In a bit of departure for the Londoneer I’m going to tell you how I spent my weekend – not in London but in Liverpool, at OggCamp 2012.
Organised by the members of the Ubuntu UK and Linux Outlaws podcasts (with assistance from an army of helpers) this is the fourth year running that OggCamp, the annual free software and free culture barcamp has taken place. The venue for this year’s extravaganza was the space-age surroundings of Liverpool John Moore’s University’s new Art & Design Academy, right next door to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
Barcamps generally follow a format that is based around a flexible schedule of talks and discussions proposed and led by attendees, anchored here and there by sessions from special guests. You might get the impression from the reference to free or ‘open source’ software that an event like this is only of benefit to software developers and engineers, but OggCamp prides itself on being rather more eclectic than a programming conference. While there were definitely small groups of people hunched over laptops here and there coding software, the majority of attendees were enjoying talks and demonstrations on a whole range of subjects. Here are some of the talks that were real highlights for me:
- Pete Lomas, Managing Director of Norcott Technologies and a Director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation shared his excitement about this fantastic new low-cost computer which aims to help school children improve their ICT skills. A whole ecosystem is developing around this tiny product, not least of which are the cases – for example, a young girl scout created a case from LEGO which now has the endorsement of the company; in fact you can now buy the pieces to build the Boreatton Scouts case for yourself. Peter had apparently brought along several Raspberry Pi’s for sale, but unfortunately I never discovered the room they were in! I blame the venue’s layout…
- Simon Phipps, President of the Open Source Initiative and a board member of the UK’s Open Rights Group (ORG) gave a rather chilling talk on the Communications Data Bill which has recently been introduced to Parliament. This bill will create new powers to allow the interception and collection of information from the entire UK population with having to resort to a court order, ostensibly in response to the threat of terrorism. Unfortunately the bill is written so broadly that it won’t just be the security services that will be able to access this vast pool of information - credit agencies, your local authority and others will be able to check what you have been doing online almost at will. No wonder then that the Communications Data Bill is being described by the Open Rights Group as a ‘snooper’s charter’ – you can read more about how this piece of proposed legislation will have dramatic unintended consequences in its current form, and how you can make your concerns known, at the ORG’s website here.
- Alan O’Donohoe, by day a mild-mannered secondary school teacher from Ireland, is the founder of Hack To The Future and a passionate advocate for improving the ICT skills of school children. In a period when most teaching on the subject doesn’t go much further than simple tasks such as being to operate a word processor or spreadsheet software, Alan gave a talk on how he has inspired children to learn more by running computer clubs for his pupils where they are able to learn about software languages and programming. Alan is also the founder of Raspberry Jam, which organises events around the UK where teachers, hackers, teachers, developers, hobbyists and school pupils can familiarise themselves with the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi. You can read more about Alan’s various endeavours, and perhaps get some inspiration for activities in your or your children’s local school, at his website here.
- Stephen Fry put in an appearance at OggCamp this year – in a pre-recorded 30 minute video address he answered questions posed by OggCamp attendees on open source software, the freedom to post Facebook updates and tweets without fear of arrest and imprisonment, his passion for Apple’s products and he even revealed what dinosaur he would like to be. As it turns out, Stephen Fry would like to be an Archaeopteryx, a winged dinosaur with feathers which is believed to be an ancestor of today’s bird species.
I also enjoyed sessions on how you can be creative with QR Codes (visually appealing 3D barcodes which are usually used to store web addresses, contact details and so on in a format that can be scanned by smartphones), a talk by Richard Hughes about ‘ColorHug‘, a new very low cost but feature-rich ‘open hardware’ colorimeter for LCD screens (commercial products used to calibrate computer monitors usually cost upwards of several hundred pounds) and an outdoor demonstration of a musical kite! This was fascinating – the kite carried sensors which reported its precise location back to a base station hooked up to a synthesiser, so as the kite swooped around the sky it created its own sound collage. Added to these interesting sessions were a mix of quizzes, Q & A sessions and live recordings, so I think I can safely say that OggCamp 2012 was a mind-expanding experience.
I should also mention that, for me at least, the major appeal of OggCamp is the people who attend – each year it draws together a fascinating and eclectic group of individuals from across the world who are more than willing to share information and ideas – a million miles away from those interminable corporate conferences that we all have to suffer! If you want to learn more about OggCamp and the people who put it together (perhaps with a view to attending next year’s event?) just click on this link. You can also search for +OggCamp on Google Plus or use the Twitter hashtag #oggcamp if you want to read a bit more about how this year’s event progressed. You’ll also find some of my portraits of delegates here.