Sydney BarCamp 3, day 1 notes

My quick notes from the first day of Sydney BarCamp 3 – apologies if they are quite terse:

  • Making computing cool – Let’s make everything objects, and hide file systems and devices from applications, with an on object layer. Benefits in reducing all the glue everywhere when communicating data over the wire or between apps; Could also allow apps to be migrated from one machine to another; Could even have a login of standard apps that follows you everywhere via the cloud., including retained state from your last login, but without using something like Citrix.
  • Processing and the demo scene. Gave a background to the demos and the demoscene. Introduced processing, which is a Java-based tool, built by 2 guys who have been working on it for about 4 years. Artists are one of the target audiences. More info at
  • Sydney free wireless project. Currently trying to work out what standard hardware to use for the city-wide mesh, now that there are concerns over Meraki becoming much less open and losing their way (who have introduced a more restrictive EULA and have made flashing the hardware much harder). Open mesh dashboard is an open fork from Meraki, but still need to sort out a reasonable cost for the hardware including shipping to Aus. Also want the mesh to interoperate with other meshes – e.g. want to be able to automatically connect this mesh and an OLPC mesh, if at all possible.
  • Spoke to someone using 3 mobile networking on their laptop – uses a PC card with HSDPA. Recommended it, $15 per month for 1 Gb, or $49 for 5 Gb, and the modem is ~$298, or free if you sign a 24 month contract. There is currently a price war going on between Vodafone, 3, etc. over mobile broadband, prices are improving.
  • Quotes: “The problem with Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) is that they are Domain Specific”. “The tipping point for data portability is the user expectation of having data-portability between web apps.”
  • Some lessons from a start-up biz:
  1. Advertising is useful. Measure it carefully.
  2. Tech roadmap is about PR – tells customers “what’s coming next” – you need one – not binding – “announce before you announce”.
  3. Take a punt on marketing. Hard work getting the word out about your product. You have 9 lives when marketing – one failure won’t kill you.
  4. Make mistakes properly. Failing is okay, but do it properly. Fail in spectacular fashion.
  5. Everything takes longer than you think. It’s true.
  6. Be unconventional.
  7. Q: What mistake cost the most time? A: Messing around with landing pages. Company wisdom is that you should make a lot of them and test to see what is most effective. Need a lot of volume to perform useful tests. A case of premature optimisation.
  8. Q: Do we need to talk a lot of lawyers and accountants at start-up? A: No, not when in the initial stages. However when you have worked out what your idea is, and have money coming in, then need to talk to both. But be aware of the risks.
  • grails – previously called “groovy on rails”. Person now working on getting off the ground. Grails is based on Java. (Java, spring, hibernate and Apache app.) Grails currently has 63 plugins (one for adding search, one for web objects, etc.). Grails solves a technical problem. An out-of-the-box MVC system., using grails, serving 186m pages/month.
  • A business owner is 3 people: 1) Entrepreneur 2) Manager who keeps the biz afloat 3) Technician who built the product
  • “Start-up kitchen” is a start-up incubator. It provides a practical solution to continuous cash flows. Has an office in St Leonards. For start-up cash flows, you are hired in a part-time way (2 or 3 days a week) (work depends on the skill set that someone has; may be internal work; or external IT shop work for blue-chip clients), which gives you cash flow.
  • “Talking to rich guys”. (about what angel or VC people are looking for in a company). Investors want a biz capable of $100m of in 4 to 5 years. In the valley there are lots of VCs. In Australia, not so much – want to do late stage buyouts and make money charging fees to a company. There is plenty of money available; there are just not enough REAL businesses that can make good use of that money. As a rule, investors don’t like software, or web apps. To get in front of a dozen to 50 rich people, need to have a good story (need a business, a real business). Most Australian angel investors are retired or semi-retired engineers who love gadgets. For the first 100,000 units want to manufacture locally. “IM” is an information memorandum – like a prospectus, but a lower standard (because is not covered by regulations). Example: A company is looking for $1m. Angels want 35% ownership of the company, but will rarely get it. (Investment range of 200k to 500k is angels, and $1m + is small institutions). Watch out for fees – e.g. one guy wanted 250k in fees to raise 500k. Brains are the cheapest thing you can buy. E.g. “women on boards” who want a paid position on boards – e.g. 35k per annum, and for this they would have to go to 8 meetings per year, and are personally liable for the business if anything goes wrong. Women are much cheaper than blokes (there are institutionalised problems for women in business trying to get equal pay). Anything above this, pay cash-in-hand $100 per hour. To get money have to be able to give a good answer to “WIT FM?” for the investor – “What’s In It For Me?”
  • Good places to get stock photos for $1 or $2 a pop: or
  • BarCamp Canberra is on in 2 weeks. (sat 19th April).
  • Sociability design. This is like usability design for applications – which is making the app as usable for your user as possible, so that it is pleasant and intuitive to use. Sociability design is making a socially useful system, such as social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace. There are parallels between usability – especially Jacob Nielsen’s 10 main types of usability – and the basics of how you make a pleasing social user experience. Table of comparisons. The speaker’s blog. The language used to describe relationships needs to be richer, whilst still being diplomatic.
  • Open coffee – a coffee meeting for people starting up. Runs every second Thursday.
  • Twitter – got a quick intro to this. 140 character microblogging / updates. Max of 240 free SMSes per week in Australia.
  • The bar opened, and I played 3 rounds of the Werewolves + Seekers + Healers + Villagers game (rules are here or here, we played with a healer), which was a fun social game. There were between 11 and 15 people at the start of each round. It just confirmed what I always known – that I am a really bad at deception – I was found out fairly quickly when I was a werewolf!

Third Sydney wiki meetup

Yesterday was the ANZAC day public holiday in Australia, and it was cold and rainy. I went into the city in the late afternoon for the third Sydney wiki Meetup. People took some group photos on the Town Hall steps, and then Chris Watkins had booked a table at the Grace Hotel, so we went there. Some quick notes:

  • General aggregate info about attendees: They were from a range of occupations (e.g. Psychiatrists, students, IT, unemployed, etc). The vast majority of people were adults, but of a wide variety of ages. Almost everyone there used his or her real name, or some minor variation on it, as his or her Wikipedia username (which I thought was interesting). Everyone was interested in or working on completely different stuff (law articles, bots / tools, theological articles, etc). Politics was discussed a little later in the day, and of the people who volunteered a political preference, most seemed to be centre-left and/or pro-green. Around 25 people turned up, around 10 more than last time, and around 6 of the people attending were at the last meetup. Of the 25 attendees, around 10 turned up a few minutes late, so waiting for 10 minutes beyond the advertised time at the meeting place for people who are running late was a very good idea.
  • Jimbo was there, in town for a rather exhausting whirlwind speaker tour of Australia’s capital cities. Following him around was the camera guy making the “Truth in Numbers” wiki-documentary. I suggested to Jimbo he should blog more (response: “but I update my blog so rarely that when I do people read so much into it”; counter-response: “so just write some really banal stuff for a while, and they’ll learn not to read too much into it”), and also suggested that he might want to add his blog to Planet Wikimedia (as opposed to the current paradoxical situation, where the unofficial WikiBlogPlanet carries his blog, yet the official Wikimedia one does not). He was an extremely nice, friendly, easygoing guy. So of course, we pressured him into trying a Tim Tam Slam (a.k.a. a “Tim Tam Straw”) … this is the “before” picture, the “after” picture was suitably messy:

  • Heard from One Salient Oversight, who sometimes creates userboxes, that just 7 days after being created, this is one of his most popular userboxes:


  • A geography Uni student is writing a thesis researching the Wikipedia, including why people participate (i.e. more focused from the user’s perspective). Geography is generally about spaces, and the Wikipedia is now covered under geography using a very post-modern interpretation of “spaces”, since it is “an online space”. Sounds interesting, and hopefully she will share the results.
  • Someone referred to Tim Starling as “our Tim”, on account of his Australian background, and despite currently being in the UK (I think). Of course, I should point out that Mel Gibson was always generally referred to here as “our Mel”, on account of his half-Australian background, despite living in the US for 20 years, right up until his drunken anti-Semitic tirade … at which point, he overnight became “their Mel”. So Tim, consider yourself forewarned: You + alcohol + a public place + rambling racist tirade + leaked police report = “their Tim” :-)
  • Heard about, which is a wiki for environmental issues and sustainable development.
  • Someone attending had previously got into a dispute over an article with another user, who (using the whois records) crossed the line, and posted the first person’s real name, home address, email address, and home phone number to the Wikipedia as a form of vengeance. Don’t do that – it’s really not nice, and it required a dev to go and permanently erase that edit from the history.
  • Enoch Lau told me about a big diagram of the MediaWiki database tables, which was a funny coincidence, because I drew it. Also, he wanted some additions to the MediaWiki API, particularly for a bot for deleting images that were duplicated on both EN and Commons, and found the current API was missing some functionality he wanted. How could or should he add the functionality he wanted? Best advice I could give him was to start small, add something simple yet that was useful to him, and attach the diff to a bug in bugzilla. If he didn’t get any feedback within a week, then join #mediawiki on IRC, and ask for some feedback or comment there.
  • The Wikimedia foundation is up to (very approximately) 350 servers, with around 8 database servers, with around 20% spare load capacity even at maximum loads (of course, that’s not much slack if you’re growing rapidly). Apparently the foundation sometimes gets offers to host the whole cluster, but they have turned this down so far, so as to prevent being completely beholden unto any single organisation (an entirely sensible position in my view) – however, offers to host say 20% of the cluster are far more favourably received. Oh and there have sometimes been discussions with Google in the past about ways they can help us, but they’re a chaotic organisation, and the foundation is a chaotic organisation, and so thus far nothing much has come of it.
  • The second Sydney BarCamp is coming up sometime in June. Nobody there had been to the first one, but a number of people (including me) had heard of it and were curious about it, so there may some Wikipedian attendees at the second one.
  • If you have MediaWiki SVN access, and you go to some gathering of wiki people, you really want a good short non-technical user-visible answer to the question: “What have you been working on lately?” I didn’t have one (something vague about testing and documenting stuff wasn’t a very satisfying answer to people), – so instead you really want to be able to point to some new feature that ordinary users will have noticed, and say “I did that”.
  • A Sydney person who could have given a satisfying answer to the above question, Werdna (who brought you the “undo” link for reverting revisions), was not there. And now I see he had his user page deleted, and people are leaving goodbye messages on his talk page. Have I missed my window of opportunity of meet another MediaWiki dev who lives in the same city as me?
  • The Melbourne Wikipedians continue to be far more organised than the unruly Sydney mob. Having 25 Sydney people in a room though, does give the potential to playfully suggest some naughtiness with voting in a block… so the idea of listing Melbourne as an article for deletion (reason: “Not notable”), and all voting “delete” was joked about, and dismissed. Something for next April Fools’ Day perhaps?
  • People involved in the Wikipedia can sometimes have a very different perspective from people who aren’t. Case in point: The waiter serving our table saw the video camera, and there was a conversation with him that went something like this:
    • Waiter: (Pointing) “Is that guy someone famous?”
    • Wikipedian: “That’s Jimbo.”
    • Waiter: (give a blank look.)
    • Wikipedian: “Jimbo Wales”
    • Waiter: (still gives a blank look.)
    • Wikipedian: “Have you heard of the Wikipedia?”
    • Waiter: (gives an even blanker look.)
    • Wikipedian: “Okay, have you heard of the Internet?”
    • Waiter: (With a faint flicker of recognition) – “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that … Can’t say I have ever really used it though.”
  • Ta Bu Shi Da Yu (a.k.a. Chris) is still working on the various titles of the USA Patriot Act, on and off. Spoke well of David Gerard after meeting him at the last London Meetup. Next Sydney Meetup will probably be a laid-back BBQ thing at Chris’ house.