not soon enough and it does not depend on our decision alone)

Another controversial issue that RMS is going into more detail with is the DRM clause. The idea is quite simple - anyone who wishes to use GPL code in a DRM protection measure may do so without any problems, but he has to admit that because any user of his GPL-licensed DRM protection measure has the right (according to the GPL) to modify that protection measure, it is not an effective DRM protection measure and thus he can not use laws like the DMCA to disallow people changing his DRM software for any purpose. There is nothing unfair, draconian or even new about it - with a bit of luck the same thing could be proved in court the first time someone would try to enforce DRM on GPL software via DMCA. However simply clarifying that in the license is a much clearer way to achieve that and it will also save some legal costs along the way.

What I do not really support for 100% is the clause against Tivofication, the hardware key clause. Tivo has Linux inside, but the hardware will not allow you to run modified versions of the kernel. GPLv3 tries to close that loophole by demanding that along with the source of the software the distributor is obliged to also distribute all other components that are needed for modification and successful functionality of that software, for example, a key that would allow the hardware to run our version of the software. While I do not like what Tivo does with crippling the hardware they provide, but at the same time it is quite clear that it is quite within their rights to decide how do they want to provide you their service. The only way in my mind to insure that TC does not bite us in the ass is to make our software so good that no business would by some piece of general purpose computing hardware that would disallow them to run our software. Microsoft is tiny compared to all the companies using computers improve their primary business function. We must make it so that our users are our allies and if someone tries to go against us with TC tools, our users would vote against that with their wallets.

More clarifications followed about optional parts of GPL that were intended for extended compatibility with other software licenses. I think that is a very noble goal, but one must be careful not to make some sub-version of GPL being non-free like it happened with GNU FDL. However it is still not quite clear to me how the legal issues work when sharing code between projects with different compatible licenses and between projects with GPLv3 with different extension enabled. Could someone explain that in more detail with some examples?

In Q&A session RMS went quite a bit overboard with some anti-establishment rhetoric that in my opinion had no place at that event. If you want to praise Chavez, please do that in a private conversation at a cocktail party or rather do not do that at all - it is quite damaging to seriousness of your message and acceptability of it to our major allies in fight from freedom - business users.

On a funny note - a remark from RMS that we will have to replace him at some point got a round of applause :)

(Now I should really finish up the presentation for tomorrow :P)