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Andy Smith: Diversity at OggCamp comment

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 22:57

There’s an interesting post about diversity at a tech conference. It is itself a response to a number of tweets by an attendee, so you should read both those things, and probably all of the other comments first.

I’ve now tried twice to add a comment to this article, but each time my comment disappears into the ether. Mark tells me that he is not seeing the comments, i.e. they are not being held for moderation, so I just assume some bit of tech somewhere is failing. Yes, I do get the captcha challenge thing and do complete it successfully. Blog comment systems are awful aren’t they?

So anyway, here’s the most recent version of the comment I tried to add:

I originally wrote this comment on the evening of the 6th, but the blog appears to have eaten it, and I no longer have a copy of it so I’ll have to try to re-type it from memory. Also since then I note a number of other comments which are highly opposed to what I wrote, so you’ll have to take my word for it that this is genuine comment and not an attempt to cause strife.

I do not believe that OggCamp specifically has a problem and I agree with much of what Mark has written, particularly that the unconference format is not in fact used to excuse lack of diversity (though it can be, and doubtless will be, by someone). I do believe that OggCamp has tried quite hard to be welcoming to all, and in many ways has succeeded. There seems to be a slightly larger percentage of female attendees at OggCamp compared to other tech conferences I have been to. I feel strongly that there is a larger percentage of female speakers at OggCamp.

I do however believe the widespread observation that tech conferences and tech in general do have a problem with attracting people who aren’t white males. I do believe that any group organising a conference are obligated to try to fix this, which means that the organisers of OggCamp are.

Stating that there is no such problem and that everyone is welcome is not going to fix it. Clearly there is a problem here, there’s people reporting that there’s a problem and they don’t think you’re doing all that you could do to be welcoming. There’s a word for telling people who say they’re subject to an unwelcoming environment that they in fact are wrong about how they feel, and I’d really like for this not to go there.

However I do not think that many of the things that Mark has proposed will actually make any difference, as well-intentioned as they are. To help improve matters I think that OggCamp should do some things that Mark (and many others in these comments, apparently) will not like.

I am in favour of positive reinforcement / affirmative action / speaker quotas / whatever you want to refer to it as, as part of a diversity statement. Like, aspirational. To be regarded as a sort of “could do better” if it wasn’t achieved. I believe it has shown to be effective.

My first suggestion is to have some sort of diversity goal, perhaps one like, “ideally at least one largest-stage slot per day will be taken by a person who is not a white male”. If we assume one largest stage, two slots each on morning and afternoon, that’s four per day so that’s aiming for 25% main stage representation of speakers who aren’t white males. I believe the gender split alone (before we consider race or other marginalised attributes) in the tech industry is something like 80/20 so this doesn’t sound outrageous.

My second suggestion—and I feel this is possibly more important than the first—is to get more diversity in the group of people selecting the invited speakers. I think a bunch of white males (like myself) sitting about pontificating about diversity isn’t very much better than not doing anything at all. Put those decisions into the hands of the demographic we are trying to encourage.

So, I suggest asking zenaynay to speak at the next OggCamp, and I suggest asking zenaynay if they know any other people who aren’t white males who would like to speak at a future OggCamp.

I do not think that merely marketing OggCamp in more places will fix much. People that aren’t white males tend to be put off from speaking at events like OggCamp and the only way to change their minds is to directly contact them. More diverse speakers will lead to more diverse attendees.

In the same vein, there’s the code of conduct issue. We tend to believe that we are all really nice guys doing the best we can; we would never offend or upset anyone, we would never exclude anyone. The thing is, people who aren’t like us have a very different experience of the world. So just saying that we’re not like that isn’t really enough. Codes of conduct for conferences are a good idea for this reason. Many people who are not white males will not attend a conference that doesn’t have one, because they feel like there is no commitment there and they’re not welcome (or in many cases, safe).

Ashe Dryden compiled a useful page of tips for increasing diversity at tech conferences. If there is genuine desire to do this then I think you have to come up with a great counter-argument as to why it isn’t worth trying the things that Ashe Dryden has said have worked for others. Codes of conduct and diversity goals are in there. As is personally inviting speakers.

“We don’t have time to run a full CFP process” seems like one of the stronger counter-arguments to all of this, to which I think there are two answers:

  1. Don’t bother then; nothing changes.
  2. Try to find volunteers to do it for you; something may change.

Shanley Kane wrote a great collection of essays called Your Startup is Broken. Of course this is about startups (and a US-centric slant, too) not conferences, but it is a great read nontheless and touches upon all the sorts of issues that are relevant here. I really recommend it. It’s only $10.

Finally, I feel that many of the commentors are being a little too defensive. Try to take it as an indictment of the tech sector, not an indictment of OggCamp, and try to use it as feedback to improve things.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Writing your own e-books is useful

Wed, 08/10/2014 - 20:03

Before our recent trip to Poland I took the time to create my own e-book, containing the names/addresses of people to whom we wanted to send postcards.

Authoring ebooks is simple, and this was a useful use. (Ordinarily I'd have my contacts on my phone, but I deliberately left it at home ..)

I did mean to copy and paste some notes from wikipedia about transport, tourist destinations, etc, into a brief guide. But I forgot.

In other news the toy virtual machine I hacked together got a decent series of updates, allowing you to embed it and add your own custom opcode(s) easily. That was neat, and fell out naturely from the switch to using function-pointers for the opcode implementation.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Before I forget, a simple virtual machine

Sun, 05/10/2014 - 09:34

Before I forget I had meant to write about a toy virtual machine which I'ce been playing with.

It is register-based with ten registers, each of which can hold either a string or int, and there are enough instructions to make it fun to use.

I didn't go overboard and write a complete grammer, or a real compiler, but I did do enough that you can compile and execute obvious programs.

First compile from the source to the bytecodes:

$ ./compiler examples/loop.in

Mmm bytecodes are fun:

$ xxd ./examples/loop.raw 0000000: 3001 1943 6f75 6e74 696e 6720 6672 6f6d 0..Counting from 0000010: 2074 656e 2074 6f20 7a65 726f 3101 0101 ten to zero1... 0000020: 0a00 0102 0100 2201 0102 0201 1226 0030 ......"......&.0 0000030: 0104 446f 6e65 3101 00 ..Done1..

Now the compiled program can be executed:

$ ./simple-vm ./examples/loop.raw [stdout] register R01 = Counting from ten to zero [stdout] register R01 = 9 [Hex:0009] [stdout] register R01 = 8 [Hex:0008] [stdout] register R01 = 7 [Hex:0007] [stdout] register R01 = 6 [Hex:0006] [stdout] register R01 = 5 [Hex:0005] [stdout] register R01 = 4 [Hex:0004] [stdout] register R01 = 3 [Hex:0003] [stdout] register R01 = 2 [Hex:0002] [stdout] register R01 = 1 [Hex:0001] [stdout] register R01 = 0 [Hex:0000] [stdout] register R01 = Done

There could be more operations added, but I'm pleased with the general behaviour, and embedding is trivial. The only two things that make this even remotely interesting are:

  • Most toy virtual machines don't cope with labels and jumps. This does.
    • Even though it was a real pain to go patching up the offsets.
    • Having labels be callable before they're defined is pretty mandatory in practice.
  • Most toy virtual machines don't allow integers and strings to be stored in registers.
    • Now I've done that I'm not 100% sure its a good idea.

Anyway that concludes todays computer-fun.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Kraków was nice

Sat, 04/10/2014 - 13:20

We returned safely from Kraków, despite a somewhat turbulent flight home.

There were many pictures taken, but thus far I've only posted a random night-time shot. Perhaps more will appear in the future.

In other news I've just made a new release of the chronicle blog compiler, So 5.0.7 should shortly appear on CPAN.

The release contains a bunch of minor fixes, and some new facilities relating to templates.

It seems likely that in the future there will be the ability to create "static pages" along with the blog-entries, tag-clouds & etc. The suggestion was raised on the github issue tracker and as a proof of concept I hacked up a solution which works entirely via the chronicle plugin-system, proving that the new development work wasn't a waste of time - especially when combined with the significant speedups in the new codebase.

(ObRandom: Mailed the Debian package-mmaintainer to see if there was interest in changing. Also mailed a couple of people I know who are using the old code to see if they had comments on the new code, or had any compatibility issues. No replies from either, yet. *shrugs*)

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Alan Pope: XDA Developer Conference 2014

Wed, 01/10/2014 - 11:09

The XDA Developer community had its second conference last weekend, this time in Manchester, UK. We were asked to sponsor the event and were happy to do so. I went along with Daniel Holbach from the Community Team and Ondrej Kubik from the Phone Delivery Team at Canonical.

This was my first non-Ubuntu conference for a while, so it was interesting for me to meet people from so many different projects. As well as us representing Ubuntu Phone, there were guys from the Jolla project showing off SailfishOS and their handset and ports. Asa Dotzler was also there to represent Mozilla & FirefoxOS.

Daniel did a small Ubuntu app development workshop which enabled us to learn a lot from our materials and process around App Dev Schools which we’ll feed back to later sessions. Ondrej gave a talk to a packed room about hardware bring-up and porting Ubuntu to other devices. It was well receieved and explained the platform nicely. I talked about the history of Ubuntu phone and what the future might hold.

There were other sponsor booths including big names like nVidia showing off the Sheild tablet and Sony demonstrating their rather bizarre Smart EyeGlass technology. Oppo and OnePlus had plenty of devices to lust after too including giant phones with beautiful displays. I enjoyed a bunch of the talks including MediaTek making a big announcement, and demonstrating their new LinkIT One platform.

The ~200 attendees were mostly pretty geeky guys whose ages ranged from 15 to 50. There were Android developers, ROM maintainers, hardware hackers and tech enthusiasts who all seemed very friendly and open to discuss all kinds of tech subjects at every opportunity.

One thing I’d not seen at other conferences which was big at XDA:DevCon was the hardware give-aways. The organisers had obtained a lot of tech from the sponsors to give away. This ranged from phone covers through bluetooth speakers, mobile printers, hardware hacking kits through to phones, smart watches & tablets, including an Oppo Find 7, pebble watch and nVidia Sheild & controller. These were often handed out as a ‘reward’ for attendees asking good questions, or as (free) raffle prizes. It certainly kept everyone on their toes and happy! I was delighted to see an Ubuntu community member get the Oppo Find 7 I was rewarded with an Anker MP141 Portable Bluetooth Speaker during one talk for some reason

On the whole I found the conference to be an incredibly friendly, well organised event. There was plenty of food and drink at break times and coffee and snacks in between with relaxing beers in the evening. A great conference which I’d certainly go to again.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs