Older blog entries for slef (starting at number 847)

Co-operatives Fortnight and Congress 2011 (#coops14 and #cc11)

It’s Co-operatives Fortnight until 9 July and our co-op is supporting many events:

As you may know, we’ve already done two events:

First, last Friday, Michael attended the Co-operatives UK Annual Meeting on our behalf. Co-operatives UK is our national co-ordinating co-op and the figurehead for the movement in this country. I didn’t see the meeting (the live video link didn’t work for me, as before), but Michael reports:

“The AGM seemed well organized; it was good to hear about the work they’re doing and the concerns regarding the co-operative situation in Poland. I think it’s important to exercise one’s ability to vote, but would have liked more opportunity to speak with people.”

We couldn’t send anyone to the Mary Portas session on Friday evening, but Paul Dale Smith summarised the session and RuthRosselson described it as “Mary Portas tells Co-op Congress how it is”.

Then on Saturday, I was in Manchester for The Power of Co-operation, thanks to support from software.coop and The Co-operative Bank.

The first session I attended, on mutualisting the Post Office was interesting and pretty full, but I found some later sessions rather frustrating. As well as my usual concerns about surrendering to uncritical use of private-sector software, I got quite annoyed by two sessions on member engagement where the presenters seemed to talk for almost the full time without letting the audience engage! Not good for my blood pressure, that, especially when I feel they’re missing something!

But the real value of the day was in the fascinating discussions I had with many people in the short breaks in the plenary, or while wandering around the exhibition and the marketplace. For example, it was great to see Revolver still selling the T-shirts I mentioned here in 2009 – as well as giving out free samples of their brilliant fairtrade coffee. What comes from the various discussions will probably decide whether we attend similar events in future.

Were you in Birmingham? How was it for you? Are you supporting Co-operatives Fortnight? How, where, when and why?

Syndicated 2011-06-29 10:45:25 from Software Cooperative News

Re: Cyberunions Podcast: Building links with the Co-operative Movement

John Atherton sent me a link to cyberunions discussing open-source and worker co-ops.

In general, it’s a very good show and worth a listen by anyone from the union movement, in my opinion. It’s available in Ogg as well as MP3, which I think is also a plus point.

There were a couple of points where I was ranting at the radio, though…

The first was the choice to try Skype alternatives. Leaving aside the danger of playing the “alternatives” game, I can understand why they chose that (the change of corporate control to Microsoft has been in the headlines recently and the phones affect them but not their listeners or readers), but open internet phones are a bit fiddly because they try to move quite a lot of data (audio) in real-time and a lot of domestic network devices don’t behave correctly with the protocols that they use to do it.

I agree with their conclusion that the problem is probably networking, but I wonder why they didn’t log in to their routers, look at any debugging output and try to find the setting to change? Or try switching on debugging in the software and see what’s wrong, or send it to someone who can help? Instead, it seemed like Linphone and Ekiga got blamed for not doing Skype-style router-busting without asking. They don’t mention whether they tried switching on the STUN option mentioned in the Linphone FAQ and I don’t see a email on linphone-users asking for support but I don’t read every mail on that list.

Am I being unfair, expecting them to seek support? Maybe but I’m not sure. If you got the software from a store, what would you do? Would you throw it away and tell people that the stupid thing doesn’t work? Moreover, would you use your podcast to say it doesn’t work because users need to be “clever enough” for that “obscure” tool? That’s a great way to scare people off unnecessarily.

Wouldn’t you usually think you might be overlooking some detail and ask for support, from its maker or the place where you got it? I think you’d ask. I’d probably ask, even though I’m available for hire to fix FOSS problems and it’s not the proudest feeling when I have a script-reading call-centre worker solve my mistake.

Of course, with most from-store software, you’ve paid an artificially-inflated box price, but the bigger cost is your time and that’s the same for downloaded free and open source software, so why give it less of a chance to work?

I also think they had easier options, like switching more of their website over to free and open source software, like getting rid of the rubbish comment system which doesn’t work if you don’t let it run javascript on your browser. I’ve had a bit of discussion with them since the show and it seems my first suggestion may no longer work (typical!), so we’ll see how that goes.

Back to the show: the next segment did a good job of linking FOSS to the co-operative movement. I really think they should call it Free and Open Source Software and not just “open source” because I feel the freedom should be important to the labour movement. Also, calling the whole thing “open source” seems like calling all of the political left “Revolutionary Socialism”: inaccurate at best. I don’t often express this objection these days (I’ve bigger targets to work on), but it’s important when trying to inform new audiences, else they only see part of our rainbow, a less radical part.

Pretty interesting to suggest Orbea bikes as Mondragon’s most famous brand. I’d pick Eroski or Caja Laboral. What about you?

Then it moved on to a pretty good description of UK co-ops, mentioning co-ops that I’m a member of (the Co-operative Group) or buy from (John Lewis and Suma). I was surprised that it seemed to stop short and didn’t mention any of the co-ops that work with free software, or with any software in fact. Of course, I’d love software.coop to be mentioned, but there are other interesting and very different ones like BristolWireless.net and OSAlliance.com. Globally, many of the worker tech co-ops are linked through the tech-coop mailing list. This was the second part where I was shouting at the speakers. After all, Debian is a great voluntary project making a fantastic GNU/Linux distribution, but it is not a worker co-op by a long way and I suspect some of my fellow developers would be horrified to hear that suggested. Why not mention some actual tech worker co-ops?

Finally, before the listener feedback, suggestions of tools which union activists could use. There was some minor confusion about exactly which version or name was really FOSS and a surprising claim about openoffice into LibreOffice (I thought Oracle were still screwing that up with Apache’s help but I may have missed some news), but it was a good list of door-opening suggestions. I hope some activists will take them up.

It seems there’s an earlier show about open social networks, which is a topic I’ll look at after I finish my series of posts about mailing lists. So, please let me know if you have comments on this show, that show, open social networks or mailing lists which you think I might find interesting, or if there’s anything above you’d like me to expand upon (or correct – often, correct…).

Syndicated 2011-06-21 14:40:39 from Software Cooperative News

Software in the Public Interest June 2011

Software in the Public Interest is one of the oldest and best non-profit associations (and not a foundation!) that supports free and open source software development and it will hold a public board of directors meeting on Wednesday at 20:30 UTC (21:30 UK). SPI meetings are held on irc.spi-inc.org (the OFTC network) in channel #spi. See the OFTC site for more information about connecting to OFTC.

The agenda for the meeting is available on the web. A single resolution regarding ankur.org.in joining as an SPI associated project has been received.

Please, come along and support SPI and thank its volunteers for their efforts.

Syndicated 2011-06-08 04:19:59 from Software Cooperative News

Top 10 Benefits of Mailing List Software

Particularly around local government, but also some not-for-profits and universities, I’m trying to persuade people to stop using huge Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) lists that they keep in their address book and switch over to using mailing list manager software. Our co-op even gives some simple mailing list hosting away with web hosting. I think good mailing list software is better because:

  1. List members can help themselves – they can subscribe, unsubscribe and set options by sending email to the software or visiting its website, which reduces the worker time required to manage the list. But you can still manage it directly if you prefer.
  2. Your address book is smaller – because you don’t need every address on the mailing list cluttering up your email software’s address book any more
  3. Errors are handled automatically – if an address doesn’t work any more, the software will unsubscribe it
  4. Privacy is safeguarded – dedicated email list software will not put the recipients in the To-line by mistake (as often happens with Address Book announcement lists)
  5. Spam is filtered – rules can be set centrally and they can be different to the rest of your organisation
  6. Messages can be moderated – if needed, the list managers can be asked to pre-approve the messages
  7. Emails can be archived – most list software can save copies of messages for you, or put them on the web
  8. You can offer digests – offer members the choice between getting every message or daily or weekly batches
  9. Multiple versions can be sent – some list software can send different versions of the same email (like rich and plain text, or different languages) as chosen by the user
  10. You can syndicate news – some list software can also put your announcements on content management systems or social media
  11. (OK, I’ve done 10… there are two more which matter to a tech worker like me which I’m going to mention as free extras.) It’s more efficient – most list software is designed to handle hundreds or thousands of recipients and sends email with more robust settings than a typical desktop email client. It is less likely to fail after recipient 373 and ask you to resend them all.
  12. Comply with standards – good list software either follows standards for things like self-service and digests automatically or can be told to do it. Some desktop email software (Outlook?) usually can’t.

Do you think these are good reasons? Are there other reasons you would include above some of these? Would they persuade you to stop using your computer’s address book?

Syndicated 2011-05-19 10:11:06 from Software Cooperative News

SPI May 2011

Software in the Public Interest (the organisation behind debian and many more) will hold a public board meeting later today (Wednesday) at 20:30 UTC (=21:30 BST, 22:30 CEST or date -d @1305145800 to you). SPI meetings are held in #spi on irc.spi-inc.org (the OFTC network). The agenda for the meeting is available at http://www.spi-inc.org/meetings/agendas/2011/2011-05-11/

At the time of writing, there’s a single resolution regarding Jenkins joining as an SPI associated project. Jenkins (formerly known as Hudson until the Oracalypse) monitors execution of jobs like software builds or scheduled tasks. Its website is http://jenkins-ci.org/

Why not come along and wish Jenkins well? Or just see if I’m awake after a #koha meeting at 3am UK time? ;-)

Syndicated 2011-05-11 03:08:44 from Software Cooperative News

Standing for election, times 2 or 3

It’s a bit quiet on this blog recently because I’m busy with lots of non-software tasks, including:

  1. I am standing for election to the UK Worker Co-operative Council. Thank you to software.coop for the nomination and help. Voters can ask me questions on the uk.coop site.
  2. I was renominated to Kewstoke Parish Council and even though there’s no contest (just enough candidates to fill the council), I’ve another 16 pages of legally-required forms to complete to take up office. I hate bureaucracy and I think it deters a lot of good people from helping their villages.
  3. I’m contemplating standing in the co-operative group area committee elections again.

So, I’m far from idle. I’m still developing software for clients of our co-op but not finding time to write about it just now. Maybe this would be more interesting to readers: I’ve moved my wifi antenna out of the metal box it’s been in for a while. Now it covers a half-decent area, I’m looking at installing CoovaAP to offer some free public access wifi while trying to limit the risk of illegal activity. Would you do it? Do you run a public wifi point? What should I watch out for?

Syndicated 2011-05-03 12:22:08 from Software Cooperative News

Kilman IT Services social engineering phone call attack

I just received a strange call. Basically, someone phoned me up and tried to convince me to change my computer’s settings. They called my direct line (not the co-op switchboard), so I think they might be calling other numbers in the Weston-super-Mare area. Watch out for this attack.

I’d heard about these calls from Box Bush Farm a year or so ago, but this is the first one I’ve had. They introduced themselves as calling from “Kilman IT Services” (if I heard it correctly – I didn’t find it in a web search, so hopefully they’re not defaming a real company) and say they’re calling about the critical error that I reported from my computer (I guess they mean the dialogue that some applications pop up when they crash). I said something non-commital like “riiight” and they continued.

Apparently, that error has been registered in my computer’s files and could cause damage at any time! So, they need me to edit my computer’s registers to remove the error. Then they started trying to talk me through the process of running regedit. I’m guessing the changes would have allowed them to control a Windows computer somehow.

At this point, I introduced myself and hung up the phone. Of course, there was no caller ID shown. If only I’d picked up the call from a phone with a record button, I would post a recording! It sounded like a call centre and the caller spoke English with a far-eastern accent, but of course it could be from anywhere.

This is a crude social engineering attack. Don’t fall for it. As it says on Get Safe Online: “How to spot social engineering: You get an unexpected call, email or visit from a technical support person”. Better yet, make sure you know the names of your tech support providers and refer any unsolicited repair calls to them. I think real IT services would talk to your lead support provider.

This sort of obnoxiousness is part of the reason why our co-op doesn’t publish our client list. I’m posting this mainly so if anyone searches for “Kilman IT Services” they’ll find details of the call.

Syndicated 2011-04-06 18:38:44 from Software Cooperative News

Windows 7 Bites Your Files?

A new comment on the Samsung N150 Ubuntu Netbook Remix reminded me that maybe I should post this here:

I’ve just seen a report of lost files in a dual-boot Windows 7 situation. One suggestion is that you shouldn’t suspend Windows, boot GNU, edit files on the Windows disks, shutdown GNU, then resume Windows.

I’ve not dual-booted for over a decade, but friends and clients do and they’re slowly moving to Windows 7 as it comes on new PCs. Is this a new twist on the old Windows-expects-one-user-at-a-time sharing problems, perhaps?

Syndicated 2011-04-05 04:41:21 from Software Cooperative News

#Budget11 – one #coops response

I’ve posted #Budget11 – one #coops response on UK.coop because it’s a bit long and I doubt many of the people reading this through software-related sites will want to read it. If you’re interested in UK co-ops and the budget, click through to read points including:

  • it’s a mixed bag for co-op members and not really clear if we win or lose. The BBC reckons individuals will lose about £400 on average.
  • Basically, the business measures which I can understand are bad for co-ops and seem to be aimed at private businesses, but some of the other things might be useful.
  • Co-operatives UK general secretary Ed Mayo asked for changes to employee share ownership annual tax concessions, easier starts for co-operatives and encouragement for grassroots successes. I don’t see any of those in this budget. Do you?

Comment here or there, as you prefer. I’ll read both every day or so for the next little while.

Syndicated 2011-03-23 16:18:30 from Software Cooperative News

#Debian and #KohaILS Conference Planning

This seems an active time for conference planning in two of the projects I like:

  1. KohaCon11 is being planned for Thane, India. Registrations are open and I’m helping to admin the conference system (OCS). If you’d like to talk, submissions are also open now, although how we review and choose has yet to be decided (should be at the next volunteer meeting). If you’d like to sponsor the event, please register as a potential sponsor.
  2. DebConf12’s location will be picked at an IRC meeting today (Tuesday). Bids from Belo Horizonte, Brazil and Managua, Nicaragua are on the web and you are invited to help choose between them.

Are there any other Free and Open Source Software community conferences you’d like to mention?

Syndicated 2011-03-22 05:05:15 from Software Cooperative News

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