Archive for Technology

Celebrating Ada Lovelace day – by recognising Kirrily Robert and the Geek Feminism blog

I read a number of blogs out of professional and personal curiousity, and the Geek Feminism blog which launched last year was my standout new blog of the year. So I’d like to take the time to say why it’s awesome, and why I especially appreciate the work done by its founder, Kirrily Robert (Skud).

Why the Geek Feminism blog is awesome:

  • It’s a very useful resource for people interested in supporting women working in the tech sector, or wanting to increase the representation of women in tech. The blog rounds up success stories, relevant conference talks and interesting links. It also shines a spotlight on poor behaviour and has an ‘Ask a Feminist’ series in which readers can submit their tricky questions and receive advice.
  • It is a regular reminder that there are other people out there tirelessly working to put an end to problems women can face in the tech sector particularly. Knowing this makes me feel more hopeful and less alone!
  • The writers are intelligent – I find every post to be worth reading.
  • It tackles issues & discussion about feminist issues at a level which many professional women are at – but also provides links to “Feminism 101″ materials which I’ve found invaluable for helping to discuss issues or problems with people who aren’t necessarily interested in or educated about feminist issues. It also links to resources for men who might want to find out how they can support women in tech.
  • It’s a group blog – which means a diversity of views both from the writers and in the discussion in comments. So I’d like to also mention my appreciation of the work that all the contributors make to the blog.

Kirrily Robert:

You might not realise it, but even today, people who speak about feminist issues cop a lot of very unpleasant abuse for doing so. Kirrily gave a very positive keynote talk at OSCON last year about ways which in which people and organisations have been working to increase the representation of women in tech, which generated a lot of discussion and led to her deciding to found the Geek Feminism blog.

When she’s not doing Geek Feminism stuff, this Australian-born resident of San Francisco works with tech startups (she’s currently working at Freebase) and builds communities (she recently started a Community Management wiki). She’s also generous with her time and ideas, and I’ve invariably found conversations with her to be mentally invigorating. Thank you Skud. :)

This post was created both to salute the creator of my favourite new blog, and to fulfil my pledge to take part inAda Lovelace Day – a day to blog about women in IT and science. I noticed that Mary also blogged about Skudtoday.

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Player Three – journalism's latest saviour

Is this anything more grating than a journalist who has just “discovered” something and decided they should be the first person to write Real Objective Journalism about it? Ugh.

I’ve just been reading Patrick Brosnan’s guest post on Margaret Simons’ Content Makers blog. Apparently there was never a real games journalist until Mr Brosnan came along. I hope he’s going to let the readers down gently. Or, you know, he could take some time to actually read up on games journalism.

It may be a shock to Mr Brosnan that in addition to the cheap and nasty sold-at-the-supermarket-checkout games mags that rely on teen gamers to write reviews in return for free games, there are also games sites and publications which value quality writing.

Take a look at Atomic MPC – a PC hardware and gaming magazine which was so well respected internationally that the Heseltine-owned Haymarket Media acquired its small Australian publisher, AJB Publishing, largely to get their mitts on it. I haven’t read Atomic in a while, but at the time I was working for AJB, Atomic had a fanatical audience, and a number of award winning journalists who wrote for it, myself included.

Or Mr Brosnan could take a look at Edge, a UK games publication which also had an international reputation because it did a great job of writing up not just games news, but also covering the technical innovations and business dealings of the games industry. (Let us not speak of the horrible, watered down Australian version. That was just a massive disappointment.)

These publications employed Real Writers – both journalists and reviewers. I’d be surprised if any of them weren’t also gamers. Yes, Virginia, there can be Real Journalists who also play computer games. The notion of the detached, objective journalist was always a lie. People don’t get to know an industry intimately in the way that journalists must, without forming opinions on what’s going on around them. It’s just that they’re meant to write objectively, give both sides of the story, and look cagey when you accuse them of being biased. I’m sorry, but bloggers have taught us that disclosure is a far more powerful means of earning credibility than hiding behind “objectivity”. I don’t want to read games journalism written by non gamers.

It’s not just about whether you’re a qualified journalist, either. Mr Brosnan, sadly, seems allergic to opinion. And snark. Apparently you can’t express opinions, or employ sarcasm and be a good writer, or reviewer (That’s me gone then. That’s ok, Patrick. I just want you to know that we can still be friends). He’d better not watch Zero Punctuation then. Shame, because Yahtzee raised the bar for other reviewers by presenting his reviews as hilarious, fast paced animated movies. I’ll happily watch Zero Punctuation reviews for games I’ve never heard of, because they’re entertaining in their own right. Until Yahtzee came along, I hadn’t enjoyed reviews so much since legendary British music mag Select went down the gurgler.

Mr Brosnan proposes a new journalism (sorry, Journalism!), which will be showcased on his website, Player Three. It has at its foundation, Real Journalists. “These journalists don’t necessarily need a vast general knowledge on the gaming industry”. Yes, I can see how that’s a great start for a niche journalism publication. Tell your journalists they aren’t expected to really know their beat. The truth serum will be applied by the editors, who are the games experts. Because people who play games aren’t qualified to write about them. Only Journalists can do the writing, got that?

I haven’t been a tech or games journalist for a couple of years now, which is why my examples are a few years old. There are plenty of examples of rubbish games magazines and websites, granted. And I’ve been highly critical of sycophantic games writers who are in it for the free stuff and don’t think twice about being gladhanded by PR folk in return for breathless  “10/10!…” reviews. The Pollyanna grin was wiped from my face pretty early on when it came to games journalism. PlayStation 2 was launched in 2000 when I was working on a tech news magazine in London. A game reviewer we knew was given a weekend to review 30 games. 30. How many minutes did he get to spend playing each game then, even assuming he didn’t sleep? As a punter who always consulted games reviews before dropping 90 quid on a game, I was horrified.

So no,  I don’t expect “objectivity” as Mr Brosnan describes it, because I want my games writers to *be* gamers. But I do expect knowledgeable and fair reviews, and journalism. And you can get it, when you look around. What a shame Mr Brosnan didn’t actually do that, before jumping on his white horse and riding in to save us.

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OpenAustralia, eDemocracy and education

I’ve been a volunteer with OpenAustralia for some time now, and I don’t think I’ve talked enough about why I admire this project so much, and why I think it’s so important. It’s because I believe in transparent, accountable and accessible government. It’s because I believe in removing the obstacles which keep people from participating in their government. And it’s because I believe in enabling and encouraging greater use of technology, especially for education. OpenAustralia supports and is informed by all these beliefs. It empowers people to use technology tools to educate themselves and participate more fully in their own government.

We’re lucky enough to have a pool of volunteer developers across Australia who are busy working on improving and extending the functionality of the OpenAustralia website and its underlying software. For example, there’s now a mobile version of OpenAustralia, and there are also a couple of nifty new features which make it easier to share and republish information from the website. You’ll now see a “Share this” button next to every speech on the OA website, so you can easily share it via social networking sites. And, for WordPress users, there’s now a PoliPress plugin that lets you easily import speeches to your wordpress blog for commentary or discussion. See the OpenAustralia news post “OpenAustralia goes mobile and gets social” for further information.

I also wanted to mention a very cool school outreach program which was developed by the Victorian Electoral Commission, called Passport to Democracy. It’s aimed at Year 9-10 students, and it’s a program which teachers can use to teach students about how the election process works, by getting students to identify and research issues that they care about, then getting them to vote on which issue they want to take local action on. I love this program for many reasons. It encourages students to think about how they can take action locally on something they care about, rather than removing them from the process by encouraging them to send a letter to their MP and sit back and wait for someone else to take action on their behalf. It is getting them to vote for ideas they care about, rather than a more abstract notion of a political party or official.

If you are a Victorian teacher (or want to recommend this program to your local teacher or high school), then visit the VEC’s Passport to Democracy page, or go to their Edublog, where you can get more information about the program, and read some feedback from a teacher at Strathmore High School.

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Upcoming OSIA talk: Open Sourcing PR

I’ll be talking about “Open Sourcing PR” at OSIA this month. The meeting starts at 7pm, on April 16 here in Melbourne town. Details of the meeting are here and the blurb for the talk can be found under the cut.

» Continue reading “Upcoming OSIA talk: Open Sourcing PR”

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Webstock 2009: Peace, love and a eulogy for Web 2.0

It opened with a call for website creators to help save the world, and closed with a call for Web 2.0 to grow up already… In the course of just two days, speakers at New Zealand’s Webstock conference evoked the perils of ecological disaster, suggested that computer games might be able save the world and performed a eulogy for Web 2.0. A heady, visionary blend of themes, attitudes and exhortations – this was Webstock 2009.

» Continue reading “Webstock 2009: Peace, love and a eulogy for Web 2.0″

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Linux Australia acknowledges some quiet achievers – the Community Recognition Awards

I guess it’s fitting that quiet achievers be quietly rewarded, but I suspect Linux Australia’s Community Recognition Awards flew completely under the radar at LCA. The awards went to:

  • Janet Hawtin: For designing the Linux Australia and Open Source Industry Australia logos and commitment to community development.
  • Alison Russell: For acting as speaker liaison for the conference over many years & compiling the LCA-HowTo for future bid teams.
  • Hugh Blemings: For helping build and maintain the Linux Australia and IBM relationship in support of linux.conf.au over the past 10 years.

Congratulations, winners. :) In case you’re wondering, these awards were given out in lieu of the Rusty Wrench awards this year. Really good to see that LA stepped up and acknowleged the very vital role that behind the scenes volunteers play.

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Bye Bye Conroy – Three predictions for 2009

Last night on Byte Into IT‘s first radio show for 2009, we made predictions for the year ahead in tech. The podcast will be online soon, but I thought I’d share mine here. Let’s count them down…

3. This is the year that Microsoft’s browser domination will finally end. Internet Explorer’s market share will drop to 65%, having its lead eroded by two open source browsers  - Firefox (which will stay about steady at 20%) and Google’s Chrome (launched late last year) which will claw 15% of the market away from IE by the end of 2009.
(This prediction inspired by a conversation with Rusty Russell last week at LCA.)

2. The awesome philanthropic venture, One Laptop Per Child, will become hardware independent in 2009, meaning that it won’t be sidetracked by arguments or politics about hardware (or software, for that matter) and won’t be limited by the number of its own XO laptops it can produce. So the folk who create and support Sugar – software designed to be a tool for kids to learn, even if they’ve never used a computer before – will be able to get on with taking this awesome learning tool to kids who need it, everywhere in the world.

1. The Australian Minister for IT, Senator Stephen Conroy will resign in 2009. He’ll resign to take up a posting as the ambassador to China, where he’ll be a special attache to the Ministry for Internet Censorship. He’ll be replaced in his IT portfolio by Deputy PM Julia Gillard, whose first announcement as IT Minister will be that the Rudd government is going to make good on its promise to fund laptops for *all* Australian secondary school kids – and will be extending the program to include primary school kids too. The government will also announce it is working with OLPC to ensure that kids in remote and poor areas of Australia won’t be left behind. 

2009. The year we conquered the digital divide. 

We can hope. :)

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Linux.conf.au 2009 roundup

Linux.conf.au is done and dusted for another year, and its been revealed that we’ll be heading to gorgeous NZ in 2010 - yay! I didn’t have even a spare second to blog from the conference (running a miniconf and giving two papers will kind of do that to you!) but I did write a couple of news stories for ZDNet.

  • LCA ’09: Wikipedia’s new mobile platform - a writeup of Angela Beesley’s keynote. The news hook was the new mobile platform, but I was much more interested in the fact that WikiMedia has set a goal to remove tech roadblocks and get more editors involved in Wikipedia this year, but they hadn’t identified the need to get rid of some of the social barriers which might put people off.After her keynote, Angela told me she’d raise that as a suggestion – I hope she does. Wikipedia is such an incredible resource, it would be a shame if things like the ‘deletion wars’ and other actions by a minority of the community continue to dissuade people from participating. 
  • Sysadmins after the cloud - my writeup of Tom Limoncelli’s keynote. As I noted on Twitter, he used his employer (Google) as an example of taking an abundance approach to tech support via it’s famous Tech Stop, but unfortunately they recently laid off a bunch of contractors, including making cuts to Tech Stop headcount. So tech support’s not as abundant at Google as it used to be. (Tom responded here, but unfortunately we didn’t get to discuss it further than clarifying that it was contractors rather than inhouse Tech Stoppers who’d been laid off).

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Australia denies visas over concerns about open source? WTF? UPDATED

I’ve just been alerted via a Linux.conf.au mailing list to a ridiculous situation  – apparently the Australian government has overzealously been patrolling its borders against the scourge of… open source technology.

According to Finnish MySQL developer Kaj Arnö, this policy will prevent several MySQL people from attending LCA this year:

“Several Sun Microsystems Inc employees, especially related to the Database Group, have been denied short stay business visas to Australia, over the last few months, as they have been seen to be competing with local Australian businesses unfairly.

I regret to share that this will adversely affect MySQL presence at linux.conf.au in Hobart, Tasmania 19-24.1.2009.”

You can read the full post here – and note that he says he’s observed or experienced open source people having trouble getting Schengen (European Union) and US visas in the past as well.

How crazy. On so many levels. One -this sounds remarkably like the government discriminating against people due to their choice of technology. Do they really have big business in their ear that much? And it ignores the fact that open source technology and business generates an estimated $500 million for Australian businesses each year – you could argue this policy is restraint of trade, rather than protective of it. And it’s just offensive that our government is actively preventing people from gathering together for the purpose of freely sharing information.

I’m not sure what we can do to help fix this – LCA starts in 6 days.

Update: 9.48am, 14 January 2009

Kaj Arnö has updated his original blog post to admit that the link between the visa being denied and open source was conjecture on his part:

“The rejection letter merely says “SHORT TERM BUSINESS ETA APPLICATION WAS NOT APPROVED NO AUTHORITY TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA HELD BY PASSENGER”. However, the person who now got rejected has been frequently in Australia and, to the best of my knowledge, lacks any record which would imply a visa rejection (such as, but not limited to, unpaid traffic fines).”

Read his updated post and the long discussion in comments for further info. Thanks Jacinta for alerting me to the update.

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Upcoming event: Panel on Geek Parenting at LCA

Attention, free and open source software lovers – Linux.conf.au is just a week away! I’m co-convening the LinuxChix miniconf which is happening next Monday – check out the full lineup of talks. We even have a talk on Senator Stephen Conroy’s infamous Great Firewall of Australia: The Swiss Cheese Project.

I’m also keen to spread the word about the panel I’ll be moderating, on Geek Parenting:

Join our panellists Bdale Garbee, Silvia Pfeiffer, Andrew McMillan and Casey Schaufler as we tangle with some of the issues facing the geek parent – or the parent of a potential geek. How do you deal with having a gifted child who is having trouble socialising at school? How do you make sure that your child doesn’t ‘switch off’ from learning during those terrible teen years? Are there any ways to get your kids to think science and tech are cool rather than the daggy stuff mum or dad does at the computer all day? After the panel, join LinuxChix for a family BBQ sponsored by Google – all are welcome!

I hope to see you at LCA. :)

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