Monthly Archives: November 2010

Podcasting with UUPC (and podcats)

On Monday I was surprised and delighted to be asked to join the team from the Ubuntu UK Podcast (aka @uupc) as a guest presenter. I’ve been a listener and friend of the show for a long time, I knew several of the regular team, and since I work not far from “Studio A” it was fairly straightforward to jump in at short notice.

I had a blast recording with Tony, Laura and Mark! The amount of work and polish that goes into each show is fantastic, I can tell you. I was also very impressed with their studio setup. My own podcast is recorded using Skype, and although I do own a small mixer, it’s really nothing compared to Tony’s much larger desk. Each of us had a proper mic, too. Oh, and there was a Very Large Clock. There was also a small experiment in streaming to a small audience (the magic-fu was served up on Twitter and in the #ubuntu-uk-podcast IRC channel, so you should hang out in those places in case it happens again!).

Most importantly, we were supported by the UUPC PODCATS.

I gave a brief intro to myself at the start of the show. If you’ve just discovered me via my guest appearance on UUPC then feel free to follow me on Twitter or read more about me here on my site.

Below, I’ll just recap and expand on my Linux credentials, because it’s not something I’ve really blogged about before.

My Linux experience

I started out using Linux with some early SuSE version in the late 90s just after leaving university. Then I switched to RedHat, which was in the phase of spinning out the Fedora project, and I did some packaging for a few projects there for a while. I helped out on a bunch of projects around that time, like OpenUT (the initial Unreal Tournament port to Linux – there’s a special thanks to me in the credits for the Linux version!), the brilliant Anjuta IDE, and the Bible software GnomeSword (which is now known as Xiphos). I spent a lot of time helping to do things like triage bugs, coordinate releases, polish the UI for GNOME apps like Anjuta, and basically to some extent “project managing” alongside the actual project leaders, freeing them up to code on their projects while I took on a more technical coordination role communicating to different developers, helping with test, etc.. At the time I was a middleware developer for a large company so I had an appreciation of how things like CVS worked, how to do releases and release notes, working with users etc. – things that are sometimes missed on OSS projects, although all of these things have become better over time. It was a great way for me to deepen my UNIX skills and hone my development abilities too. Plus, I built some great relationships and friendships from working with the community.

Times change, and I had to take a step back from all of that for quite a long time. Although I had a Linux box at home as a server (on dial-up for a long time… yikes!), I otherwise wandered the wastelands of Windows XP and then got a Mac. Fundamentally I believe I see the good and bad aspects in most systems; I believe it’s important to at least try something, and not dismiss it; I did go through a strongly anti-Microsoft phase but with things like XBox 360 Live, a few items in the “Live” family of software, and their new phone operating system, I do have respect for what they’ve done. I struggle a little on the whole “openness” thing – my tendency and first preference is absolutely towards open standards, open source and free collaboration, but then along comes Apple with stuff that just… works… and is so… shiny… and… I’m almost willing to suspend that view. And then I smell coffee and come back to my senses 🙂

So what am I doing now? Well, last year I switched to Ubuntu on my work laptop, a Lenovo Thinkpad, and I’ve been through Jaunty, Karmic, Lucid and now Maverick. I do NOT have a Windows partition, I run my whole work life in Ubuntu. I’ve got a Viglen MPC-L (previously featured on UUPC, of course!) running home and weather monitoring with some software called MQTT which I’m involved with as part of my job. I run Linux on my “set-top box”, an Acer Aspire Revo inspired by Popey, with Boxee and other bits. I have a netbook, a first-gen Acer Aspire One running UNE Lucid until they sort out Unity to a point where I feel it’s usable. And, as I mentioned on the show, I’ve recently picked up a cheap (actually, total bargain) Android handset as a development platform- my main phone is one of the Apple devices, sorry! The new phone is an Orange San Francisco, which is a rebadged ZTE Blade – I’ve flashed it to run Android 2.2 and moved a bunch of apps into SD storage, and it’s a lovely little device. Apart from that, I help to do a few things for internal Linux apps we use at work on Ubuntu, and I buzz around Launchpad largely helping to improve quality via bug reports etc. Oh, and I’m lined up to speak at LinuxConf AU in January! (very excited about that!)

So that’s me. I do Linux, I do Ubuntu, and I do a whole bunch of other stuff. Thanks again to the UUPC gang for not throwing me out of the studio! And thank you, dear reader, for listening…

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Awards season, and good causes

Awards, part one

I’ve been asked to present an award at the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010 which IBM is supporting this evening in central London. I speak regularly about my experience of using social tools, particularly blogs, within and outside of a large company, so I’m excited to have been asked to be involved in this event. Now that I’ve looked through the impressive list of nominees I’m clearly put to shame in my own use of the medium. It’s great to see such useful content being generated out there… although my own blogging has tailed off slightly in favour of the instant gratification of microupdates, I’m a strong believer that blogging is not being killed off by Twitter, Facebook at the like, and events like this really emphasise the quality of writing that is out there.

A good cause

One aspect of the IT Blog Awards that I’m particularly impressed and excited by is that they have added a challenge category to encourage charitable giving to a good cause. In this case, they are asking bloggers, twitterers and anyone interested to support Computer Aid International’s Computers for Schools Kenya project.

It costs just ÂŁ50 to get a refurbished PC onto a Kenyan school desk. There is a chronic shortage of PCs in the Kenyan school system and many Kenyan children complete school never having a seen a PC. Without simple IT literacy these children will be denied basic life chances such as equal access to employment opportunities.

All we are asking you to do is encourage your readers or followers to make a donation by directing them to a JustGiving page, and stating it was your blog or tweet that encouraged them to donate.

The person whose followers fund the most PCs for the project will win a prize and we will also put each blogger’s name on a sticker that we can attach to the PCs they fund.

I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not angling to be part of this award category at all (it’s far too late to garner the kind of support I’d need, anyway!) – but I would very much like to encourage you, my blog readers and followers, to donate to the cause if you are able. As with all of these kinds of things, “every little helps” and I think the cause of computer literacy in less well-off countries is tremendously important and worth supporting. I don’t usually use my blog to suggest causes to support, but on this occasion through my involvement with the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards I’m doing so (just this once). Thanks!

Awards, part two (and more good causes)

From one set of awards, to another. IBM has been running an event called SmartCamp, a global programme bringing startups and entrepreneurs into contact with investors and mentors, all around the theme of building a Smarter Planet. It has literally just been announced that Streetline have been named the winners, with their innovative systems for bringing real-time parking information to drivers in cities using smart sensors.

IBM helping startups? That seems a little bit unusual, doesn’t it…? Surely IBM is big slow company all about doing “enterprise” software, hardware and consulting?

Not so fast! 🙂 IBM actually has a Global Entrepreneur programme which is all about teaming with entrepreneurs who are interested in developing startups to help build a Smarter Planet. A few weeks ago I had lunch with Kevin Farrar, one of the leaders of the initiative, and he got me really excited about some of the things IBM is doing. We’re able to provide enterprise-grade software free-of-charge, support, mentoring, and (for example) visits to labs with Innovation Centres like IBM Hursley. Check out some of the benefits. I’ve spent the past couple of years working on some extremely exciting Smarter Planet-related technology like MQTT and it’s thrilling to see the ways in which startups can begin to take advantage of IBM’s capabilities in these spaces.

I’d honestly missed some of this stuff – it’s so easy in a large organisation sometimes not to pay attention to everything that’s going on – so I really appreciated that Kevin took the time out to explain it to me. Once again, it changes my own perceptions of the sorts of spaces that IBM is operating in. Do get in touch with the Global Entrepreneur folks if you are interested in applying to work with them.

The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that drop.io has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about drop.io a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like drop.io is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired Ping.fm as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – 12seconds.tv has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt 🙂

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where about.me, chi.mp and flavors.me want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…