1 week till OggCamp 11!!!

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It’s just one short week until OggCamp 11! Each year we’ve done this event, it’s grown. This year has a really special feeling about it.

It’s brilliant that there are people who have taken the event name literally and are camping for the weekend. Hopefully the weather will favour them! The Farnham Maltings venue has a really nice feel to it and is ideally located for the park and pubs. The attendees at OggCamp really make the event what it is and the best bit (well, one of them) as an organiser is seeing everyone arriving at the venue on Saturday morning!

We’ve got three stages, two of which are being run as an unconference. That means that the wonderful OggCampers volunteer talks and others vote for the ones they’d like to see most! We’ve had some really great talks submitted this way in the past. It sounds a bit chaotic and it is, but it works! We’ll be using CampFire Manager by Jon Spriggs to schedule these talks for the first time this year so you’ll be able to propose and vote for talks by txt msg and see the schedule up on the digital displays around the venue.

Our main stage schedule is basically complete. The Ubuntu Podcast team will be joining forces with the Linux Outlaws for the traditional live podcast recording. There will be a panel discussion and a raffle (of course) too! Our wonderful main stage speakers include:

We’ve got some exhibitors, including

We’ve also got some surprises planned for the weekend which you’ll only find out about by being there. If you want to come along and join in some or all of the weekend’s activities, you can. It’s free. That’s right, it doesn’t cost a penny. There are a few tickets left and you can get your hands on them here: http://oggcamp11.eventbrite.com

It’s free thanks to our lovely sponsors:

This week is always the quickest of the whole process. Before we know it we’ll be standing in the William Cobbett pub sharing a drink or two with the lovely OggCampers on Friday night and won’t touch the ground until after the Sunday night drinks! The plan for the weekend (and lots more information) is available on the OggCamp website.

One of the best parts of the weekend is meeting people who listen to the show, so please say hello! See you there!

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Ubuntu UK Podcast – Season 4: Listen along!

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Hello, and welcome to the Ubuntu UK Podcast! It’s Tuesday the 1st of March 2011 and with me this week are….

And with (something like) that, this Tuesday at 8.30pm (UK time), we’ll be kicking off Season 4 of the Ubuntu-UK Podcast. And you can listen along. Live.

Regular listeners might be aware that we attempted a couple of episodes live last season. It mostly seemed to work. The weak excuse for broadband in Studio A held up well enough that we’re going to give it a go properly. So every two weeks, you can listen along with us live on the Internet.

While you listen, please join us in the chat room, on Twitter or identi.ca and offer feedback and other contributions as we go.

If you’re new to UUPC, it’s a one-hour Internet radio show on which we mostly talk about stuff relating to computing and the world of Open Source Software. If you can’t listen live on Tuesdays, you can download the show as a podcast from our website or from iTunes. We’ve been called “the Radio 4 of Linux podcasts” – basically, we’re family-friendly (no swearing) so you can listen around the house or in the car. We like to think we’re entertaining and a bit humorous. And we drink tea and eat cake when we can (though not while we’re talking!).

If you’re curious, have a listen to a past episode or to Tony’s Episode 0 teaser which he released last week.

See you Tuesday for:

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OggCamp10 – Liverpool, City of Culture

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Well, we’re just two weeks away from OggCamp10. It’s all happening in Liverpool on May Bank Holiday weekend. And it’s all looking very exciting!

I went to visit OggCamp10 venue The Black-e this afternoon with Dan and it’s really cool! It’s right in the centre of Liverpool and right next to the massive and brightly coloured Chinatown arch, the entrance to the oldest Chinatown in Europe. The Main Stage is a lovely big room on the upstairs, Stage 2 and 3 are in the basement, and the exhibition/chillout area is on the ground floor by the entrance. We’re planning to have conference wifi too, supplied by one of our sponsors, The Linux Emporium.

The Black-e

After spending longer than planned roaming The Black-e and trying to imagine it filled with people, we walked 5 minutes down the way to Studio 2, the bar for Saturday night. Studio 2 is the “studio where Coldplay, Barry Manilow, Take That, Spice Girls & Diana Ross recorded” but is now converted into a rather unique-looking bar with food. The building is still a proper recording studio though and, in Studio 2, the padded doors remain, as does the glass window between rooms, and separate recording booths. The bar will be available from 6pm until 2am and the chef will stay on in the early part of the evening so that we can buy food there.

Studio 2 bar

And finally, there’s Liverpool itself. I’ve had various slightly doubtful enquiries about whether it’s worth going to Liverpool (especially if it’s quite a way to travel). I’ve been to Liverpool a few times in my life and I think it’s a really cool city nowadays.

Liverpool

As the 2008 City of Culture, Liverpool has been much regenerated over the past few years and is a really interesting place to be. Lots to see as a visitor, like the big wheel down by the docks, Albert Docks themselves, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, food at the old Bluecoat School…

Bluecoat Centre

…and not forgetting the rather random SuperLambBanana, an “unusual artwork [that] was created to warn of the dangers of genetically modified food, whilst being appropriate to the city of Liverpool due to the port’s rich history in the trade of lambs and the import of bananas”,  and the 125 mini SLBs that have been sponsored by local (and not-so-local) businesses and are mostly located around the city just waiting to be found–including near the OggCamp10 venue:

mini SuperLambBananas

And of course there’s loads of good food (including good Chinese restaurants right by the venue), lots of shopping down the road, and, if today’s anything to go by, lots of sunshine too.

p.s. Thanks to Dan Lynch for the first photo, and to my Mum for the last three.

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Electricity monitoring with Christmas lights and Arduino

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This was my geeky Christmas project:

What’s happening in the video…

The red/orange lights flash faster when the electricity usage in my house increase. The green/blue lights flash faster when the electricity usage in my Mum’s house increases (though in the video, the usage stays at a constant level so the lights don’t speed up).

Initially, the lights are flashing at the default reading of 1 kW. Then as the electricity usage levels vary, the red/orange lights start to flash out of sync with the green/blue lights. After a short time, though, I switch the kettle on (you can just about hear it in the background!) and you can see the red/orange lights start to flash a lot more quickly (as the kettle takes about 3 kW on top of whatever the current reading is). The lights slow down again as the kettle switches off.

How does it work?

In my house I have a Current Cost monitor, which reads the live power usage of the house and publishes it (using IBM messaging protocol MQTT) to a server on the Internet. An application on my laptop (to which my Arduino – small circuit board with a processor on it – is connected) subscribes to the readings in real time and passes the information to the Arduino. The Arduino does some calculations to convert the readings to speed of flashing so that the higher the reading, the faster the lights flash. The Arduino uses that speed calculation to control the relay switches connected to the Arduino, which in turn control the power to the lights – when the relay allows power to the lights, the lights come on; when the relay cuts the power to the lights, the lights go off, and so on.

This slideshow on Slideshare shows the overall connections between all the parts, and some pretty pictures:

Update:

This project got a brief mention in an Imperica article: “A colleague of Piper has built a Christmas lights application using MQTT and Arduino, with the lights changing colour according to energy use in the house.”

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OggCamp – Part 1: It’s all in the planning…

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Two weekends ago, we were back in Wolverhampton for the last ever LugRadio Live rock conference. After 5 years of the fortnightly LugRadio podcast, last Summer, the presenters called it a day and announced that LugRadio Live UK 08 (July 2008) would be the last ever LugRadio Live.

And then they agreed to do another last ever LugRadio Live – in October 2009. And it really is the last ever this time. It was, as usual, a brilliant event with some great talks (including Matthew Paul Thomas (@mpt) on reporting usability bugs in Ubuntu, and Gervase Markam on his first computer program) and the premiere of Tony’s Don’t Listen Alone documentary about LugRadio; all followed by a highly amusing geek kareoke in the basement of the Connaught Hotel in the evening.

It was, however, unlike previous LugRadio Lives, a one-day event. So the Ubuntu-UK Podcast and the Linux Outlaws podcast teams joined forces to put on a second one-day event, OggCamp, on the Sunday.

Venue

Because we had absolutely no idea, at the start, how many people might be interested in coming, Tony did some hunting around for venues but came to the conclusion that the official LRL hotel, the Connaught, would be best. And it would be free. That way, LRL attendees could stick around in Wolverhampton for a few hours more and nurse their hangovers in company.

I just found an email Tony sent to the OggCamp gang back in July:

In the interests of making it easy to organise…, I was thinking that some sort of unconference…would be best. We’d need to agree (and fund) a venue with ‘net access and set up some sort of website, but that should be about it. And a pithy title, we’d need a pithy title.

And that’s where it started.

Tony booked the venue, three conference rooms in the Connaught, on the collective understanding that we may never see that money again but also the hope that enough people would stick around after LRL that we’d have a respectable number of people turn up out of curiosity.

Money

As I say, the OggCamp team of seven people (Tony, Ciemon, Popey, Daviey, and me from UUPC, and Fab and Dan from LO) agreed that the venue cost would be shared between us and we accepted that we may never recoup it. But if we could recoup the costs, then we would. Also (and moreover), we wanted the day to be a little less spartan than just three conference rooms in a hotel. So we contacted people who we thought might be interested in sponsoring OggCamp, hoping that we might be able to get someone to pay for things like free soft drinks or tea/coffee for attendees throughout the day. And souvenir mugs to put the tea in.

In the end, we couldn’t provide hot drinks but the venue were fine about us bringing loads of soft drinks. Andy Smith from Bitfolk offered to sponsor the drinks. And then a couple of our sponsors said they could lend us enough digital projectors between them that we could have one in each room plus one for a TwitterFall display. It was starting to look like this could turn into something.

Over the following weeks, we got an incredible response from people and companies interested in sponsoring this brand new event. (The full list of sponsors is on the website.) By the time we got to LRL/OggCamp weekend, we had gained enough sponsorship money to cover all the costs we had incurred apart from the venue hire itself. This included things like the free drinks and stationery (little things like a cash tin and bucket for voluntary donations if they were made, and marker pens, paper, and sticky notes for the schedule sign-up grid).

The OggCamp mugs

We had also all agreed that we’d really really like to have the OggCamp mugs. So when we knew what sponsorship money we had, Dan found a company who could print Fab’s design on to mugs and deliver them to Popey’s in time for OggCamp weekend. We worked out that if we sold some of the mugs, we could make back the last bit of non-venue money and, if we sold a lot, we could start to make a dent in the venue hire. At any rate, we could give free mugs to the people who volunteered to help out on the day as crew, and we could each have one as a souvenir whatever happened. :)

Several of our sponsors had given us material prizes, like a couple of Viglen MPC-Ls (mini, low-powered computers), some Ubuntu laptop bags and hoodies, and an Arduino Mega. We hit on a great idea that would distribute the prizes in an interesting way and might help us pay for the venue: we’d have a raffle.

I’m not sure whether an Open Source event has ever taken the village fete approach to fundraising before but it seemed the perfect solution for us. So into our stationery stash went a book of 1000 raffle tickets.

Website

oggcamp-badge-alternate

Meanwhile, Fab was getting us all sorted in the digital world. He speedily knocked up an OggCamp website and a very cool logo, as well as some digital badges for us all and others to strategically place in blog posts to publicise the event. Somewhere along the way we’d had a vote on names and OggCamp came out on top – it fitted the ‘pithy title’ requirement, and it chimed nicely with the fact that the two podcasts focus on the open source world and both release a .ogg (open standard) format of their episodes (the ‘camp’ part nods to the unconference/barcamp style of scheduling we were planning to adopt).

Very early on, before anyone could back out, Fab also registered an @oggcamp account on both Twitter and Identica so that we could start tweeting and denting about it.

Research

Next, Tony, Daviey, and I figured we could do with finding out a bit more about how this unconference/barcamp lark works in practice. So we used it as an excuse to nip over to Dublin to attend Laura Czajkowski’s one-day OssBarCamp. Although Laura hadn’t gone for the full unscheduled unconference event, it gave us a good idea of what you can achieve in terms of a community event on a reasonably small budget and lots of enthusiasm and community spirit.

Meanwhile, Tony was also joining regular LRL planning calls because, as in previous years, he was in charge of the AV crew for that event (sound, videoing talks, making sure speakers’ laptops work). So he was building on his insight into how the seasoned LRL organisers did things. Also, we’d all attended LRL several times, and most of us had crewed for LRL at least once. So we had that experience in hand at least.

Unfortunately, the one thing we really couldn’t research, because of the lack of time and the distance from Hampshire to Wolverhampton, was the venue itself. Tony had had to base the booking on disjointed email discussions with the hotel and printed room dimensions. All we knew was that what would become Room 1 was on the fourth floor (fifth floor if you’re in the U.S.) and the two smaller Rooms 2 & 3 were on the first floor (second floor). That separation made us slightly nervous but the hotel assured us that there was a lift right by the rooms so we envisaged people being able to nip up and down between sessions without too much trouble.

Marketing

As I’ve mentioned already, Fab got us Twitter and Identica accounts early on, as well as the OggCamp website so that we could post details about the venue and plans as we got them. We also set up a Facebook event page, which turned out really useful, if only by giving us a sense of the order of magnitude we should expect in terms of numbers (though even Facebook underestimated in the end).

We also recorded a cheesy but fun trailer to play on the podcasts to advertise OggCamp. One late night after a UUPC recording at Popey’s house, we each recorded a script that the Dan had written. Dan then produced the trailer that features in each of the episodes of UUPC and LO in the last few weeks up to OggCamp weekend.

Probably (at a guess) the most effective marketing was by the lovely LugRadio guys themselves who gave us a place on the LRL Weekend page of their website. We certainly got a few emails at the end of September from disappointed LRL fans who couldn’t get tickets for that event and wanted to let us know either that they couldn’t come to OggCamp because they hadn’t got tickets for LRL or that they would come to OggCamp despite not having tickets for LRL and could we guarantee them entry after travelling so far? We did also get emails, tweets, and dents from people who were planning to come to both events or even just for OggCamp anyway. Which was really encouraging.

We’d been pimping the event on each of the podcasts from the time we had confirmed the venue, and both podcasts had had positive feedback from listeners about the event. On the whole, we’d estimated that between the two podcasts (in particular the Linux Outlaws podcast which, like LugRadio, has an active online community based around the podcast – although UUPC has a large listener base, it was hard to know how much of our fairly diverse listenership would make the trip to Wolverhampton), we could probably rustle up at least 50 people.

By the end of September, more than 60 people had signed up to the Facebook event page to say that they would attend. Althought that’s no guarantee at all, it did suggest that we’d get a good attendance. LRL by this time, though, had given out more than 200 tickets. So we knew there’d be maybe 200 geeks in Wolverhampton on the morning of OggCamp, and while we weren’t expecting them all to stay on for OggCamp by any means, there was the possibility that they might! Our maximum capacity was 170. And we knew there were people who were coming only to OggCamp on the Sunday.

LRL at least knew that they were oversubscribed and were able to say ‘no ticket, no entry’. We of course had no idea how many might turn up and wouldn’t know until the morning itself. We did start to get a little nervous at this point about having too many people turn up instead of too few. Which is kindof a nice situation to be in but also not.

In saner moments, though, we figured we could possibly get about 100 people. Which would be a very nice, and very satisfying, number. Even more so if they each bought a mug so that we would break even and so that we wouldn’t have stacks of OggCamp mugs left over to store indefinitely in someone’s house.
OggCamp ad in Linux Format

And finally, our most impressive marketing came courtesy of Linux Format magazine who kindly ran a free full-page ad for OggCamp. Unbeknownst to us, they also featured us in their Community News column on the opposite page from the advert. Which was all very cool and exciting.

The final week

Aside from Tony (who’d been organising AV stuff for LRL in tandem and was, therefore, very conscious of the LRL/OggCamp weekend moving ever closer), this was when it things got really busy. All the big things (apart from when Daviey’s new baby would make an already overdue appearance) were fine (Dan had AV sorted, Tony had the venue, Fab’s design work was all done, the mugs had turned up in time and were now stacked next to the trays of soft drinks cans at Popey’s, the UUPC team all had new t-shirts and they’d arrived at Ciemon’s in plenty of time) but there were still a few things left to sort out.

So that week, most of my evenings were spent re-learning how to use Scribus and creating, with Popey over IRC and email, a set of direction signs (reversible arrow design idea ‘acquired’ from FOSDEM), signs to warn people that they may be photographed and/or recorded and not to hurt themselves while at OggCamp. As we’d not seen the venue layout, we had no idea how many we’d need so Ciemon and I just printed *a lot*. Ciemon also knocked up some cool CREW badges so that the voluntary crew members would be identifiable.

Fab came over to the UK early to do a live recording of Linux Outlaws with Dan (they’ve only met a few times in person; the first time was only last year at LugRadio Live).

And then it was just a case of packing and hoping that we hadn’t missed anything really important.

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