More than computers — A recap of LinuxFest Northwest 2015

For me, this year’s LinuxFest Northwest 2015 was learning more about the politics of the Free Software movement. This track featured some excellent and eminent speakers, and I enjoyed it very much. Here is a short recap of each session:

1.

Deb Nicholson, the Director of Community Outreach at the Open Invention Network gave an entertaining talk called Patents and Copyright and Trademarks: A Primer for Developers. Using plain language and funny pictures, she delineated trademarks (how it looks), copyright (the content), and patents (how it works) in a simple way. I enjoyed her examples of “trademark collision” and where things get fuzzy with regard to patenting software.

2.

screen cap of slide

Bradley Kuhn, former director of the Free Software Foundation brought the controversy in his talk Considering the Future of Copyleft: How Will The Next Generation Perceive GPL?. You can see a previous version of the talk on YouTube. Basically he advocated the enforcement of licenses, the abandonment of weak copyleft, and bringing the principles of copyleft to a new generation of coders. Javascript and Android are the new fronts for free software in this age, and the young devs coming up are used to wiring together frameworks and APIs without much knowledge or background about licensing. This is a long-term problem for the free software movement. As I summed up in my tweet from the event:

3.

Every year at LFNW there is an ACLU/EFF Panel Discussion. This year Seth Schoen from the EFF partnered with ACLU Washington state’s Technology and Liberty Director Jared Friend. Seth was great as always, and I was really impressed with Jared. As usual the crowd got pretty riled up. The discussion included stingrays, the terrible DMCA exemptions process, and fighting 215. The EFF must make a chunk in donations on LFNW weekends, but I feel like we in the crowd want to do more, but can’t, and feel helpless.

4.

The final talk I took in was an intro to The Free Software Foundation Licensing & Compliance Lab; We Fight for the User by Donald Robertson who is a Copyright and Licensing Associate with the FSF. This was a more informational session, but I came away with a much better understanding of the FSF and its activities.

Other interactions

With 1800 attendees and a bunch of exhibitors, you can bet you are going to meet some interesting people at LFNW.

Late Saturday, on the way to our traditional drinking spot Uisce, we stopped by The Foundry, Bellingham’s Makerspace. They had a really nice setup with electronics, sewing, woodworking corners in addition to the “traditional” 3D printers, laser cutters and the like. Check out my album on Flickr to see their amazing PAPER 3D printer. This thing blew my mind. (They have better pics on their

(http://www.bellinghamfoundry.com/gallery/)). We capped off the visit by playing a 3D printed guitar and 3D scanning my head. Good times.

screen cap of Chad's 3d scanned head

On Sunday I wandered the exhibitor’s floor rather than going to sessions.

I spoke with the executive director of Geeks Without Bounds, and we had a good discussion about balancing fervor for technological solutionism and the realities of delivering aid through established frameworks. I am confident that GWOB isn’t simply about air-dropping mobile phones across the developing world and telling them to simply apt-get install democracy.

There was another deep discussion with Aaron Wolf from Snowdrift.coop, which is a platform for coordinating donations to F/OSS projects to make a bigger impact on development (those are my words). Rather than tons of disparate small donations going to disparate projects, getting everyone to put there money in the same place can push a project forward in a meaningful way. The vision of the project, and the idea to convince proprietary projects to go open once a sustainable ecosystem is developed is intriguing and worthy, even if extremely challenging. Check them out.

In conclusion

LFNW is about more than computers. There is a rich background of history and culture to the Free Software movement and the Free Culture movement. Learning about the ways these organizations fight for every user’s rights through legislative, legal and technical means is empowering. It is not all about the tech, but about the politics and social norms that underly every human endeavor. This recap should demonstrate that you do not have to be a Linux geek to enjoy LinuxFest. There are tons of learning and networking opportunities for developers and users of all kinds.

I did not touch a command line all weekend. Which suits me, since I only have a Mac and wouldn’t want to be scorned by all the true neckbeards there. 😉

Ignite SF

During our month in San Francisco last year we were lucky to catch Ignite San Francisco 8. We had a great time that night. IgniteSF just put up the videos this month, so I thought I would share some of my faves from that evening. Each talk is just 5 mins long. There were about 15 talks that night in total.

Julia Grace – Money, Cryptography and Scandal: A modern tale of mathematics.

Serena Wales – How to Win at Bar Trivia

Emily Wright – The Journey of the Urban Flush

Jennifer Kuczenski – Engineering Lessons from Folding

Rick Prelinger – Lost Landscapes of San Francisco D

This final talk from Rick Prelinger made me pick up tickets to go see a full “performance” of the Lost Landscapes of San Francisco show at The Internet Archive, which I detailed in this post.

おめでとうございます — Happy New Year!

(See all pictures and videos at Flickr)

Happy 2014! This year the grandparents watched the kids so the wife and I could go out for 初詣 (hatsumode), the traditional first trip of the year to the shrine. We left our downtown Kyoto apartment at about 11PM and had a full course of shrine-visiting, including:

  • 電電宮 Denden-gu, where the gods of electricity reside
  • 松尾大社 Matsuo Taisha, where the gods of alcohol reside
  • 春日神社 Kasuga Jinja, a health shrine
  • 御金神社 Mikane Jinja, the money shrine

Our first stop was Denden-gu, a small shrine near Arashiyama. This is a famous shrine for people in the IT business. You will see sponsor placards here for Softbank, NTT, Tepco and tons of other companies. At the entrance there are two signs for Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz! Here we were able to ring the New Year’s bell. In fact, we rang it a few times since this is just a local shrine and there weren’t a ton of people. I picked up a good luck charm for our office here.

Next stop was Matsuo Taisha where the wife made a wish to have lots of delicious alcohol this year. Then on to Kasuga Jinja to wish for the health of our parents. The final stop was Mikane Jinja where you basically just wish for money. All in all it was pretty productive(?) and we got home at about 3:30AM.

This afternoon we went up to 龍安寺 (Ryouanji), a Zen temple where we admired their famous rock garden. This garden was designed with an ocean of gravel and 5 island groups for a total of 15 stones. The cool part is that for any viewing angle, one can only see 14 stones at a time. Tricky!

Rock garden at Ryoanji
(full size)

After action: 1 month in San Francisco

Our one month trip to San Francisco to work on our new startup has been very busy and fruitful. Besides hanging out at the German Startup Haus and going to work every day at Runway, we occasionally did get to do some things around the city like visit the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown, froze our butts off at Alcatraz, spent an evening with hipsters at IgniteSF, watched The Desolation of Smaug at the IMAX, toured the EFF and the Internet Archive, and generally walked around SF. A highlight for me was meeting up with some of the cast of The Incomparable, one of my favourite podcasts.

The last time I was in SF I was struck by how old everything was. This time I was struck by how conflicted the city is. The chasm between those in tech and those not in tech is nearly at class-warfare levels. Almost daily there are articles about the chasm widening (eg. the recent Google Bus demonstration). To get better sense of the civic strife, read the following link-filled article: Silicon Valley Is Living Inside A Bubble Of Tone-Deaf Arrogance.

Luckily I have some friends here that are outside of the tech community so I was able to get a bit more of a balanced view. As I commented on Twitter:

One thing I’ve learned while in SF: just like tech can leave behind whole industries, tech can leave behind whole cities.

Those in tech/startups understand the mechanics of disruption in a competitive market: if a new technology makes it to the mass market, tough for the buggy-whip makers and whale-fat farmers. Their time is over and they will have to find new jobs. The market is never static — it is the circle of life.

However, cities are not markets. At least, many people do not expect cities to act like markets. We often hear of large companies folding or shutting down factories, leaving a shell of a city behind in the wake of unemployment. But SF is an inverted case where there is much wealth being attracted (and generated) here, raising the cost of living so high that longtime residents are turned out of their homes.

So what happens when a city leaves behind its residents? In other words, what responsibility does a city have to its residents? The opposing viewpoints of whether a city is a competitive market or not underlies the tension in SF. I cannot offer any solutions, but I would be interested in hearing any historical comparisons if you know of any.

Despite this, our trip was fruitful. I write this post on the plane northward and look forward to reconnecting with the rest of our team in Kelowna to work on the next leg of our project. Exciting times!

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive at night

See all photos

For our final night in San Francisco before heading back to Canada, we saw the Lost Landscapes of San Francisco show which was put on to benefit the Internet Archive which suffered from a fire recently. The showing was inside the Archive and featured footage of SF from the 1920s to 1980s. The soundtrack was simply the crowd, as they yell out recognized locations and ask questions, etc. It was very fun and interesting to see places that we had been to over the past month, but in a different era.

The Internet Archive (which has the Wayback Machine) is located in a former church. The grand hall is where the show was held, and you can see from the pictures, the church pews are still intact. In the alcoves at the back are two server racks which store the master copy of the Archive. Along the sides of the church are little statues. These are representations of people who dedicated many hours volunteering for the archive. The one I happened to photograph is Aaron Swartz.

Visiting the EFF

This week I had the privilege of visiting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization I am a member of. I reached out to them and asked for a tour. While they were a bit surprised, they gracious showed me around their new three story building on Eddy Street. The EFF used to rent a small office in the Mission for about the last 20 years. Then this year, they actually purchased a building from Planned Parenthood. It is really nice, filled with wood and glass office spaces and conference rooms where their 50 staff, lawyers, activists and analysts do their work.

The internet is global but so much of our communication and technology passes through or comes from the US, it is important that non-Americans like myself support the EFF too. Around 10% of the EFF’s 25,000 members are from outside the US. I asked how I could help when I go back to Canada. Besides raising awareness of the EFF itself amongst Canadian citizens and developers, I promised to connect them to similar organizations in Canada that I know such as the BC Civil Liberties Association and OpenMedia.ca. If you have any other organizations in mind, please let me know, or encourage them to reach out to the EFF for partnership.

And if you aren’t already, please become a member.

EFF Member

Travel advisory

For the next few weeks I will be on the road. One of my business partners and I will be in San Francisco for the next month or so (leaving tomorrow morning) to raise some money for the new business we have been working on for the past year. Anyways, I will probably posting a lot of tweets and photos of the trip. The last time I was in SF was almost exactly 2 years ago. I wrote about my impressions then. I am really looking forward to the challenge it will be this time. Give us a shout if you are in the area and want to meet up. We will have office space in Runway while we are down there.

In late December I will be back in Canada briefly before jetting off to Japan to meetup with the wife and kids, who left for Kyoto last week. We will be hitting Tokyo Disneyland for Xmas, then Tokyo Skytree before heading back to Kyoto for New Year’s. As always, following my postings on Twitter and photos on Flickr. All four of us will be returning in early January. Then, who knows where the journey will take us next?

Above: Obligatory shot of cloudscape from plane window.

Well, I have made it to Kyoto. I will be here for the next three months. I have been here for three days and have almost gotten over my jetlag. It has been nice to be united with my wife and daughter after three months apart.

Kyoto is like my hometown in Japan. I went to school here and lived for a total of 4 years in this town. I have prowled many of it’s streets, and have many memories here. I plan on visiting many of those special spots. Another thing I am looking forward to is using my 60D to take some photos. I have already started if you take a look at my Flickr feed.

I should be able to more blogging while I am here as well. And of course, I still plan on doing Lining Things Up. I might even do a special Japan version, and interview one or two interesting web people from here.

Anyways, if you are in or around the Kansai area, hit me up and let’s meetup.

Old: Impressions of San Francisco

My visit to Silicon Valley last week was great fun. I able to make a pilgrimage to the mothership and visit with some old friends. Best of all I was able to spend time in America, with Americans from all over, which is always an eye-opening experience. As a Canadian, America can be a surprising place to visit simply because of all the subtle differences. America is like a parallel universe, slightly out of phase with our “Canadian” reality, where the money is monochrome and the service is terrible.

In my week I was able to visit Cupertino, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Campbell, San Jose and San Francisco. Silicon Valley: the heart of the tech economy, the herald of the future. It seems like The Valley is always a little bit further along in the timeline — or maybe multiple timelines — waiting for the rest of the world to catch up and determine which timeline is the one to actually pursue. Did I expect jetpacks? No. But I did expect a lot of steel and glass, clinical precision and cleanliness. Maybe it was my experience in Apple Stores that biased me. Boy was I wrong.

Driving through San Francisco I felt like I was in a crowded South American city. Palm trees and tiled roofs everywhere and the hills are swathed in low, wooden buildings, like a thick pastel-colored blanket. Sprinkled here and there were (abandoned?) brick factories and warehouses. Like many of the structures, the grime was also 19th century. There is no apparent grid-system for the streets. The city is pre-automobile. I can imagine horse tracks and footpaths lying below the paved streets, peeking through the cracks. It was pointed out to me that the many hills might not facilitate a Tang-style urban plan. Excellent point, I thought. For the Japanophiles, San Francisco is more like a Tokyo than Kyoto.

I spent only a handful of hours in San Fran and only saw the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the Mission and the Castro. The Castro was flamboyant and the Mission was… well… I think this video can sum it up:

Have you ever made the mistake of thinking a fat lady was pregnant? Sometimes in San Francisco it is difficult to tell who is homeless. Better to keep your mouth shut and your change in your pockets.

One thing I should say is the eats are great. The restaurants I visited were:

I know the rents are high, maybe even worse than Vancouver, but I would have to give serious thought to relocating there if the opportunity ever presented itself. It is definitely a place with a vibe. The only negative experience I had in California (besides occasional lack of service) was the massive clusterfuck on the part of United causing me and a number of people to miss our flight. Next time I will be more careful to avoid UA. Next time.

See all of my California pics on Flickr.