Thursday, 30 January 2020
Dr Charles Fox from the University of Lincoln contacted me out of the blue back in September. He asked me if I would give a couple of guest lectures to his Computer Science students. I was deeply flattered! I took him up on his invitation, and on Tuesday 28th Jan I headed up to visit him and the TSE students.
My first talk was to provide background on Free and Open Source Software. I started with the history of software in the 1950s, working forwards through the events that sparked the FLOSS movement. I spoke about the philosophical similarities and differences between Free Software and Open Source, and how FLOSS has grown to a state of near-ubiquity. Several of the students are already involved in some existing FLOSS projects, so I was clearly preaching to the choir! I hope I managed to interest the rest of the audience too; I certainly had a warm welcome! Slides are here, for reference.
Next up was my specialist subject: Debian! I gave a brief introduction to Debian, covering what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. I covered important things like our Social Contract and the DFSG, and how Debian's thousands of contributors work together to package many thousands of disparate software projects into the large, stable Debian operating system that we all know and love. I was even brave enough to give a brief demo, showing a simple package update for a bug I'd prepared earlier! Slides are here, for reference.
In both talks, I was keen to point out the many good reasons for contributors to get into the FLOSS world, using my own personal experience as a guide. I've been working in this world for many years, and it's been a very important part of my life and career.
After lunch and some fun conversation with Charles and some of his students, I was given the grand tour of the department. Charles is working with a large group of people doing research in agricultural robotics and autonomous vehicles. I got to see lots of interesting projects and meet lots of cool people from amongst his students and colleagues. They're doing some amazing work on things that might soon be key in making agriculture more efficient: autonomous systems to identify and automatically remove weeds from wheat fields, to robotic systems designed to help with growing, monitoring and harvesting soft fruit like strawberries. Totally outside my field, but it was fascinating stuff!
I had a fun day in Lincoln, talking to lots of people and hopefully spreading enthusiasm for FLOSS and Debian in particular. Charles and I chatted about how his students might get involved in our world. You might get to meet some of them at upcoming Debian events!Sunday, 09 November 2008
I spent much of this week in Alicante. It was wonderful to have a few days away from the beginnings of Winter in Cambridge - Alicante's in South West Spain, right on the Mediterranean. It's a lovely city, although it was very quiet due to the time of year.
I was invited down to Alicante by organisers of the Congrés de Programari Lliure, Comunitat Valenciana, to present a talk about Debian. That I did, and as always my slides and photos are available in case people are interested. I wasn't too sure about what level to aim the talk, so I deliberately went for a general introduction to Debian. That seems to have been the correct level - nobody threw anything at me, and nobody was visibly falling asleep. *grin* It's also the first time I've ever given a talk with official translators, which is a weird experience! The main topic for the conference was the new release of Lliurex, Valencia's own GNU/Linux distribution targeted primarily at use in schools.
The conference was massive; I was told there were about 1500 attendees in all, most of whom were teachers who wanted to come and learn more about Free Software. There was a good spread of talks and workshops, covering topics from development through to deployment in the classroom. The level of enthusiasm for Free Software here was immense - lots of people were keen to learn more about it and get involved. I was told that out of the 15 regions/states of Spain, 11 of them have now started their own distributions to use in schools! Extremadura were the first region to experiment with Free Software like this, and their success with LinEx was a clear inspiration to their neighbours elsewhere in Spain. As well as the obvious cost advantages of moving from proprietary to Free Software, the local governments also love the freedom to use and modify their software however they like - including the ability to provide their own translations.
I met up with a lot of cool people at the conference too. The local education minister (Alejandro Font de Mora) was keen to talk with all the speakers and very enthusiastic about the future of Free Software in his schools. As is increasingly common at FS events around the world, there were of course quite a few Debian people around too. Luciano and Miriam were also giving talks, and I bumped into Rene and Miguel and a whole bunch of others whose names I'm too crap to remember - sorry! I also spoke a lot with Kurt Gramlich, the mega-enthusiastic Skolelinux developer who was also happy to push Debian to everybody he spoke to *grin*. Jon "Maddog" Hall had some excellent ideas that I'm sure we'll all hear more about soon, and his talk was excellent. He did a very good job of explaining how Free Software makes such a difference, including how it helps people to make money. He also explained that due to travel he had missed Halloween at home and he wanted to share the experience of scary masks with the people at the conference:
I had a great time in Alicante, and I'm very grateful for the invitation to go there. I wish that the UK was as far as advanced as Spain in the use of Free Software in education - they've done a huge amount of good work in this area and I'm glad we can help them.