By Zac Hatfield-Dodds, Kathy Reid, Amy McLennan
In January 2020, three members of the 3Ai team headed to linux.conf.au (LCA) to meet new people, reconnect with friends, and learn from the Australasian Linux and Open Source community. The conference is run entirely by volunteers, and has been going since 1999, and yes — it’s named after the URL.
We had a fantastic time seeing a mix of talks, participating in tutorials, meeting new people in ‘Birds of a Feather’ sessions, catching up with old friends and making new ones.
The first two days consisted of mini-conferences focusing on documentation, system administration, creative arts, games and free and open source software (FOSS), open instruction set architecture and open education. The remaining days included a wide range of talks and activities which kept us all very busy!
Asking better questions
Many of the talks raised questions that challenge us to think differently about the systems we encounter every day:
- What does it take to make the internet secure (and why do people get upset about it)?
- How can we make web forms more inclusive, particularly for people undergoing gender transition?
- What can we learn from software ‘oh no’ moments, and why haven’t these led to system-wide change?
- What can we do to make internet of things devices more secure as they scale out across the world?
- Are data problems really culture problems?
- What happens if we allow new (electronic) voting systems to be introduced with no accompanying legislative guard rails for assurance, privacy or verification?
- What are the challenges in achieving greater representation of women and other minority groups in technology?
- How does using a computer, desk, mouse and keyboard affect your body and what can you do about it?
- What is digital decay and how fast should data rot?
- Are software engineering fails really ethical or regulatory problems?
- What does it mean to be a good citizen of the open-source community?
- Why are makers of free and open-source software “kind of like surveillance arms dealers” and who is responsible for ensuring the tools made by the open-source community are used responsibly?
- And from our very own Kathy Reid, who presented How many USB ports can you put into a breast prosthetic (and why)?
- Is licencing a legal problem or a technical problem?
- How can robotics and software change the lives of people with disabilities?
- Is security a psychology, interface or programming problem?
- What does it take to keep the internet working and why was it turned off in 1986?
There’s far too much to summarise here, but one particular highlight was our own Kathy Reid, speaking about a project she started as part of our 2019 Masters of Applied Cybernetics: a smart mastectomy prosthetic. It’s a poignant (cancer), hilarious (“how many USB ports can you give me?”), and ultimately uplifting story about computation where few computers have gone before — and the communities of people who made it possible.
The great thing about LCA is that all of the talks are freely available online (links follow the abstracts), so you can check them out in your own living room.
Meanwhile, in 2021, LCA is coming to Canberra, and we’re looking forward to it already! You can subscribe for updates at https://linux.conf.au.
Dr Amy McLennan is a Research Fellow and Zac Hatfield-Dodds is a Researcher at the 3A Institute. Kathy Reid is an open source guru and Masters participant in the #3Aifirstcohort.