Wendy Neale: Maker

I’ve been challenging myself to write things that allow a bit more creativity than technical documentation and manuals. A couple of months ago I interviewed a friend in Wellington about her art and design practice, as well as her personal philosophies on design and consumerism.

I wanted to write the interview as more of an article, but found it more challenging and took the easy way out by writing it up as a Q&A piece. I think I was successful in organizing her ideas and presenting them in her voice.

I was excited to get the PDFs of the article. I love the clean layout of World Sweet World. The photographer did a great job of capturing Wendy’s energy and spunk. I love the close up shots highlighting the details of the zipper on the obsolete black vinyl chair, and the red buttons on the other obsolete chair.

Wendy Neale: Maker

Get your FOSS on: Wellington conferences, companies and organizations

This is the last post in a 3 part series looking at the tech/geek/open source communities in Wellington. Part 1 looked at regular geeky events and Part 2 looked at geeky people and projects in local libraries.

Wellington will host some excellent open source conferences in the next year. Also Wellington is home to some great companies and organizations who are active leaders in the community.

Upcoming conferences

WordCamp New Zealand (August 8-9, 2009) Tickets aren’t available yet, but I’m sure they’ll be snapped up quickly. WordCamp is being held at the Mt. Victoria (Lawn) Bowling Club, which is pretty awesome.

linux.conf.org.au 2010 (January 18-23, 2010) LCA is “fun, informal and seriously technical, bringing together Free and Open Source developers, users and community champions from around the world.” It’ll be a jam packed week with miniconfs on Monday and Tuesday, followed by the main conference of 5-6 streams including Seminars, Tutorials, Lightning Talks and Birds of a Feather. Wellington will be the second time that LCA has been outside of Australia (after Dunedin 2006).

Kohacon 2010 (April or October 2010) There’s been some murmurs of hosting a Kohacon in New Zealand to coincide with the 10th birthday of Koha Integrated Library System.

Companies/organizations

Catalyst is a company that specializes in open source software development. The staff are smart developers, passionate about open source software, and active in many communities. Chris Cormack, Brenda Wallace, and heaps of other rad folks work there. Many of the staff are involved in getting the Maker Space off the ground. They have been managing the New Zealand election systems, as well as the TAB betting systems for quite awhile.A   Staff can use the company’s equipment to work on their own projects, with the caveat that the project is licensed under GPL or Creative Commons license. An example of this is some of the videos that Creative Freedom Foundation recorded in their campaign against Section 92a (copyright reform bill).

New Zealand Open Source Society The current president Don Christie, is part of the Catalyst Management team. Recently they lobbied the New Zealand government against signing another all-of-government deal with Microsoft. The Government said that this type of agreement with Microsoft was no longer appropriate. I’m interested to watch the software and hardware choices New Zealand decides to make in the next while.

New Zealand Open Source Awards These have been happening for the past couple of years to the recognise and celebrate “the contributions of New Zealanders directly to open source projects or the promotion of open source generally”. Reading the past nominees and award winners gave me a really broad view of all the things happening in New Zealand.

I feel really lucky to have had a chance to live in Wellington. Not only does Wellington have the best coffee and cafes in the world, but there are vibrant, robust, and friendly open source communities.

Get your FOSS on: Wellington library geeks

Wellington has a vibrant open source development community. There are some fantastic open source projects happening in libraries in Wellington and the surrounding area. Here’s more about the projects and people doing neat things in libraries, most of which are open source. This is part two of a three part series on the open source and library tech communities in Wellington.

Chris Cormack is the original Koha developer. Koha was the first open source integrated library system (ILS) in the world. An ILS is the system that you use when you search a library’s online catalogue, check out books, and that library staff use to catalogue items, run management reports and often track their book orders. In 2007 he won a New Zealand Open Source Award for his contributions to Koha. Like many of the active community minded geeks in Wellington, Chris also works at Catalyst. He is the current translation manager for Koha. I’ve learned a lot from him about Koha, the open source community here in New Zealand, and the Koha community around the world. We’ve had great conversations about software, community, politics, and how these things are connected.

Kete is an open source project that allows you to “create online areas for collaboration for your community. Write topics and upload images, audio, video, documents. Discuss them all. Link them together”. It was developed by Horowhenua Library Trust and Katipo Communications, the same team that started Koha. I had a great meeting with the core developer, Walter McGinnis, who works for Katipo Communications. I got to see a sneak peak of the next release. Walter is smart and passionate about the work he does. He’s had the most interesting jobs including being a “gas station attendant” and janitor in Antarctica, as well as doing some casual film projection on the side, in trade for coffee. He answered all the questions I had about using Kete as a platform for a community archive project, like QueerHistoryProject.com.

Aotearoa People’s Network is “about providing free access to broadband internet services in public libraries so that all New Zealanders can benefit from creating, accessing and experiencing digital content”. Many of the APN sites have a local Kete where people from that community can upload their stories, images, and other content. My only criticism about this amazing program is their decision to use internet filters on the whole system. Yay APN! Boo filtering!

Horowhenua Library Trust is the little library that could. Jo Ransom, the Deputy Head of Libraries, is an innovative and gutsy leader who is a strong and loud advocate for libraries and their users. HLT is the birthplace of Koha and Kete. In 1999, HLT was forced to find a new ILS that could deal with a change in millenium. Proprietary ILS vendors didn’t have a system that could manage on dial up speeds and cope with the interference from the electric fences on local farms. They worked with Katipo and funded the original Koha development. Recently they funded the development of Kete, a community digital repository. I also admire Jo’s guts in standing up to her council to fight against the introduction of revenue targets (which would mean user fees) for HLT. Jo is one rad librarian, and HLT is one rad library system.

Brenda Chawner is finishing her PhD thesis that looks at factors influencing satisfaction with open source software in libraries. She was also the head of the library school at Victoria University and is organizing free software prophet Richard Stallman’s next visit to New Zealand. Stallman will be one of the keynote speakers at the LIANZA conference. Brenda describes him as “one of the most influential people the audience has never heard of.” I really enjoyed all of our conversations about open source and libraries, and how different projects develop different cultures. She’s a great teacher, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Part 3 in this series will look at upcoming conferences and companies in Wellington.

Get your FOSS on: Wellington’s regular geeky events

OLPC testing at the Southern Cross by mangee

I was surprised to learn about all the regular tech events that happen in Wellington, especially for the size of the town. Wellington’s open source communities are especially vibrant and welcoming. This is part one in a three part series on the open source and library technology communities in Wellington.

OLPC WellyNZTesters Every Saturday morning a group of 4-15 people meet to test software for the One Laptop Per Child program. Currently the group meets at the Southern Cross, from about 11am to 1pm. It’s a diverse group of people including programmers, educators, usability, and open source folks ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. Sometimes people bring their kids. It’s lots of fun to see how kid friendly both the hardware and software are. Tabitha Rodger does a great job of organizing the hardware, testing plans, and sending feedback to the developers. When she’s not there we mostly eat breakfast, fiddle around and play. I think this is one of the only regular OLPC testing groups in the world.

Thursday night curry According to legend, and the website: “Once upon a time there was a gathering of engineers, sysadmins, programmers and other technical people. They came together in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, with curry and beer. Often, quite a lot of beer. They decided to continue this consumption each week, and thus Thursday Night Curry was born.” A few people told me that it was a core group of uber nerdy SysAdmins, but the one time I went I found it to be a really friendly and eclectic mix of programmers, policy people, open source enthusiasts, and out of town visitors. I’m not a big fan of Indian food, so I’ve only been once. If you are new to Wellington I’d definately recommend showing up for curry night.

Linuxchix I like the explicitly feminist statements on their website: “Women make up approximately 42% of NZ’s IT Industry (Stats NZ), but once data entry and unskilled work is excluded this drops to somewhere nearer 15%. Linuxchix and the New Zealand chapter of Linuxchix exist to connect women working in the IT industry, contributing to FOSS, as well as female users of the Linux operating system looking for support and community.” The people I met at the meetup I went to were really friendly and helpful. I met a grad student who had to zip off to monitor something in her lab, a punky looking mobile phone tester, a lawyer who is part of the organizing committee for the Linux conference that will be happening here next year, and Brenda Wallace. Brenda is a open source programmer, geek and organizer. I like that she just rolls up her sleeves and gets stuff done.

WellyLUG hosts regular monthly meetings/presentations and mailing list. While I didn’t make it to any of the presentations, people on the list were really helpful with my newbie linux questions.

Geek Girl Dinners are organized several times a year. They are networking events for techie women that happen over drinks and dinner, and include presentations on geeky topics. I am so disappointed that I’ll miss the next one.

Webstock This is the conference for web folks. Unfortunately I just missed the conference, but was here to attend their 3rd birthday event. There was a large bar tab, cupcakes, and a bunch of 5 minute lightning presentations.A   The Webstock folks run the Onya web awards. They also co-sponsor Full Code Press, a competition where a Kiwi and Aussie teams have 24 hours to build a website for a non-profit organization. This year the Code Blacks won them bragging rights for their site for Rainbow Youth, a queer youth group based in Auckland.

Pecha Kucha These seem to happen about once or twice a year in Wellington. The last one happened on a cold and rainy night and I didn’t go.

Super Happy Dev House is a “monthly hackathon, combining serious and not-so-serious productivity with a fun and exciting party atmosphere.” This also takes place at the legendary Southern Cross, which is my favourite place for breakfast, an afternoon coffee meeting, or late night jumbo Jenga on the back patio.

Wellington is a very geeky and community minded place. I can’t think of a city that, per capita, runs as many regular events. If I missed one of your events, please add them in the comments.

Part two of this series will look at the some of the open source projects and techy people in libraries, in and around Wellington.

Penny Carnaby on the Delete Generation

I’m glad I put off picking up a bed for our new flat, so that I could get to Penny Carnaby, New Zealand’s National Librarian and Chief Executive’s talk titled The Delete Generation: citizen created content, digital equity and the preservation of community memory.

Carnaby’s talk was engaging, accessible and a good primer on New Zealand’s digital preservation strategy.A   I loved the language that she used: digital darkages, digital landfill, digital amnesia, digital archeologists.A   She talked about Kete, which is the name of an open source digital archive platform and a bunch of local communitiy archives that are hosted on this platform.A   It is also a woven Maori basket, and Carnaby called ketes “baskets of knowledge”A   I love this metaphor.

a kete (photo from www.alibrown.co.nz)

She described how New Zealand is a world leader with the National Digital Heritage Archive.A   She described how the National Library developed a public/private partnership with Sun Microsystems, Ex Libris and how the $24 million project came in under budget and on time.A   I’m curious as to why they did not decide to use this money to seed another large open source project, like Koha, Kete, and Greenstone.A   Perhaps over the next while I’ll learn why.

The National Library of New Zealand is doing lots of cool things.A   They have a metadata harvester that can scrape metadata from the ketes, instituional repositories, and other places, so that it’s possible to search in one place and find pointers to digital objects (photos, sound recordings, text), as well as academic reserach that exist in other information silos.A   Carnaby strongly asserted that publically funded reserach must be publically accessible.A   She said that soon data sets will also be included in this.

Carnaby used the phrase “citizen created content” numerous times in her talk.A   For me, this assumes that all individuals are starting on a level playing field and that at least 3 sets of prerequisites have been met.A   First, this assumes that all individuals have access to computers, (high speed) internet, and other equipment (scanners, digital cameras, video cameras, sound and video editing software).A   Second, this assumes that everyone has the skills (or access to someone who can help them) to create thier own content.A   Finally, this assumes that people think that their stories are of value and worth telling, recording, documenting or submitting.

I asked “How do we ensure that the most margnizalizes citizen’s voices are heard and preserved?” and “How do we structure these information systems to be tools for social change?” Carnaby talked about the ketes.A   Joann Ransom, from Horowhenua Library Trust the organization that developed Kete, and was in the audience shared that many people would find it too intimidating to submit their content to a national archive, but were more comfortable submitting to the local kete, which could be ingested by the metadata harvester and made accessible at a national level. In helping to create the QueerHistoryProject.com I realized that it was a time consuming process to source content.A   It took many conversations with people to first convince them that their stories and contributions were valuable, and then to flesh out their stories or help them with the technology.

The National Library is moving to a new physical space.A   Carnaby has a vision for a kinetic art structure in the lobby that can also serve as a place for people who want to “make a pilgrimage to submit their content” to be part the nation’s historical memory.A   I really like this idea, as it uses the public space of the lobby of the National Library as a place where people can physically go to make a digital contribution, or witness other people doing this.A   I like the metaphor of an artistic manifestation of a nation’s living history or a living digital archive.

I’m excited about Carnaby’s vision for the New Zealand’s National Library.A   I really hope I can find a job there.

Aotearoa Peoples Network