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. 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.


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’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.

OLPC testing in Wellington

OLPC laptop with a kitschy 70s sugar bowl

Every Saturday morning there’s a group in Wellington that meets to test software for the One Laptop Per Child program (OLPC). I’ve really enjoyed helping with the testing, meeting smart folks with smart politics, and learning more about OLPC. OLPC is the group that tried to develop a $100 laptop especially for children in developing countries. While they didn’t succeed in making it for $100, it is a remarkable piece of hardware.

The OLPC mission statement is:

To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

I like that this statement clearly identifies kids as the users. I love the phrase “joyful, self-empowered learning”.

The first week we played some simple educational games. Memorize, a simple mathematics and memory game, was lots of fun when networked with other people. While one OLPC is neat, a group of them is quite amazing. The collaborative and cooperative possibilities with a group of OLPCs is really exciting. I’m sure that kids have found ways to do things that us adults aren’t even imagining.

Last week we tested Food Force 2, an educational game where you build wells, houses, farms, hospitals and schools in an effort to serve a growing population. Initially I was really excited, but that wore off quickly. It wasn’t terribly fun, the interface was awkward to use, and it was difficult to close the dialog boxes.

This week there’s several testing requests from developers. I’m particularly interested in the open source Sugar operating system on a USB drive, dubbed Sugar on a Stick.

I’m sure with time I’ll learn more about what expected functionality is, and when things are really broken. Right now I’m not sure how things should be working, so it’s hard for me to tell if they’ve gone wrong. The more experienced people in the group are really helpful explaining some of these things. Also, as we all come from very different backgrounds there are some really interesting conversations about open source software, software development, education, games, and usability.

I really miss troubleshooting software, which used to be a regular part of my job. It’s massively satisfying to figure out what someone did to make something break, replicate it, and then fix it. Although informal, these testing sessions help me satisfy my troubleshooting cravings.

8 reasons I love Zotero

Image credit: Hawkexpress on Flickr

A couple of years ago for a class assignment our group evaluated Zotero and liked it a lot, but found the fact that it could only be used on one computer to be extremely limiting. Version 1.5, currently in Beta, allows you to sync your references online. This means you can easily access your references from more than one computer and you can share your references with other people. Yay!

Like other citation management tools, you can use Zotero to easily save different types of sources like journal articles, books, conference papers, reports and websites. You can tag, search, and add multiple notes to each citation. When writing a paper you can use a citation management tool to insert references, quickly reformat your references to a different citation style, and automatically generate a works cited list. I’m always surprised when I meet an academic who doesn’t use any form of citation management tool. Zotero is really easy to use and would save them heaps of time managing their references, formating citations, and generating a list of works cited.

I’ve been using Zotero for a few weeks now, and I love it. Even though I could use EndNote through the university I’m working at, I chose Zotero as it has more functionality and a better interface than EndNote. I would highly recommend it to librarians, students, researchers, and professors.

Here’s why:

  1. Zotero is free, as in freedom. It is open source software that is licensed under an Educational Community License. The theory and practice of open source software fits with research and knowledge production as they both use a peer review process. You can take your citation library with you when you leave the university you’re at. With a licensed product you will likely not have free access once you graduate, or your job ends.
  2. Zotero is free, as in it doesn’t cost anything. If you use RefWorks it’s possible to export your citations when you leave your university. You can choose to pay $100 USD ($122 CDN/$176 NZD) per year for an individual license. A regular license for EndNote is $250 USD ($305 CDN/$450 NZ). That’s a lot of money. If I had that type of money to be frivolous with I’d buy these shoes from Fluevog or these boots from Minnie Cooper instead of purchasing a license for a proprietary citation management tool. I’m curious about how much universities are paying to license these products.
  3. Zotero is robust and reliable.A   I’ve been using 1.5, which is still in beta, and haven’t come across any bugs or glitchyness.A   Zotero has won numerous awards.
  4. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. After watching a 5 minute screencast I was able to start using Zotero. The last time I used RefWorks I went to 2 hours of library instruction before diving in, and I still found the interface awkward and difficult to use.
  5. There is great user documentation, I especially like the bite sized instructional videos. These could be used by the library to save on training and instruction costs.
  6. Zotero is able to search Google Scholar for the metadata for a PDF. If there is a match on Google Scholar Zotero creates an item with the relevant bibliographic information and attaches the PDF.A   I tested this today and was gobsmacked at how quick and useful this is.A   Watch this 45 second long screencast to see this functionality in action.
  7. You can save a copy of a PDF of an article in Zotero, thereby creating your own small digital library.A   It’s possible to do full text searches on your Zotero collection
  8. Zotero can duplicate entries.A   This saved me heaps of time when I was manually entering a bunch of reports from the same conference.

Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Your Insitution Should Adopt Zotero on the Zotero blog.

I used to be a PC, now I’m Linux

Moving to NZ meant ditching my old desktop computer, which was running Windows XP. I’m most comfortable with XP, because it’s what I’ve used most at work and in my personal life. I had a laptop that I used when I traveled for work, but otherwise didn’t use much. This laptop was running Vista on it, which I wasn’t thrilled with.A   Using my laptop as my primary computer meant really learning a new operating system, so I thought I’d try Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a flavour of Linux, an open source operating system.

About a month before leaving Vancouver, I heard Richard Stallman speak on free software. While I found some of his politics a bit over the top, his ideas on freedom and free software resonated deeply with me, and inspired me to make the switch to a free, open source operating system.

I’ve been using Ubuntu for 2 months. I have found the switch almost entirely painless and have been really impressed at how well Ubuntu works from the default installation.

Things I like:

  • Ubuntu is free as in freedom (it’s also free as in beer, but for me the free/libre aspect is more important than it being free/gratis).  I feel better that I’m actively choosing something that supports my and other people’s freedom. I’m glad that my software choices are in line with my personal politics now.  It’s a similar decision to deciding to buy free range organic eggs.
  • Easy and fast installation.
  • Firefox and OpenOffice are included. It’s a small thing, but I’m glad I don’t have to download, install and select Firefox as my default browser.  It took me a few minutes to download the Firefox add-ons that I like, but I would’ve had to do this regardless. Also, I prefer the OpenOffice Word Processor to MS Word.
  • The default folder setup makes sense and works for me: documents, music, pictures, videos.
  • I’ve been able to download photos off of my mobile phone, and print things, without having to install or configure anything.  I had the misconception that it would be difficult to use other devices with Ubuntu.
  • Installing software is a different, but it wasn’t difficult to get used to installing most software from a centralized place (Applications > Add/Remove Application). I like that I can filter on open source, supported, and third party application. Every time I install a program it makes me think about of the degree of freedom of that application.
  • There’s a bunch of little things, like the 2 finger touchpad scroll, and having 2 workspaces (desktops), that make me happy.
  • Excellent documentation, both on the official Ubuntu help page and in the user contributed documentation.  In particular the guide to switching from Windows to Ubuntu was really helpful.
  • Friendly and knowledgeable user community. When I was having problems with setting up my laptop to use the wireless network in our house, I emailed the listserv of local user group and quickly got several responses within a few hours. I ended up paying someone who was fantastic and professional a nominal amount of money to come to my house and fix the problem. I like that there’s feminist Linux groups. I met a small but very diverse group of women at the local linuxchix meetup.

Things I’m adjusting to:

  • I miss IrFanView, a simple image editing program that I used to resize and crop images. The GIMP is a whole lot more than I need (closer to Photoshop), and it’s taken me time to figure out how to do the basic things I need to do (crop and resize photos). It takes longer to load than IrFanView, but I don’t do much image manipulation, so this isn’t a big deal.
  • I need to learn more about the Terminal. I’m much more comfortable clicking on icons and using menus than typing in commands. I can feel my pulse quicken when I read “open the terminal window and type…”. I want to understand what I’m doing, and am excited and scared at the same time.

Things I haven’t figured out yet:

  • I haven’t been able to load music on to my iPod, which I synced to a Mac. Amarok doesn’t recognize it and I haven’t been successful in configuring my iPod to Amarok. With gtkpod 4th Gen Nano isn’t an option in the menu where you select your iPod model, and selecting a different model doesn’t work. I think that part of the problem might be that I installed Mac software on it so it can talk to my partner’s Mac laptop.
  • I haven’t been able to successfully install Tweetdeck. I’m not sure if the problem is with AdobeAIR or with Tweetdeck. (Thanks CHB District Libraries for the help!)

Ubuntu is really user friendly and I like the default programs and settings.  I really wish I had made the switch sooner. I encourage you to try the live CD so you can see what Ubuntu is like, without having to install it.

If you have advice to offer on my iPod and Tweetdeck issues, I’d love to hear from you.

Open Source fonts

A friend told me about Ellen Lupton’s design books and website.   I immediately requested 6 of her books through the public library. I’m especially excited to read Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students and D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself.

The free font manifesto on Lupton’s site caught my eye.   There are some handsome fonts with names like Linux Libertine, Freefont, and Ubuntu.   The manifesto sets out that a free font is has been licensed to be free and can be altered to form a new font (sound familiar?) and has been made available beyond a group of friends or buyers of a software package or operating system.   There is a short discussion on if all fonts should be free.   The manifesto points out that typeface design in a profession and business and that if all fonts were free these people would be out of a job.   The manifesto continues:

Most typefaces created in the free font movement are designed to serve relatively small or underserved linguistic communities. They have an explicit social purpose, and they are intended to offer the world not a luxurious outpouring of typographic variation but rather the basics for maintaining literacy and communication within a society.