FOSS Talk Live 2018

The poster for FOSS Talk Live 2018, in situ in the window of the Harrison

Saturday 9th June 2018 marked FOSS Talk Live 2018, an evening of Linux UK podcasts on stage at The Harrison pub near Kings Cross, London. It’s in its third year now, and each year has improved on the last. This year there were four live shows: Late Night Linux, Ubuntu Podcast, Linux Voice, and what we affectionally call the “Drunken Mashup Show” containing Joe from Late Night Linux, Dave Megins-Nichols from Geek News Radio, Marius Quabeck from and… me, representing Bad Voltage. It was jolly good fun; Jesse did a timelapse of the whole thing.

me, Marius, Mark, Martin, Popey, and Dave before the event
contrary to popular belief, Dave was not actually having his foot gnawed on by an alligator while this photo was being taken

Traditionally the event “starts” mid-afternoon in the Lucas Arms, around the corner from the venue, where a bunch of people show up early, have a couple of beers, and say things like “we should probably go and help Joe set up” and then order another round of drinks instead. This year was no exception. Well done the Lucas; also well done Martin Wimpress for showing up with a huge bag full of random technology for people to coo over, including the Jelly phone which is a phone the size of a bourbon biscuit running Android 7.0 and is pretty cool by all accounts, and two little screen-and-keyboard Linux devices (GPD Pocket and Gemini PDA) which are both morally Psion 5s and, despite that, which I am actually a bit tempted by.

Late Night Linux

Graham, Jesse, Joe, and Bill of Late Night Linux on stage
not deliberately taken to catch a moment when new father Jesse was asleep after many nights on 2 hours kip, but it reflects a moral truth in my opinion

First up were Late Night Linux who talked about dreams and dreads for open source in the next five years. I liked this concept, and it was actually pretty interesting to hear a whole bunch of good plans I hadn’t even considered. I think I might have broken it up a little, though, for future reference; the second half of the show being all things that might go wrong (and plausibly so) kinda put a downer on things, so I was sat there thinking, cor, everything sucks, that’s no good, after a first half which was buoyant and exciting. To be clear, pretty much all their worries are at least possibly justified and are things that we need to fix or need to find a way to avoid, it’s just that hearing them all at once is pretty demoralising!

There were also some big goals in there (in the positive half); associate “Linux” as a word with quality, so when someone in the street hears that their Alexa device or their smart fridge or their cycle computer has Linux in it, they think, OK, that’s a good thing. I like this idea. No clue how to pull it off, mind, but it’s a good idea. Quite a few of the positive suggestions weren’t actually technological, and I think that’s a positive; five years ago any list of goals for the five years hence would still have included edges of “make wifi reliable”, and now all the actual boring tech stuff is sorted, thanks to a focus on fixing problems that real people want fixed. This is a good thing. Their show is available to listen to so you can make up your own mind.

Ubuntu Podcast

Martin, Mark, and Alan of the Ubuntu Podcast on stage
the Ubuntu Podcast team inexplicably talking about plumbing again

The Ubuntu Podcast, up next, had a sort of flipped around version of that concept — the Time Trumpet in which they looked back at technology forty, twenty, and ten years ago before zooming forward to now. And more news on Mark’s bathroom, which I was of course eager to hear as much about as possible (who cares about software? not me! toilets, that’s where it’s at) Their show is available to listen to as well (at the time I post this it isn’t out yet, but it will be in a day or so).

(imagine the conceptual flow pausing here for one of the Harrison’s rather nice burgers, and the beginning hatchings of a Plan with Bill…)

Linux Voice

Graham, Andrew, and Ben from Linux Voice
quite a lot less foaming at the mouth about Brexit this year, not that the actual problem has got any better

Linux Voice (back together again!) had the chaps talking about, among other things, Andrew’s appearance on Mastermind answering questions about George Orwell and only narrowly being beaten by the person who went on to win the whole competition, Graham’s audio adventures which I’m sure were very enlightening to people who, unlike me, are not specifically prohibited from having opinions about audio matters, and the suggestion that Microsoft buying Github was a bit like when Channel 4 bought Bake Off. (I am considerably more confident that Nat Friedman has my best interests at heart than that Paul Hollywood does, although I am astounded to discover that Paul Hollywood’s name really is Paul Hollywood!)

The “Drunken Mashup Show”

It’s not actually particularly drunken, if I’m honest, at least partially because I do my best to not drink too much so that we can manage the stage properly…

Dave, Joe, Marius, and me
everyone votes just to annoy Joe

This year I had a bit of a brainwave. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a bunch of questions to ask the audience and they could vote on them? Stuff which divides people, but not stuff that’s divisive; questions that provoke friendly rivalry, so we’re all having fun together. And then everyone votes with their phones and we see a real-time graph of the voting — drama, people cheering, that sort of thing, that’ll be good. And there must be someone out there who’s already built a service to do this, surely? I mean, I can write one if I have to, but I’d really like not to have to. The other chaps agreed this sounded fun, and after some poking around I discovered DirectPoll who do exactly this. There are a bunch of people doing this, actually, but most of them limit you somehow — you can only have two questions, or you can only have ten voters, or something. I completely understand why they do this, and I am obviously a vicious leech for wanting this and not paying for it, but equally I did want it and didn’t want to pay for it, so well done DirectPoll.

What I wanted to happen was to have a set of slides so that when I advanced to the slide for the next question, everyone’s phones updated so they could answer that question, and I wanted the poll to reset all the vote totals when I loaded it so that we’d be sure on the night that any remnants of our testing had been swept away. And this was all nicely doable with DirectPoll’s API — you can visit a URL to do each of those things, and you don’t have to sign in to the admin backend to do it. Their goal seems to be that you give this complex URL to the users somehow, but I just embedded it in an invisible iframe in our slides.js presentation deck, and everything worked out. This is important because I’m on stage and the laptop running the slides isn’t, so I couldn’t be fiddling around with it; I had “go to next slide” and “refresh the whole window” buttons and that was about it. And it all worked pretty much fine on the night — the little remote I was using was not as reliable as could be hoped, but I’d planned for that and everything was good. And, more importantly, people thought that the voting game was fun! Audience interaction, and lots to argue about in the bar afterwards; the way we had it set up was that for each question, each of the four presenters had their choice of answer and got to do a little speech to defend that on stage and try to influence the audience. Which worked surprisingly well; some of the winning answers clearly only got to that position because they were eloquently defended on the mike. So well done, chaps.

We will ignore the bit where Martin Wimpress, Ubuntu MATE lead and bastard, tweeted out the link to the voting page from the Ubuntu MATE account, so I apologise to the Ubuntu MATE community for them no longer having a lead person any more. If it’s really important I can probably remember where I buried him.

The questions (and answers)

  1. Best Linux distro?

    • Ubuntu MATE (me, and the winning answer)
    • Solus (Marius)
    • Xubuntu (Joe)
    • Windows Subsystem for Linux (Dave; a surprisingly strong second place!)
  2. Best desktop environment?

    • Budgie (Marius)
    • Gnome (Dave, and the winning answer)
    • Xfce (Joe)
    • MATE Cupertino (me)
  3. Best vulnerability name?

    • Spectre (Joe)
    • Efail (Marius)
    • ImageTragick (Dave)
    • CVE-2014-6271 (me, and the winning answer)
  4. Which laptop?

    • Lenovo Carbon X1 2018 (Marius)
    • Dell XPS (Dave)
    • a desktop (me)
    • Entroware (Joe, and a big victory)
  5. Which open source personality deserves the most respect?

    • Nat Friedman (me)
    • Guido van Rossum (Dave)
    • Linus Torvalds (Joe, and the winner)
    • Mark Shuttleworth (Marius)
  6. Best text editor?

    • Atom (Marius)
    • VS Code (Dave)
    • Sublime Text (me)
    • nano/gedit (Joe, and the winner)

Dave’s robust defence of the Windows Subsystem for Linux and its subsequent second-place ranking shows just how far we’ve come as a community and Microsoft have come in learning to work with communities; can you imagine suggesting such a thing as a good alternative in 2005? And Joe’s eloquent description of Entroware swayed the audience pretty comprehensively: next time you need a laptop, buy it from there!

You can listen to the show (or watch it on video).

people, with beers
a job well done

A couple more general thoughts

The event should be a lot more diverse than it is. It was almost entirely men and almost entirely white. Free software in general has something of a problem with this, but this feels like somewhere where we could make a difference, and then I’d have more and different people to meet and hang out with.

There are some pretty cheap AirBNB flats really near the venue, too. I’d never stayed in an AirBNB alone before; if you have similarly low requirements of a place to stay after an evening on the razz, you’ll like ‘em.

So that was FOSS Talk Live 2018. Thank you lots to Joe, who does all the work to organise this whole thing. And thank you to everyone who came. It was great. I really enjoyed myself. There should be more of this sort of thing. Which is the subject of the next post.

I'm currently available for hire, to help you plan, architect, and build new systems, and for technical writing and articles. You can take a look at some projects I've worked on and some of my writing. If you'd like to talk about your upcoming project, do get in touch.

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  • Daniel Wood responded at I would love to hangout with you guys!! Have a good time!!
  • Joe Ressington 🇪🇺 responded at I don't really care that it was almost all white men. If I hear from anyone who wanted to come but didn't come because they didn't feel welcome then I…
  • Fabian A. Scherschel responded at All the data I have from seven years of doing it would suggest it‘s overwhelming (about 98%) men. I have no idea what colour their skin is. Nor would…
  • FOSS Talk Live responded at My review of @FOSS_Talk Live 2018, which was rather fun. Followed by some thoughts on small conferences (or big meetups) more generally, and
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  • Roger Light responded at Sounds ace. Nano though, really? :)
  • Stuart Langridge responded at I didn't vote for it, but 50%+ of the audience did :)
  • Roger Light responded at I get that, I'm just surprised. Picking up on the important points from your post...
  • Stuart Langridge responded at I was pretty surprised at that one myself, to be honest!
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