As always, there were more sessions at the recently completed triumvirate
of Linux Foundation conferences in Tokyo than can be written up. In fact,
also as usual, there were more sessions available than people to cover
them. The Automotive
Linux Summit Spring, LinuxCon
Japan, and CloudOpen
Japan covered a lot of ground in five days. Here are reports from three presentations at
OSS meetups in Japan
Hiro Yoshioka spoke about the types of open source gatherings that go on in
Japan. He is the technical managing officer for Rakuten, which is a large
internet services company in Japan. Before that, he was the CTO of Miracle
Linux from 2000 to 2008.
The goal of his talk was to encourage other Japanese people in the audience to start
up their own "meetups" and other types of technical meetings and seminars,
applicable anywhere. Organizing these meetings is quite rewarding, and
lots of fun, but it does take some time to do, he said.
Yoshioka used the "kernel code reading party" that he started in Yokohama in
April 1999 as a case study. He wondered if he would be able to read the kernel
source code, so he gathered up some members of the Yokahama Linux Users
Group to create an informal technical seminar to do so. The name of
has stuck, but the group no longer reads kernel source. Instead, they have
presentations on kernel topics, often followed by a "pizza and beer party".
There are numerous advantages to being the organizer of such a meeting, he
said. You get to choose the date, time, and location for the event, as
well as choosing the speakers. When he wants to learn about something in
the kernel, he asks someone who knows about it to speak. Presenters also
gain from the experience because they get to share their ideas in a relaxed
setting. In addition, they can talk about an "immature idea" and get
"great feedback" from those attending. Attendees, of course, get to hear
"rich technical information".
Being the organizer has some downsides, mostly in the amount of time it
takes. The organizer will "need to do everything", Yoshioka said, but
sometimes the community will help out. In order to make the meetings
"sustainable", the value needs to exceed the cost. So either increasing
the value or decreasing the cost are ways to help make the meetings
continue. Finding great speakers is the key to making the value of the
meetings higher, while finding inexpensive meeting places is a good way to
bring down costs.
How to find the time to organize meetings like those he mentioned was one
question from the audience. It is a difficult question, Yoshioka said, but
as with many things it comes down to your priorities. Another audience
member noted that convincing your employer that the meeting will be useful
in your job may allow you to spend some of your work time on it. "Make it
part of your job".
Another example that Yoshioka gave was the Rakuten Technology
Conference, which has been held yearly since 2007. It is a free
content provided by volunteers. In the past, it has had keynotes from Ruby
creator Matz and Dave Thomas of The Pragmatic Programmer. Proposals
for talks are currently under discussion for this year's event, which will
be held on October 26 near Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Unlike many other
technical meetings in Japan, the conference is all in English, he said.
The language barrier was of interest to several non-Japanese audience
members. Most of the meetings like Yoshioka described are, unsurprisingly,
in Japanese, but for non-speakers there are a few possibilities. The Tokyo
hackerspace has half of its meetings in English, he said, and the Tokyo
Linux Users Group has a web page and
mailing list in English.
In addition, Yoshioka has an English-language blog with occasional posts covering the
reading party meetings and other, similar meetings.
One laptop per child
A Kroah-Hartman different from the usual suspect spoke in the student track.
In a presentation that followed her father's, Madeline Kroah-Hartman looked
at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, its history, and some of its
plans for the future. She has been using the OLPC for a number of years,
back to the original XO version,
and she brought along the newest model, XO-4 Touch, to show.
The project began in 2005 with the goal of creating a laptop for children
that could be sold for $100. It missed that goal with the initial XO, but did
ship 2.5 million of the units, including 83,000 as part of the "Give 1 Get
1" program that started in 2007. The idea was to have a low-powered laptop
that would last the whole school day, which the XO is capable of, partly
because it "sleeps between keystrokes" while leaving the display on, she said.
Recharging the laptops has been something of a challenge for the project,
particularly in developing countries where electricity may not be
available. Various methods have been tried, from a hand crank to a "yo-yo
charger" that was never distributed. Using the yo-yo got painful after
ten minutes, she said, but it took one and a half hours to fully charge the
device. Solar-powered charging is now the norm.
OLPCs were distributed in various countries, including 300,000 to Uruguay
(where every child in the country got one) and 4,500 to women's schools in
Afghanistan, as well as to Nicaragua, Rwanda, and others. In Madagascar, the youngest
students were teaching the older ones how to use the laptops, while in
India the attendance rate neared 100% for schools that had OLPCs, she said.
OLPCs generally run the Sugar
environment on top of Fedora. It is a "weird" interface that sometimes
doesn't work, she said, but it is designed for small children. That means
it has lots of pictures as part of the interface to reduce clutter and make
it more intuitive for that audience. There are lots of applications
that come with the OLPC, including the Etoys authoring environment, a Python
programming environment, the Scratch 2D animation tool, a physics
simulation program, a local copy of
Wikipedia in the native language, a word processor, and more. The Linux
command line is also available in a terminal application, though children
may not actually use it in practice, she said.
The first model was designed so that you could "throw it at a wall" and it
wouldn't break, she said. Various other versions were created over the
years, including the X0-1.5, a
dual-touchscreen XO-2 that was
never released, and the XO-4 Touch. The latter will be shipping later this
year. There is also the Android-based XO tablet
that will be selling at Walmart for $100 starting in June. It is "very
different" than the Sugar-based XOs, Kroah-Hartman said, but will come
pre-loaded with education and mathematical apps.
There are lots of ways to participate in the project, she said, many of
which are listed on the Participate wiki page.
She noted that only 30% of the XO software is translated to Japanese, so
that might be one place for attendees to start.
In an update to last year's
presentation, Shane Coughlan talked about the progress (and setbacks)
for the OpenRelief project. That project had its genesis at the 2011
LinuxCon Japan—held shortly after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear
accident that hit Japan—as part of a developer panel discussion about
what could be done
to create open source technical measures to help out disaster relief efforts.
That discussion led to the creation
of the OpenRelief project, which seeks
to build a robotic airplane (aka drone) to help relief workers "see through
the fog" to get the right aid to the right place at the right time.
The test airframe he displayed at last year's event had some durability
flaws: "airframes suck", he said. In particular, the airframe would
regularly break in ways that would be difficult to fix in the field.
Endurance is one of the key features required for a disaster relief
aircraft, and the project had difficulty finding one that would both be
and fit into
its low price point ($1000 for a fully equipped plane, which left
$100-200 for the airframe).
In testing the original plane, though, OpenRelief found that the navigation
and flight software/hardware
side was largely a solved problem, through projects like ArduPilot and CanberraUAV. Andrew Tridgell
(i.e. "Tridge" of Samba and other projects) is part of the CanberraUAV
team, which won the 2012 Outback Rescue Challenge;
"they completely rock", Coughlan said. The "unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV)
that was used by CanberraUAV was "a bit big and expensive" for the
needs of OpenRelief, but because it didn't have to focus on the flight
software side of things, the project could turn to other parts of the problem.
One of those was the airframe, but that problem may now be solved. The
project was approached by an "aviation specialist" who had created a
regular airframe as part of a project to build a vertical takeoff and
landing (VTOL) drone to be sold to the military. It is a simple design
with rails to attach the wings and wheels as well as to hang payloads
(e.g. cameras, radiation detectors, ...). There are dual servos for the
control surfaces which provides redundancy. It is about the same size as
the previous airframe, but can go 40km using an electric engine rather than
20km as the older version did. It can also carry 9kg of payload vs. the
0.5kg available previously. With an optional gasoline-powered engine, the
range will increase to 200-300km.
the design files for this new airframe on the day of Coughlan's talk. It
is something that "anyone can build", he said. Test flights are coming
soon, but he feels confident that the airframe piece, at least, is now
under control. There is still plenty of work to do in integrating all of
the different components into a working system, including adding some
software that can interface with existing disaster relief systems.
Coughlan also briefly mentioned another project he has been working on,
called Data Twist. The
OpenStreetMap (OSM) project is
popular in Japan—where Coughlan lives—because the "maps are great", but the
data in those maps isn't always easy to get at. Data Twist is a Ruby
program that processes the OSM XML data to extract information to build
A geo-directory might contain "all of the convenience stores in
China"—there were 43,000 of them as of the time of his talk—for example.
Data Twist uses the
categories tagged in the OSM data and can extract the locations into a Wordpress
Geo Mashup blog
post, which will place the locations on maps in the posts.
Data Twist is, as yet, just an experiment in making open data (like OSM
data) more useful in other contexts. It might someday be used as part of
OpenRelief, but there are other applications too. The idea was to show
someone who didn't care about open source or disaster relief efforts some
of the benefits of open data. It is in the early stages of development and
he encourages others to take a look.
All three conferences were held at the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo and
its associated conference (and wedding) center. It was a little off the
beaten track—if that phrase can ever be applied to a city like Tokyo—in the
Mejiro section of the city. But the enormous garden (complete with
fireflies at night) was beautiful; it tended to isolate the conferences
from the usual Tokyo "hustle and bustle". As always, the events were
well-run and featured a wide array of interesting content.
[I would like to thank the Linux Foundation for travel assistance to Tokyo
for LinuxCon Japan.]
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