Breaking The Habit

Posted on 21st June 2007

I spoke at the OpenAdvantage Open Source Showcase yesterday. It was intriguing to see how some other speakers took the brief of "introduce why you use open source" to mean "a free 10 minute marketing exposure". While I certainly have nothing against small businesses trying to promote themselves at these sort of events, it would have been nice for them to better explain why they chose to use Open Source Software. Some did, albeit briefly, some explained the benefits they've gained (Birmingham Friends of The Earth was certainly a good example), but most took the time to explain how big their client portfolio was. The people in the room largely were small businesses and were looking to understand why they should consider Open Source.

One presentation failed to even mention Open Source or any Open Source product. It was only later I discovered that the hardware product worked with a Linux kernel. It was a sales pitch from start to finish. The presenters wife was sat next to me, and kept adding commentary to those around her, to follow up statements made by the presenter. It was a bit bizarre, and a bit out of place I felt.

My talk, using Labyrinth to provide an example, was really about why I chose Open Source and specifically Perl to implement the website application. I started by explaining my background, not in any great detail, but enough so the audience could understand that I had a history of programming and IT, long before Open Source and Free Software was consider the movement it is today. Whereas most other speakers were able to say they had been doing their particular field for 4-8 years, I was able to state that I have been a programmer for nearly 30 years. I also come from a very different perspective, that of someone who is a true developer. The only other developers were Kat and Dave, who did the presentation about PHP before me. Pretty much everyone else had a much more user perspective. With 13 presentations, it was an odd balance that only 2 were not user experiences.

If I was attending to represent my own company, then while user experiences would be very useful to prove that my business could benefit from using Open Source, I personally would like to understand what benefits that the actual developers see and the future for Open Source, which you're not likely to get from users. There was one presentation from a lawyer about licensing, which pretty much reaffirmed what most of us understand about licensing issues, which was well placed, as it is a subject that does worry some businesses. While some may be just interested in the cost aspect to begin with, ultimately the subject of support and longevity does get thought about. Users often can't explain those, so it would have been nice to have had a Linux distro developer or other Open Source software developer to give that sort of perspective.

There wasn't much Microsoft bashing, which was refreshing, but rather reasoned arguments why proprietry software didn't work for these particular business. One speaker gave a price list for seven basic development machines running Windows and another seven running Linux. The final cost compared £10,000 with £4,500. I did have to smile at the claim that they didn't need AV software on the Linux machine, but resisted the urge to note that Linux isn't virus-free. I originally did offer to speak about why MessageLabs use OSS, but Elliot from OpenAdvantage felt that the Perl talk would be more appropriate. Now having done the talk, I would have to agree.

The event was well attended, with about 50+ people in the audience, and generated a lot of discussion. I hope they get to invite me to another event in the future, and this time I might not over run :)

File Under: birmingham / conference / opensource

My Generation

Posted on 17th June 2007

The Coopers

The Coopers

Nicole and I went to see The Coopers last weekend, as our friend Kev is the drummer. The gig was an open rehearsal, but could really be considered as their first gig. They invited friends and family and as such quite a number of regulars from The Scooter Do turn up. They play a variety of Mod songs dating from the late sizties to the early eighties, with The Who's My Generation and I Can't Explain, and The Small Faces' All Or Nothing, getting a great response from the audience.

I think the singer did get his eras mixed up as when he said they were going to do something from the 80s, then played Teenage Kicks ... from 1978. However, they did redeem themselves with a great version of Time For Action. I haven't heard that in years. I used to prefer The Lambrettas myself, but I thought My World by Secret Affair was better than Time For Action, but apparently that is one of Kev's favourite songs.

File Under: gigs / mod / music / photography

The Carnival Is Over

Posted on 16th June 2007

The Rubery Festival was supposed to be today. The fun fair is there, but the festival had to be cancelled due to the weather. Parts of St Chad's Park are flooded and much of the rest is a muddy mess. We took DanDan and Ethne round to see whether there was anything that they could ride on at the fun fair, which thankfully there was and they did seem to enjoy themselves. However, they did manage to extract a small fortune from us!

It's a shame the festival was cancelled as the event last year got nearly the whole village turning out. While we saw several neighbours walking round today, it wasn't exactly packed. Nicole was really looking forward to the singing competition, but it turns out that that is being postponed until July or August. It's the kids who have worked towards the festival for the past weeks and months, who won't be able to join the parade or do their performances in the "main arena", that I feel sorry for. Hopefully the weather will be a little better next year.

However, the signposts marking off where the festival arena was supposed to start from the fair, did cause a bit of confusion. Is the council really selling off half of St Chad's Park? Advertising is one thing, courting controvesy is just irritating.

File Under: family / funfair / rubery

When We Are Free

Posted on 14th June 2007

JJ made a point last night, that I also agree with. When I got home, following a chain of blog links and I came across an article written by Martin Belam, about his wifes feeling towards an aspect of DRM. She makes a very good point, that had JJ, Brian and I coincidentally discussing at length yesterday evening at the Birmingham Perl Mongers meeting. I hope Martin's wife doesn't mind me requoting it here:

"The thing I don't get is this core of people that want everything for free. Artists still have to eat. Why do these people think that they are entitled to get everything for free for ever?"

JJ's point was that the biggest failing of the Linux community was the expectation that everything they want on their desktop should be free. As a consequence the Linux community, to a large extent, has become very closed one. The idea of Open to me, is more about encompassing different forms of expression, being inclusive rather than exclusive. In terms of software that can also mean different forms of distribution. As a corporate, people like Sun, Novell, etc can afford to give away parts of their software portfolio, as they have gained a credible market share for their brand to allow other large corporates to want to buy support contracts and services at very high rates. Ubuntu has been able to come into existence because Mark Shuttleworth was willing put the money down to make it happen. Big players and very rich people can afford to do that, if they choose. But what about the little guy?

Certainly in the UK and probably in the rest of the world, the people that take risks are the individuals and small businesses. They can because there often isn't the risk or outlay that would be required by a large business. As a consequence, when an idea does work it's often taken a lot of research, time and effort to get it into a state worthy of release. That's research, time and effort that the designer, developer or company don't get anything back for doing that work. Suppose as an individual, I create a piece of software that manages website. It takes 4 years to get that product stable and complete enough to release. Why should I be expected to just give it away?

The failing of the Open Source community is the expectation that everything should be free. While developers may choose to release their software as free, if they don't they are derided or sneered at. If my piece of software revolutionised the way websites could be created, and gives value for money, then why shouldn't I ask a nominal fee for it? The argument that the Open Source community seems to favour, is that I should charge a support contract. But that argument fundamentality fails to understand how business works. Support contracts work for big business because they need someone to blame when it all goes wrong. JJ gave the example of the supply chain for Vodafone, where one software supplier they use doesn't have a support contract with Vodafone, but via another suppler, because the software suppler is too small to guarantee a 24/7 support contract. Even though the other suppler can only provide a 24/7 telephone answering service, and still passes the details to the software supplier when they turn up for work in the morning.

I, as an individual, wouldn't get any support contracts from businesses around the world for my product. And even if I did, the chance of me providing realistic level of support is minimal. However, I could charge for my software and allow others to reap the benefit. While, I wouldn't necessarily reap great rewards, at least I would be getting some reward for all that research, time and effort getting the product into a state that others can take advantage of.

I find I keep having to ask every so often, 'why is it such a crime to make money?'. I have a family, I have a house and I have a life. If I want to have my own business, am I expected to work for nothing for 4 years and then give the software away for free and expect the support contracts to come rushing in, while in the meantime, my family starve, I lose my house and end up with no life? The biggest part of the UK's economic growth is the SMB (Small Medium Business) or SME (Small Medium Enterprise) markets. They help to employ a large part of the working population, but also help feed many of the larger businesses and corporations, thus helping to employ the remaining part of the working population. When MG Rover collapsed down the road here in Longbridge, the knock on effect to the smaller businesses who made parts for MG Rover was devastating. Several went out of business, while others had to cut their workforce. They can't work for free in the hope that the other manufacturers might use their products. And exactly the same is true of the software market. Individuals and small businesses create many products that are used by bigger companies. Sometimes those products might be suitable for release to the general public, but it shouldn't it be their choice whether they make a living from it and how?

Part of this closed mindset also means commercial developers are less likely to support Linux, which is a bad thing. While I personally like what Linux and the Open Source community has to offer, and dislike DRM, I'm also able to be realistic and understand that people want to protect something they have created. I dislike DRM, not because I think the concept is bad, but the fact that all the implimentations of it are flawed and misunderstand both the demands of retailer and the consumer. However, the problem that things like DRM has uncovered, is that the Open Source community's resistence to anything commercial for "their" operating system, has reduced the choice available, and has not allowed developers to work with the community to help make Linux a vibrant alternative to governments, emerging markets and the like. Currently Microsoft are able to offer great incentives to the decision makers, simply because many of the vendors of peripheral devices and software only support Microsoft products. That's not allowing freedom of choice. It's also not allowing decision makers to make informed decisions on the systems they wish to deploy.

An individual or small business, wishing to make a commercial product available on Linux is currently met with derision and considered to be evil. Until this mindset opens up and accepts that we can all work together, Linux on the desktop is always going to be playing catchup, and even Linux on the server is occasionally going to have to accept that it cannot compete when a requirement is run a piece of software that isn't available for it. Freedom is also about Freedom Of Choice. If there isn't a choice, then is it any wonder why so many restricted or flawed installations occur?

Although just to be clear, the website management tool I've written called Labyrinth, that's take over 4 years of my free time in research and development, will be available as Open Source Software in the future. I don't believe I have a product that would warrant selling as a commercial product, as I don't feel I can devote the time and effort to making it into a marketable product. I will however, be looking to encourage potential clients who want me to design and develop their website to come to me. The fact that I will use Labyrinth is incidental, but the fact that I created it and know it better than anybody else is my unique selling point.

There are other products out there that do website management. Some are free, some are not. Some do much much more than Labyrinth, while others are very basic. I'm not interested in trying to compete with them, as Labyrinth was written to fulfill my requirements to administer websites that I created. The fact that I've been able to use it for other sites has been great. But had I not had that attitude and decided to make it a commercial product, why should I expect the ridcule and scorn of the Open Source community because I decided to make money?

Libre and Freedom is about choice and open minds not about money.

When We Are Free.

File Under: commerce / opensource / technology

The Real Me

Posted on 13th June 2007

I've had to turn down a fantastic opportunity today. One of the LUGRadio presenters isn't able to make the recording of the show tomorrow, and Aq contacted me to see if I'd be up for being a guest presenter. I'm gutted as they've been meaning to get me on the show for a while, and now would have been an ideal opportunity to plug YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe.

Not sure who isn't able to make it, but as Adam Sweet is now a regular, they can't call on him to be their stand-in guest any more :) Hence why my name cropped up. Hopefully they manage to recruit another member of the WolvesLUG massive, but I'll definitely be up for another chance to stand in. Hopefully, I haven't scotched my golden opportunity.

File Under: linux / lugradio / perl / technology

In The City

Posted on 12th June 2007

Centennary Square, Birmingham

Centennary Square, Birmingham

Last year DanDan and I made several trips around the city of Birmingham in preparation for the 2006 YAPC::Europe Perl Conference. The plan was to take lots of photos, so that attendees would both already know some of the landmarks before they got here, and to encourage those teetering on the edge, that Birmingham is actually a decent place to explore. I've just uploaded five galleries of photos that we both took during June and July 2006. We managed to pick our days very well, as we had glorious sunshine to help bring out the colours of the buildings and plants. It was fun explaining Perrott's Folly to DanDan as that's part of his heritage.

I say we, as some of the photos I've included are taken by DanDan, using my old camera. He's not done too badly in some of them :)

File Under: birmingham / brum / photography

Going For The One

Posted on 11th June 2007

What a race! I watched the Canadian Grand Prix at the weekend and it was certainly a race packed full of thrills and spills. Thankfully, the only hospital casualty, Robert Kubica, only broke a leg. If you saw the accident then you would be amazed that that was all he suffered. It could so easily have been a completely different story. Just goes to show how much driver safety has been put into F1 cars these days. Several cars went into the "Wall of Champions" and the cameras mounted on the walls, gave you quite a dramatic view point. There was one incident involving Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli, where the commentators were convinced they'd collided, but on the replay it was like a ballet as both cars merely pirouetted around the chicane.

DanDan and I watched the race, but also thanks to the latest Live Timing from the official Formula One site, we got to watch all the split second timings around the circuit, and got to see who was pitting, who was out and who retired, often before the commentators mentioned it. It certainly added to the whole Grand prix experience.

However, man of the race has to be Lewis Hamilton. It was a little obvious he really was pulling away from the pack, and he'd amassed over 20 seconds before his first pit-stop. He did it again later on in the race too. All this despite the safety car being brought out 4 times. His team mate, Fernando Alonso, must have been really infuriated with himself, as after the first corner he appeared to have done some damage to the underside of the car, and never really managed to get the momentum back, despite clocking in the fastest lap of the race in the later stages. The 10 second penalty didn't help either. If there was a second man of the race, I think it would have to go to Takuma Sato, who had a great drive, and help to add to the excitement as he took on some of the big names.

Lewis deserved the win, and I was amused by the comment of one of the commentators, who said that Lewis has yet to have the experience of others drivers who don't finish the race heading for the Parc ferme, as in all his 6 Grand Prix races, he's finished on the podium. While there were initial stats about drivers who have done better after their first race, I don't believe any other driver has ever finished this well in their first 6 F1 races. If this is what he is like now, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come. About time we had a great British driver again, who actually won races :)

It was quite an interesting race for DanDan, as it meant that I had to explain a lot of what was happening, what the penalties were about, why two cars got black flagged, what the safety car was for, etc. You don't normally get all that in one race! It was also interesting for DanDan, as the dad of one his classmates is a rally driver, who happened to come through the karting scene alongside Lewis Hamilton, and they know the Hamilton family. It's always nicer to support someone you know, even if they are a friend of a friend :)

The most unusual casualty of the race though, was an as yet un-named beaver. Anthony Davidson managed to hit it on his way around the circuit, and had to make an unexpected pit-stop so his pit-crew could wipe the blood off the car!

File Under: formula1 / hamilton / motorsport / racing

Working On The Highway

Posted on 8th June 2007

Wheelchair man gets highway ride!

The guy was wearing a bright red shirt in a wheelchair with bright yellow bars. How much more obvious could it be? If you're driving a vehicle, especially one weighing several tons, you are expected to be aware of other road users and pedestrians. It's called driving with due care and attention. The fact that the guy was physical unharmed is something the driver should be extremely thankful for. He might otherwise have lost his job, his license and quite possibly have been severing jail time by now.

File Under: accident / road

This Property Is Condemned

Posted on 8th June 2007

I spotted the story of Julie Amero on the BBC News site this morning. While I'm glad there has been some sense to provide a second trial, with more appropriate evidence, I'm also disappointed that this should ever come to trial in the way it has. While I totally agree that minors shouldn't be exposed to the kind of images these sites promote, I also don't agree that a single SUBSTITUTE teacher should be held accountable in the way that she has.

Firstly she's a substitute teacher, meaning that her knowledge of the computer security systems is likely to be extremely limited at best and more likely non-existent. Did the school fully brief her on the security measures they have in place? Perhaps she should be suing the school or the state for not reasonably putting in place security measures to prevent children being exposed to this sort of thing in the first place. However, that perhaps also isn't fair, as in far too many cases the school or the local governement don't have any idea about computer security. It's why there are specialist computer security companies that are called in to investigate and secure companies and organisations.

I work for a company called MessageLabs. We work in an industry where stopping malicious content is part and parcel of the job. When you consider that in email alone we stop over 70% of mail as spam, virus, inappropriate content or illegal images and are also seeing increasing numbers within our web scanning and instant messaging serives too, computer security is a huge and very specialised business. MessageLabs are the largest company of it's kind in the world, and as such, every minute we stop hundreds of messages with the sort of payloads that would cause this kind of content to be popped up on unsuspecting computers. Are you really expecting a substitute teacher to have that level of knowledge and skill?

Part of the problem is education, and that isn't meant to be ironic. In Julie Amero's case, if the prosecution wins, then we are now expecting every single person to be accountable for ensuring every single aspect of their work environment is not going to get them arrested. By implication, we're also now stipulating that every single individual MUST be come a security expert. That ain't gonna happen. In my opinon this focus is totally misplaced. The responsibility for protection at the workplace lies solely with the employer. In this instance the school or state should have taken reasonable steps to ensure that all computer security measures were deployed to ensure that the desktop computers were adequately protected, and that their network was also appropriately protected, both from intrusion and in restricting the sites that can be viewed by any computer in the school. But whether you take action against the individual or the school or the state, you are still prosecuting the victims.

Taking a step back, the law basically stipulates that minor should not be exposed to this sort of imagery, which I agree with. However, as the law is very bad at being able to hold those truly responsible accountable, they go after easy prey. Although I do believe the law could be better written to make this sort of thing virtually disappear over night.

This kind of promotion is typically from the pornographic, gaming and drug industries. None of which a minor should be exposed to. What if the law found the owners of those sites personally accountable for the distribution of harmful matter to minors? What if institutions, such as schools, colleges and libraries, or businesses, such as internet cafes, and maybe even individuals in the right circumstances were able to prosecute the site owners? How quickly do you think that this sort of invasion would disappear? Unfortunately, those three industries are extremely big business, and can employ people to ensure that bills don't get passed that would effect them in this way. As such the justice systems become corrupt by allowing victims such as Julie Amero to be held up as a scapecoat.

I really hope that the prosecution's case fails, as otherwise the kind of precedence it will set, really isn't something I want to think about.

File Under: education / law / security / technology

Where's Captain Kirk?

Posted on 6th June 2007

I've just seen the unveiled logo to promote the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Hideous is one word to describe it, although there are several more I've read. It does amaze me how companies and organisations place so much trust in marketing and advertising companies, when their own staff or the general public are often only too willing to help and suggest much better alternatives. The Daily Mail has a gallery of reader logos and in the paper there are several more that are far better than the official design.

I'm actually quite surprised that this wasn't opened up to a public competition, perhaps run by Blue Peter who have a history of helping to create classic images for this sort of thing. It would have been cheaper for a start, a prize of a few thousand pounds would have been far less than the £400,000 spent on the effort a "professional" company could produce. I'm off to sign the petition at, not that'll do any good, but hopefully someone will see sense and realise that such a bad wave of criticism is not good, and will likely mean a distinct lack of support from the very people who are supposed to be benefiting from the event, the British people.

The other thing that gets me, is that it is now unlawful to use our capital's name and the year the Olympics will be held there, together in anything that consistutes public material (e.g. a website). Read their rules to see how far they take absurdity. Technically then I cannot legally promote the games, mention the website or even link to it. So maybe I should remove that last link and hope you can find it! Idiots. I can understand why the branding should be for the sole use by the sponsors for merchandising, promotion and to label products, but to say that unless I gain the permission of the committee I am not allowed to mention the name or use the logo to link to the official site is just too daft to mention. But then again I'd not want to advertise the current logo anyway :)

File Under: design / london / olympics / rant

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