Yesterday the theme for the Birmingham LUG meeting was “Digital Freedom”. I couldn’t make the April meeting so it was good to get down to the LUG. It was well attended ( about 16 people was the high watermark and there were some new faces as well as the regulars.)
The topic of the evening was digital freedom and there were three core topics.
Sue Blackwell and the University of Birmingham Staff Webpages
Sue is from the the English Department of the University of Birmingham and she spoke to us about the issues of academic freedom and web publishing in relation to the problems she had with the pages she used to publish on the university website when they all had staff pages.
It raised some interesting questions about the “coporate” organisations’ approach to publishing web material and how they deal with contraversial material that causes comments and complaints from people.
Richard Rothwell and Open Standards/Software in Government
Richard is from a community interest company called M6-IT and had been involved in doing a piece of work on open source software in government, in particular the UK’s National Health Service.
The National Programme for IT (NPFIT) in the UK is one of the biggest software projects of its kind in the world and is completely closed software which is generally regarded to be not offering anything like the benefit you would expect for the £20 Billon it is to cost. Richard drew parallels from the US with the Veterans Hospital system called VISTA (no not that one) which is an open source hospital administration system that is seen to be very successful.
This lead on to a general discussion of government information and who owns it and why the people should have to pay for it.
Ciarán mentioned two sites that I wasn’t aware of that are relevant to this topic.
One is Say No to 0870 which is a site that lists the “real” normal numbers that you can use to call organisations instead of the 0870 national rate numbers. So if you are local to the real number you can call the organisation cheaper.
The other is site of interest is the Guardian newspaper’s campaign Free Our Data which aims to make the UK Government give free access to the useful information it holds such as mapping data, postcodes etc.
Zeth Green and GPG
Just so we got our geeky fix Zeth did a piece on using Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) to create keys for signing and/or encrypting email. He started the talk by using a nice analogy about physical keys that are used to lock buildings and how the relate to GPG and then showed how keys are created using GPG and how they are used and published.
It was a really interesting evening and it was good to talk about the wider issues of Open Source and digital freedom