Linux Conference Australia: disaster response, activism, and copyright

A mobile phone displaying the Serval software.I began the day with a couple of talks looking at FOSS projects for disaster support. Paul Gardner-Stephen started off talking about The Serval Project, which aims to provide secure communications for those in need. Mostly, “in need” means “affected by a disaster”, which was defined broadly as a situation where a community’s ability to respond is overwhelmed. The project allows the set-up of mobile-phone mesh networks that allow encrypted voice telephony, encrypted short messaging, file/data dissemination, and crowd-sourced mapping. Using mesh networks, rather than piggy-backing on existing infrastructure, is useful in situations where mobile networks or other communications services have been taken down by accident, or by the government or other forces. Theoretically, it will be possible to drop a single phone into an area and use it to copy the software onto other phones around the place to create the mesh. It should also be possible to transfer data by moving the phones around, even by bicycle or on foot. They’re also thinking about ways to develop mesh-based social networks which would be able to tie in to existing social networks like Twitter.

OpenStreetMap Indonesia

Kate Chapman talked next, about open source and open data for humanitarian responses with OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap aims to provide a worldwide map produced and available openly – the analogy she gave was ‘like Wikipedia but for maps’. She was talking particularly about the use of OpenStreetMap in humanitarian responses to disaster: mapping data is helpful for marking hazards (including violence), as well as for other tasks like coordinating clean-ups. Open data also helps communities to manage some of these processes themselves. A lot of this work is done with university graduates, particularly in geography, but more skilled volunteers and interns are still needed.

After lunch I spoke on Free and Open Source Software and Activism, to an encouragingly-full room (with, I found out later, more people who wanted to get in but couldn’t because the room was full): there were also plenty of questions. There was also a request for some ‘anarchism 101’ reading. I’ve been meaning to put this together for a while (and failing), but here’s a few starting-points:

  • Bob Black’s Anarchism 101 gives a useful overview, from the quick look I’ve had at it.
  • We are everywhere, put out by the Notes from Nowhere collective, is great to dip into for more detail. The introductory stories at the beginning of each chapter are particularly useful.
  • “Introduction to Anarchism”, parts 1 and 2, in Avenue 1 and 2, give a more in-depth discussion.
  • Refusing to wait: anarchism and intersectionality is a good look at feminism and anarchism.

If you’re interested in anything I raised in my talk, please feel free to contact me on here, Twitter, or elsewhere.

After me, ironically, there was a talk by the DSD guy, which apparently LCA wasn’t allowed to film. From the looks of it (on Twitter), I probably should have snuck over to the other room and seen Geoff Huston’s talk on the IPocalypse. Ben Powell also covered copyright issues in the final session, looking at how recent changes to legislation will affect the future of cloud-based and streaming services.

A group of penguins.
Adelie penguins, by !WOUW on Flickr.

The day will end with Birds of a Feather meetups. We already snuck in one BoF, looking at FOSS and humanitarian responses, over afternoon tea. While there wasn’t much time available, Tim McNamara had some useful things to say about ‘hfoss’: there’s a lot of need for good documentation and bug reporting, and for venues with wifi to provide support for teams on the ground. For those interested, there’s a list of helpful links on the lca2013 wiki. I’ll probably end up at the free software activism meetup for the BoFs, surprising no-one.

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