4 Oct 2011 mbanck   » (Journeyer)

Woodchuck and FrOSCon

At the end of August, I attended FrOSCon in Bonn again, after skipping it last year. The evening before FrOSCon however, I visited Neal Walfield, his wife Isabel and their little son Noam in Düsseldorf. Besides having a great time and a lovely dinner, I was most impressed by their collection of Maemo devices (they had at least two N770s, an N900 and, to my jealousy, an N950) which Neal is doing research on these days. He works on woodchuck, which is a project investigating how to improve data availability on mobile devices and our conversation prompted him to implement ATP Woodchuck, which makes smarter decisions when to run APT upgrade on your Maemo device then the standard updater. As part of the research, they also run a user behaviour study which I joined, where one installs a client which records various data off your N900 and sends them anonymized (he seems to be doing a good job at that) to figure out how people use their mobile devices and hopefully enhance the experience. So if you have a N900, you should consider joining the study so they get better data.

The next day, I picked up Martin Michlmayr nearby and we headed for FrOSCon. I was quite impressed by the Makerbot at the Tarent booth, but I still don't know what they are really doing and why they had it on display... In the afternoon, I attended a couple of talks in the PostgreSQL developer room and a talk about a big OpenVPN deployment, before ending the day with the excellent as always social event barbeque. On Sunday, I went to quite a few talks, but I thought that two of them were particularly interesting:

Michael "Monty" Widenius of MySQL gave a talk titled "Why going open source will improve your product" about starting businesses on an open source project, or how business can/should open-source their product. Besides a detailed discussion about the various forms of Open Source licenses and the Open-Core model, he proposed the idea of "Business Source" (see slide 20 of his presentation), where a startup would distribute the source code under a non-commercial (but otherwise open-source) license with the explicit guarantee that the license would be changed to a true FLOSS license at some defined point in the future, giving the company a head start to develop and nurture their project. I asked whether this has been already implemented in practise and how the community could be sure that e.g. lawyers after a hostile takeover would not just remove that part of the copyright notice, as long as a true distribution under a FLOSS license has not happened yet. Monty wasn't aware of any real-word cases, and he did not seem to be concerned about this and said the original intent would be clear in a possible court case. This was the first time I heard about this approach, I wonder how other people think about it, whether it would work in practise and be a useful thing to have?

Second, I attended a talk by Gregor Geiermann, a Ph.D. student in linguistics on "Perceptions of rudeness in Free Software communities". He conducted an online survey about the perceived rudeness of several forum thread posts on Ubuntu Forums. Survey participants were first asked a couple of generic questions about their gender, nationality etc. and were then presented with a series of posts. For each post, they were asked to rate how rude they thought it was on a scale of 1 to 5 and they also had the possibility to highlight the parts of the post they considered rude as well as add comments. He presented a neat web application for analyzing the results, which makes it possible to select different groups (he did male vs. female and Americans vs. Germans in the talk) and have their overall rudeness ratings as well as the highlighted texts visualized as different shades of blue. Comments can be easily accessed. There were quite a few interesting differences e.g. in how Germans perceived rudeness compared to Americans (RTFM comments were considered less rude by Germans for example, IIRC). In response to my question, he said he intended to release the web application as open source and this might be an interesting tool for FLOSS projects to analyze how their public communication channels are perceived by various groups. Unfortunately, I cannot find any other resources about this on the web as of today, so I should try to contact him about it at some point.

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