Can Wireless Help Develop a Silicon Cape?

Free Software, Project Mayhem 2 Comments »

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The Silicon Cape in a nutshell

Cape Town is Africa’s own little Silicon Valley, or in some way at least, becoming that. We have many locals who are passionate about technology and what it can do for our country and our continent who are also completely willing to share their knowledge and help and teach others while at the same time, growing local industry. We have user groups such as the Cape Town Linux Users Group (CLUG) who provide regular talks on technical and beginner Linux topics twice a month. We also have the Cape Town Python Users Group (CTPUG), the Cape Town Ruby Brigade and the Cape Town Wireless Users Group (CTWUG) on which I’ll expand later. These are just a few of the local technology volunteer support groups we have and there are much more. There are also many technology companies that have development offices here, such as, Yola and Thawte (which was also founded in Cape Town). There’s always new technology and software startups all the time and there’s a few local venture capital firms that focus specifically on technology funding. A group of people who are passionate about making Cape Town more of a local Silicon Valley created the organisation called Silicon Cape, which aims to bring together local entrepreneurs and geeks to help make the Silicon Cape vision a realA large, free and open network that connects the city could do wonders for our local technology development.ity. Silicon Cape has also attracted interest from our former mayor and now the premier of our province, Helen Zille who realises how important technology is to our local economical development.

Cape Town Wireless Users Group

I joined CTWUG around 4 years ago, it used to be just small pockets of people connecting to each other, later these smaller groups were connected and today, CTWUG covers large parts of Cape Town where you can reach any part of the network from any node. It has even extended outside of the larger Cape Town area into areas such as Stellenbosch and there’s also a vibrant community in Paarl that are connected to each other and hopefully some day, directly to the rest of the WUG.

Many are quick to dismiss Wireless User Groups as networks where people just share files and pirate content. There is certainly a lot of file sharing happening on the WUG, and in some cases there will be some piracy, but as with any big network it’s almost impossible to police. The WUG does provide a lot more than file-sharing though. Across South Africa, Internet is quite expensive and in many cases, prohibitively so. We have many users that don’t have any Internet connection at home, and we don’t explicitly provide any Internet access on the network. Instead, some users run Internet-like services on the WUG. So some users who do have an Internet connection will do things like run an email server that allows users to send and receive e-mail to the rest of the WUG as well as the rest of the world. There’s also a Jabber server that federates with other Jabber servers on the Internet. I run a few services myself. There’s CTWUG Statusnet which is a Statusnet installation that brings microblogging to the WUG, there’s Wugtube which hosts user uploaded video content and also a Big Blue Button installation for video conferencing and chatting. Besides the 3 services I host there’s lots of other services hosted on the network which includes a Facebook clone, a Teamspeak server, many gaming servers, personal wug sites and repositories and CD images for many Linux distributions as well as Windows and OSX updates.

The wug certainly can’t replace an Internet connection completely, but it works great as a secondary network to the Internet and also for people who simply can’t afford an Internet connection. Even for those who do have an Internet connection, there’s still a lot of benefit to getting connected. By installing system updates, for example, you would only get about 419 KB/s on DSL (or at least, that’s what I get on my 4mbps line which is Telkom’s current fastest offering) while installing from the WUG would typically give you up to 1.2 MB/s (and even more) depending one your location and the mirror you’re using. Currently we only have around 500 people actively using the WUG. One of my personal goals is to get schools involved. We have a few hundred schools in Cape Town and most of them have no Internet or often, they have to share a 3GB monthly package among the whole school that typically only the admin staff and some teachers will have access too. Hosting mirrors of Wikipedia, Wikinews and other useful sites, along with the usual WUG services could have great impact for these schools in my opinion. There’s a seperate project for connecting schools together called Schoolwan that connected 35 schools to each other and to a centralised server for content, mail, etc. Even though it’s a really, really cool project, I believe that it would’ve been a lot better if it had decent funding and if the benefits of using a network such as this could be properly introduced with some good cultivation. With CTWUG schools could gain some benefit of connecting to an existing network with existing infrastructure and a large volunteer community. CTWUG has strict rules about pornography and adult content and users who share any such content publicly on the networked are disconnected without any warning.

There’s also a local project called Wizzy Digital Courier which started off as a Sneakernet e-mail service where schools could carry around their e-mail on USB disks and sync up using UUCP. With the Wizzy project also came the concept of a Wizzy server, which would dial-up after 19:00 when phone calls are cheaper and gets the content requested during the day and stores it in a wwwoffle proxy so that users could visit the websites they have requested the previous day. Many Schoolwan schools also had a Wizzy server. One idea is that some of the more resourced schools who have uncapped DSL could share their off-peak bandwidth to get and cache some data for the less-privileged schools using something like a Wizzy server.

There’s a lot I’d like to say on the topic and I’ve only touched a few things here, the point that I’d like to get to is that wide-area wireless networks can be extremely useful in areas where Internet is either slow or expensive, and probably too even so when a good Internet connection is available.

Cape Town to get City-wide Wireless

ITweb reports that there are plans to roll out fiber-backed wireless throughout the city. A R400m (about €41.2m) plan to roll out this fiber network was planned when Helen Zille was still the mayor of Cape Town. This alone will save the city about R90m a year in costs to Telkom and other operators to our municipalities.

There’s little information available on who will be able to access the network or with which networks it will peer with, but it has great potential and I hope that it will grow in to a network that will add value to as many people in the city as possible.

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Antifeatures at Geekdinner Cape Town

Free Software, Project Mayhem 2 Comments »

Tuesday evening I attended Geekdinner Cape Town again, the food was good and it was a nice crowd.


I did a mini-talk on Anti-features. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time but never quite put a label on it. Benjamin “Mako” Hill coined the phrase anti-features and presented it at LinuxConf Australia 2010, I watched the video and thought that it would be a great topic for a Geekdinner.  Geekdinner talks are supposed to be only 5 minutes long, so I tried to get Mako’s ~45 minute talk down to about 6 minutes for the talk. I think it was a bit longer, I went first instead of last so I don’t think it was much of a problem. I haven’t given a talk in ages so I’m quite out of practice, but everyone who talked to me about it afterwards said that they enjoyed it and that it was interesting, so I feel good about it. It’s also one of the few Geekdinner talks that didn’t have any mention of Facebook or Twitter, so I gave myself another 50 points for that :)

You can get Mako’s slides and slide notes from his website, and also the video (which I recommend watching). You can get my slides right here. Stefano took video footage, I’ll paste a link to it once it’s processed.


Joe Botha talked about TrustFabric, his joint-venture with Jonathan Endersby and I believe someone else too where they want to change the way everyone works with personal information. More information on that in these two blog posts.

How to ruin people’s lives on-line

We still needed a 3rd talk so Ben Steenhuizen threw together a talk on how bad people (which he protests heavily that he’s not) can abuse your public data and can make things very difficult for you.

Overall one of my favourite geekdinners, I’ll probably go to the Montreal Geekdinners when I get over to Canada (still waiting on Visa), but I’ll probably be back to catch one of the last Cape Town Geekdinners again towards the end of this year.

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Geekdinner Cape Town: Quarrelsome Quince

Project Mayhem No Comments »

Last night I attended the Quarrelsome Quince Geekdinner (wow it’s the end of November already!?). It was ok. The talks were good, Adrianna Pinska (aka confluence) did very well on the kareoke slideshow which was titled something like “The Winners of Safety at Work” which was a bunch of funny slides of people improvising at work mostly doing dangerous things. She did a great job since the slides were almost too easy since they were funny on their own, but she managed to be really quick on her feet and make up some really good stuff.

DSCN1633_web DSCN1634_web DSCN1638_web

The food at Cafe Max were great and Delheim sponsored the wine. Even though the food and wine was good, I go to the geekdinners more for the geek part than the dinner part. I spent some time catching up with Andy about everything from off-line Wikipedia, tuXlabs, Ubuntu-NGO, Quebec, Canada and the French. I also got some mini-photography lessons from Joe and played with his nice Canon camera (which is why I haven’t took too many shots) but I’m sure he’ll have them up soon. After the geekdinner was officially finished I sat with Jeremy, Simon, Adrianna and Michael a bit, we looked through Jeremy’s xkcd book which was quite cool, besides having all the strips from the xkcd site, it also has lots of cool little puzzles that all fit together. Not sure what happens when you solve them all, but I want one of those books too now! They also talked about some of the problems in their Pyweek game called Rinkhals and somehow listening to them talking about problems in Python is always interesting even when I don’t completely understand. I have a lot going on this weekend but I’ll try to get to the CTPUG meeting tomorrow, I’ve only been to two of the CTPUG meetings before but I’ve always wanted to get more involved.

Oops, drifting a bit off-topic there, the next Geekdinner is at the end of January and if you’re interested you can subscribe to the announce mailing list where the details will be announced. Thanks to all the people who organised it!

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The importance of saying “Hi”

Free Software, Project Mayhem, Rants 20 Comments »

Story time! (Warning: Ramblings and emo ahead)

The only white guy in the room

About two years ago, I thought that it would be a good idea to join the classes at the gym for group sessions rather than just doing all the solo stuff. I checked the available classes, and one class promised to be an extremely fun freestyling dance class (or something like that) with lots of cool music. In my head, that got translated to people doing breakdancing, there being like, a little moshpit somewhere, lots of hot sweaty girls jumping around and into everyone else… well, more like what you’d imagine in a club than at a gym :)

The next day I showed up for the class and just as it started I noticed that I was the only guy there. Besides that, the music was *very* female targeted. I think that’s the most Westlife, Boyzone, *NSYNC, etc (at least it was before Jonas Brothers were around) I ever had to hear in such a short amount of time. Also, there was nothing freestyle about it! It’s like they all knew very specific and elaborate dances and I couldn’t keep up at all and it was mostly embarrassing. Some might find it ammusing, but the most intimidated I’ve ever been was in a room full of women younger than me in (mostly) pink dancing clothes.

Quite often, I’ve been in situations where I’m at a meeting or gathering where I’m the only white person there. This might be when I visit a library in Khayelitsha to help them with their computers, or previously when I did some government work. I’ve never actually had a negative experience in cases like these, but sometimes you become a bit paranoid (and I’m not a paranoid person to begin with). Sometimes I’ve had thoughts like “I hope that comment wasn’t directed at me” and you tend to fine-comb everything that is being said.

When you’re the only one, or in a very small minority that is obviously different from everyone else there, you naturally become a little bit more sensitive. I guess it’s just human nature.


In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, e-mail was a great way of communicating and staying in touch. I also found mailing lists quite handy and learned that because people can’s see and hear you directly, that it often happens that people read it incorrectly, and what might seem like an innocent message may be interpreted as hostile to others. I learned to keep my messages as short as possible and keep the tone as neutral as possible, especially on mailing lists and messages that are sent out to many different people. This didn’t work so well at work though. I’ve had collueges complain before that my e-mails are too formal, and that it makes them feel uncomfortable. It was even mentioned in a performance appraisal on year! I learned that some people, it seems especially extroverts (in the Myers-Briggs kind of way) are much likely to respond faster if you through in a joke or perhaps even mention something non-work related. My style of e-mail drastically changed depending on who I sent it too, and people were generally more happy with me. I drew the line when our marketing person told me that it’s become company policy to send out all e-mails in the font “Arial”. I told him that he’d have my resignation before I ever send out an e-mail in Arial which resulted in a bit of an arguement. He didn’t take it too well. While I didn’t succeed in changing the company policy (I had too many other things on my plate at the time to worry about that) regarding the Arial e-mails, we ended up at least getting permission for our team to send out our e-mails in plain-text.

For some people, receiving an e-mail with formal style and wording is perceived as a kind of passive-aggressiveness. For some people, sending out what is really just a text message in HTML (and especially with a font like Arial) is perceived as clean and proffessional, where anyone with some technical skills will dismiss it as being wasteful and stupid.

Saying Hi

I’ve often heard people (and more women than men) complain that their boss isn’t polite enough. It’s usually something like “When I used to work at Company A, our boss would always come into the office and greet everyone and once a month he’d get everyone together in the office and we’d eat some cake and he’d provide us with some motivation”. In one office space I worked in, our manager was specifically very quiet. It was sometimes so quiet in the office that it made lots of people (including myself) very uncomfortable. Most of the time it didn’t bother me so much, but in that extreme case I could understand what the other people were on about, who were more vocal about the problem. He later had some bad performance reviews from people complaining about his leadership style and he left. He actually did a really good job, his biggest failure was really not saying “Hi!” and “How are you doing?” often enough.

When you’re in a leader position, or a high profile person, people look up to you and they want guidance and reassurance. It’s why we have phenomenons like Bradgelina (the combined name for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) who some people obsess about. When you’re such a person, the slightest negative or positive thing you say can have a *huge* impact on all of those who follow you. I don’t think these people should censor themselves, but they should actively keep in mind that their word hold lots of weight, and that they should use them responsibly.

Mark and the girls

I read on Matt Zimmerman’s blog entry “Explaining to the Girls”. It’s about a comment Mark Shuttleworth gave at LinuxCon I got the video from a comment and his exact words were  “If we can really approach it from the perspective of saying how do we make this just awesome for users, then we’ll, uh, we’ll have have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do”. If I personally heard it like that for the first time, I would certainly interpret it as a very sexist remark. Someone mentioned that he actually meant it as “the girlfriend” or “significant other”. After listening to it again today, I can see how he probably just meant that.

Mark reminds me of that manager I had that didn’t say hi to the other employees. It’s not that he’s a bad person, but I guess it’s kind of hard to dedicate some brain CPU cycles to consider others when you have billions of dollars in the bank to worry about, when you get to travel by personal plane, when you get to take on huge projects such as Ubuntu, etc. When you get to that stage I think you just live on an entirely different level than most other people. What might be a big deal for most becomes trivial and unimportant, the set of problems you have to deal with changes and are on a totally different scale.

I think what he said was quite insensitive, regardless of his intentions. I can imagine a young woman who might have given up a more comfortable career to risk working exclusively on free software, doing the effort to come to LinuxCon just to hear that girls are slow to understand stuff. If Mark just said “We’ll have less trouble explaining what we do to our significant others”, it would already have been a major improvement and he’d also be able to get his message accross better. In my opinion it will probably do Ubuntu some good if he at leasts makes some kind of public statement about this.

From my perspective, it comes back to saying hi, or perhaps more specifically, acknowledging people. Once you’ve done that it’s already easier to keep them in mind and not saying things that are mean and insensitive.

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FSF Launches Windows7sins tomorrow

Free Software, Project Mayhem 20 Comments »

Tomorrow the Free Software Foundation plans to launch the windows7sins campaign, similiar to the BadVista campaign that ran for Windows Vista. From the info-fsf list:

This Wednesday, August 26 at 11am, the Free Software Foundation will be
launching its public awareness campaign, drawing
attention to the threats posed by the adoption of Microsoft's
proprietary operating system. We have a launch event here in Boston on
the Boston Commons from noon until 3pm, and we need everyone in the area
to come along and help out and join in the ceremony as we conduct a
ceremonial trashing of proprietary software.

**We'll be launching our Windows 7 campaign with pomp and fanfare, with
a giant 12 foot trashcan being filled with boxes of proprietary software.**

The event promises to be lots of fun, and with thousands of people
passing through the Boston Commons every day we hope you will help us
connect with the public by handing out information and explaining the
benefits of free software. There will be camera crews and photographers
capturing the event and we will be getting these images up online as
soon as possible on the day.

Let us know you're coming and bring along your friends and work
colleagues - mail [email protected] if you have time to help us set up,
or just turn up at the Boston Commons near the entrance to the Public
Gardens from noon.

If you're not in the Boston area, there will be plenty for you to do to
help us launch the campaign and get the message out. Stay tuned for
upcoming instructions...

Personally I don’t believe much in these campaigns. In my opinion the Free Software Foundation could use their resources much better spreading awareness on Free Software rather than focussing on a proprietary product. I like campaigns like Defective by Design much more, which encourages users to think about things like DRM before purchasing a device and content. A campaign for just saying “boo-hoo, there’s a proprietary product and it’s bad” just seems a bit petty. I think it would be better to focus on less campaigns with higher priority and do them decently, rather than having too many campaigns that don’t do much.

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Women are not crazy

Free Software, Project Mayhem 15 Comments »

… or at least, not any more crazy than any other gender.

Emacs Virgins

I’ve been trying to avoid getting involved in these discussions, but the RMS Female Emacs Virgin “joke” has brought some issues to my attention that I haven’t realised are quite as big as they are. There’s a number of people who actually believe that women are stupid and annoying and that they should stay out of the way in the free software world, and that’s quite disturbing. You would think that people who care about free software are mature to the level where they won’t discrimitate against someone based on gender, race or sexuality.

Some say that Richard Stallman’s joke was innocent and that it wasn’t meant as being discriminating. In my opinion, even if that’s the case, it was wrong to do so. It’s a known fact that there’s a very low ratio between female and male contributors to free software, and doing something that could alienate even a small percentage of female contributors is a big deal. Those who feel that it’s innocent, how would you feel if he specifically said “male emacs virgins”? I think I’ll keep my distance from him anyway.

The Blog From Hell

What brings me to this post is AJ Venter’s Blog From Hell. AJ himself isn’t that important, and I usually manage to ignore him quite efficiently, but when he spews out things like his last entry titled “Women are crazy” I find it highly annoying. He sells himself as being a big proponent and contributor of free software.

Making yourself a representative of a community comes with a great amount of responsibility, when you say something in any context, people will link that to the communities and organisations that you represent, even if you don’t see it that way. When you spew out things like this, it affects something much bigger than yourself. I also ask that you stop aggregating your posts to CLUG Park and other aggregators until you grow up. Saying “ew, girls!” is supposed to get old when you turn 7 already. Women aren’t there just to bring sexual pleasure for men and they’re not all stupid, crazy or useless. Why can’t you at least try to be a grown up? If anything, just for your own sake.

Update: If you can’t access the original post, it’s because AJ has deleted the blog entry. The post is still available as a Facebook note if you would like to read it there.

continuing to be
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Free Software, Politics, Project Mayhem 5 Comments »

Or alternatively titled, “Yes you did”. Thank you America, this was a great speech to wake up to. I hope that it’s just the start of many great things to come.

PS: On CNN they just interviewed a political analyst (didn’t catch his name but I’ll try to get the video), who talked about the Cathedral and Bazaar, and he talked about the Open Source movement and compared Obama to it!

UPDATE: Thanks to Meneer R who provided the link to the YouTube video:

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