In the news

It’s always a little embarrassing when you find yourself in the news, Public sector catches wikimania. I was interviewed back in December about OSS Watch’s Wiki. Freelance writer for The Guardian Steve Mathieson was interested in why we had gone down this route and how we were planning to avoid some of the problems Wikipedia was experiencing on trust issues.

To be honest, the interview took place on the day before we left for Canada for Christmas, so I’d largely forgotten about it when I was contacted by the photo desk at The Guardian in January and asked to make myself available for a photo shoot. Get real! But then the article failed to appear in January. So I forgot about it again.

Then yesterday, after a long but enjoyable advisory committee meeting, I found an email in my inbox from Steve letting me know that the article had come out. No photo of me (thank heavens!) but a really nice piece. Good for OSS Watch, good for JISC (our funders), good for Oxford University (I think).

Still, a little embarrassing though 🙂

ReportTool – setting up a project site

I am assisting my friend, Steve Butterfill, in setting up a project site for a software application he wrote called ReportTool. Steve’s plan is to eventually release ReportTool under an open source licence. My job is to help him think through the process involved, as well as pitching in to help on practical things like writing web pages and participating on mailing lists and such.

Heavens, there is such a lot to do. Even for the smallest of projects. First impressions, of course, are important. So we want to get as much right before the site is announced to its potential user/developer community.

A million and one things to do

Sometime it feels like I’ve got a million and one things to do. So much in fact that I can’t face doing any of it. It feels like that right now.

The only solution I’ve found effective is to narrow down to one manageable item on the list and tackle that one, ignoring everything else. Get that one item done no matter what.

This has two benefits. First, I at least get one thing done – so one less item on the list. Second, I persuade myself that I don’t need to throw up my hands; I can do everything, I just need to do it one thing at a time.

Today: prep for OSS Watch’s advisory committee meeting.

Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Consultancy – setting up a website

Does it count as consultancy if it is for your brother-in-law and you are doing it for free? I suppose it does.

Kathy mentioned that Roy and Kereny might like some help setting up a site to promote Kereny’s business, Mexico Rico. I would definitely like to help, if I can. I have set up sites for myself in the past, but I’m no expert.

The site needs to be registered in Canada since Mexico Rico is based in Hamilton, Ontario. I have checked on the domain name that Kereny would like and it appears to be available. Next up – find a suitable webhosting company and then set up an initial page for the site. On the former, I am looking at MonsterHosting.ca

I need to set up the site in such a way that Roy and Kereny can take over management of it. This, despite the fact that neither have much experience with writing websites. So things need to be straightforward – which is good because those are just the kind of websites I prefer.

I will also want to stick to using free and open source software. Not just because it is the right thing to do. But also because I will need to provide software for Roy and Kereny’s management and further development of the site. If I provide them with open source tools, at least I know it will not cost them anything, and I can ensure that I will have exactly the same software available to me so that I can give them ongoing support with the software they are using.

Getting involved with open source software

For some time now I have been working for OSS Watch, which is the national advisory service on free and open source software for universities and colleges in the United Kingdom. It sounds grand, and in many ways it is. Our work stretches from the highest levels of national and european policy to the most practical kinds of advice for staff at universities who want to release their software under an open source licence. I enjoy it. I ought to, I’m the manager.

The strange thing is that I do not have a background as a programmer. Once, in long ago days, I was a philosopher. Latterly I became a communications manager in a digital research environment. This led in time to my working with OSS Watch, initially to help this national service shape its communications package, more recently to manage the service as a whole.

Talk about what you know, they say. So at first I concentrated my public presentations for OSS Watch simply on what OSS Watch is, or hoped to be. As a brand new advisory service there was plenty of work to do in this area. Being a quick study, I was also soon able to converse at length on the nature of free and open source software, with a concentration on copyright and licensing matters, both of which are vital to any understanding of open source software.

The theory of free and open source software is not enough, of course. You have to get your hands dirty. I began by using open source applications on my desktop – email client, web browser, office suite and more. Soon I was able to speak with some authority on a variety of open source applications. I then moved on to exploring the variety of GNU/Linux distributions available, installing at one time or another Mandrake (now Mandriva), Suse, Fedora Core, Knoppix, Debian, and Ubuntu. I have probably installed some variety of Linux more than 50 times in the past year or two. Gradually I have learned a thing or two.

Still, it’s not enough. There is no way to avoid the fact that to really get involved with open source software just means to get involved in open source software development. So how does a non-programmer with a broad theoretical knowledge of free and open source software development and deployment get involved in the practical aspects of open source development?

I’ll find out the hard way by doing it.

I will record what I learn here as I go along.