Politics

Germany – one place for public code

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German IT news website heise reports that software developed with taxpayers’ money should be made freely available by public sector organisations to enable its further development. Together with the states of North Rhine-Westhalia and Baden-Württemberg, the German Federal Interior Ministry wants to establish an open source platform for the public sector. It should make it easier for the Federal government, regional governments and local authorities to reuse open source software and jointly continue its development.

The overriding aim is digital sovereignty, i.e. minimising the current dependency on predominantly US hardware and software manufacturers. The repository should also be a documentation platform and include a user manual. Further important aspects in this case involve legal certainty, comprehensible rules for use, a general explanation of open source and bringing the community together.

Screenshot of Python code

Home for free code

A group of experts made up of members of the Open Source Business Alliance (OSBA), the Bundes-Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Kommunalen IT-Dienstleister e.V (VITAKO) and several collaborators carried out the preliminary work in September 2020 and produced an initial plan for an open source code repository. The initiative is working under the slogan “One place for public code”.

At the same time, the IT Planning Council’s “Cloud Computing and Digital Sovereignty” working group of the IT Planning Council decided to pilot an open source code repository. The BMI, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg are currently testing the platform’s initial stage. According to the BMI, a minimum viable product with the central platform’s core functions was achieved at at the end of March. On the basis of this, tests are currently being carried out, whilst the project continues to be developed.

Numerous supporters

“One place for public code” is also associated with the initiative. Its supporters include local authority associations, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), The Document Foundation (TDF), Wikimedia Deutschland and many major city councils such as Munich and Frankfurt am Main.

The vision thing

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The vision thing” is a comment made by George H. W. Bush ahead of the 1988 United States presidential election when urged to spend some time thinking about his plans for his prospective presidency.

The embracing of vision – with or without the thing – is widespread in public life in Britain at both local and national levels. Every party leader is expected to have one; and any plans for the wholesale remodelling of large areas of our town and cities are expected incorporate vision too.

An investigation into the prevalence of vision in the organs of the British state reveals just how ingrained use of the term is. A quick Google search for items containing “vision” on websites within the .gov.uk domain is revealing.

Screenshot of Google search revealing 2.3m uses of vision on central and local government websites

No, your eyes do not deceive you – 2.3 million instances of use.

Looking more locally, a recent search (mid-April) of the Bristol City Council website for the term returns a total of over 4,200 hits. It has probably risen since last month (and with all that evident ocular deployment, one would have thought that the inhabitants of the Counts Louse – which some refer to as City Hall – would realise there’s a major cleanliness problem with the city’s streets. Ed.).

Screenshot of Google search of Bristol City Council website for use of vision

With all that vision in use in the country, opticians and their colleagues must be raking in the money. 😀

Helmut Schmidt

Sie hatten Recht, Herr Bundeskanzler!

Or is it necessarily opticians and associated practitioners that should be profiting from this phenomenon? There is some scepticism about the benefits of visions.

George H.W. Bush was mentioned at the start of this post. One of his contemporaries was the former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Schmidt was very dismissive of visions and is on record as stating the following:

Wer Visionen hat, soll zum Arzt gehen.

This translates into English as:

Anyone who has visions should go to the doctor.

Will those working for the British state be visiting their GPs en masse soon?

I doubt it.

Finally, when someone summoned up the courage to ask Schmidt what his big vision was, he is reputed to have referred them to Bush! 😀

Twitter: a correction

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The media and social media today are awash with the result of yesterday’s Hartlepool by-election which was surprisingly won from Labour by the Tories*.

However, some of the language being used to describe the victory is prone to error, such as the example below from Twitter’s trending topics.

Screenshot from Twitter trends showing the Conservative MP described as an MP instead of a candidate

As the winning Tory was not the sitting MP, the correct way to describe her is as a candidate, not an MP. She only becomes an MP upon winning a parliamentary (by-)election.

In times past such a basic error would have been picked by a sub-editor or similar, but they were all dispensed with some years ago. 🙁

*= Hartlepool hasn’t had A Tory Member of Parliament since it was represented in Westminster by Peter Mandelson. 😉

Illiteracy or bloody-mindedness?

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It’s now 10 years since TidyBS5 was inaugurated by local residents with the support of local ward councillors to campaign for a more pleasant street scene in the Bristol council wards of Easton and Lawrence Hill.

During all that time, both residents and councillors has persistently call on Bristol City Council to increase both the presence and visibility of enforcement action, but our efforts have only been rewarded in the last couple of years with higher fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for environmental crimes in 2019 and the recent recruiting of more enforcement officers (posts passim).

Largely as a result of the actions of local residents raising awareness of environmental blight, the streets of Lawrence Hill and Easton are now marginally freer of fly-tipping than they were then, but problems still persist, not helped by the lower footfall due to lockdown and the amount of DIY and building works being undertaken.

This was spotted at the junction of Walton Street and Chaplin Road.

Photo shows fly-tipping beneath sign advising no fly-tipping, CCTV in operation

Is this an example of illiteracy or bloody-mindedness? Kindly give your answers in the comments.

Greens take impressive lead in recycling box poll

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It’s one week to go to the elections for Bristol City Council, the elected Mayor of Bristol (with 2 of the 9 candidates standing for election to the office vowing to hold a referendum with a view to abolishing the autocratic post. Ed.), the West of England Combined Authority Mayor and the Avon & Somerset Police & Crime Commissioner.

My recycling box is rapidly filling up with election materials as the parties all vie for my cross against their candidates’ names on the four ballot papers (Hint to canvassers: don’t bother with my house any more; I’ve already voted by post! Ed.).

Following the arrival on the latest leaflet on the doormat, the poll has been updated and now shows the following state of the parties.

Screenshot of spreadsheet showing Greens with 4 leaflets and other parties with 1 each

The Greens seem determined to win Lawrence Hill ward and are pulling out all the stops. As they’re normally in fourth place, the Tories have managed on token leaflet as have the Liberal Democrats, who were once renowned for their zeal in bunging up letterboxes with their literature.

Why has there only been one Labour leaflet? Is this a symptom of lower levels of activism in the wake of members deserting the party after the election of Keir Starmer (whom some unkindly refer to as Keith. Ed.)?

All will become clear next week.

Maybe.

German federal elections 2021 – Demands for digitally sovereign society

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FSFE logoGerman digital civil society organisations have made four demands for a digitally sovereign society to politicians standing in the 2021 federal election in late September 2021. Among them is the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), which works to ensure that software developed with public money shall be published under a free and open source software licence.

On 1st April 2020, German civil society organisations working for an independent digital infrastructure and free access to knowledge called on politicians to learn from the crisis and strengthen digital civil society.

In an open letter (German) of that date, the signatories (Chaos Computer Club, D64 – Zentrum für Digitalen Fortschritt, Epicenter.Works, the FSFE, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Superrr Lab and Wikimedia Deutschland) also made clear recommendations for action. However, far too little has happened since then. The past year has made it clear that politics and the public sector are overwhelmed with their own digital transformation and are setting priorities in digital policy that do not meet the needs of society. We are far from a digitally sovereign society.That is why a broad spectrum of organisations, including the FSFE has once again come together to support politics with their expertise.

With four demands, the network shows how digitisation can succeed for a digitally sovereign society – and calls upon the parties to make digitisation for the common good a central topic in the forthcoming federal elections.

Reichstag and projected Give Free Software a chance message

Photo courtesy of FSFE

Four demands for the federal government
  • Digital Sovereignty: politicians must anchor the digital sovereignty of society as the highest maxim in digital policy. Instead of a digital ministry, we need a mission for the coming legislative period that elevates digital sovereignty to a guiding principle and is drafted and evaluated together with representatives from civil society, science and business.
  • Participation and Transparency: civil society must finally be afforded the same opportunities as business and science to contribute its expertise via a civil society quota in political advisory bodies, communication and transparency on procedures of political decision-making processes, legally defined deadlines for consultations and machine-readable documentation.
  • Public Money, Public Good: publicly funded solutions must be accessible to all under a free licence so that no knowledge is lost or problems are solved twice. It should be a legal requirement that software developed for the public sector with public money must be published under a free and open source software licence. If public money is involved, the code should also be public. In addition, public sector data must be open data.
  • Sustainable Digitisation: digitisation can only succeed if the development of digital infrastructure is economically and socially viable. To this end, diversity in digitisation and the development and maintenance of secure, decentralised digital infrastructure for society must be promoted in the long term.
5th May launch event

A new organisation and website – https://digitalezivilgesellschaft.org/ – has been established to promote the above demands and a launch event will be held on 5th May 2021 from 18:00 to 19:30 hrs to discuss these demands with a panel consisting of Julia Reda (former MEP), Henning Tillmann (software developer and co-chair of D64) and Julia Kloiber (co-founder Superrr Lab). The panel will be moderated by Katja Jäger (betterplace lab). Afterwards, all participants will have the opportunity to exchange ideas on solutions, measures and calls for action in four thematic rooms. FSFE’s Alexander Sander will moderate the room on “Public Money? Public Code!”.

Alleged Prime Minister pwned

Yesterday, which was Earth Day, US President Joe Biden organised a two-day virtual climate summit bringing together dozens of world leaders.

Apart from world political leaders, Biden also inexplicably invited one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Britain’s part-time alleged Prime Minister, to participate.

Besides his propensity never to let the truth escape from his lips, Johnson is well known for his lack of attention to detail, his loose tongue and gaffes; and true to form he didn’t fail to embarrass the country of which he is supposed to be the highest elected public official, as shown in the following video clip.

 

Yes, you did hear that correctly – “politically correct green act of bunny hugging“!

Needless to say, Bozo the Clown had half of the country’s social media users rolling their eyes in despair, condemning his cavalier attitude and wondering what the blonde buffoon was going to sully next with his reverse Midas Touch.

However, it wasn’t just Britons who reacted to Bozo’s gaffe.

Amongst them was one Greta Thunberg, an 18 year-old Swede whose name is not exactly unknown on the world stage where climate change is concerned.

Greta very quickly changed her Twitter bio to reflect Johnson’s words.

Screenshot of Greta Thunberg's Twitter bio, which now reads Bunny Hugger

Nice work, Greta! 😀

As for the embarrassment that is part-time alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, you can consider yourself well and truly pwned.

Friday afternoon update: the Green Party has now joined in the general mockery of Johnson’s remarks.

Tweet reads: To do list: Heavy check mark  Make lunch Heavy check mark  Hug bunnies Heavy check mark  Join the Green Party

NASA’s next lunar rover to use free software

Being born in the mid-50s, some of my main childhood memories include the Cold War rivalry of the “Space Race” between the then USSR and the USA, all reinforced by such TV fare as Jerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Fireball XL5.

These have stayed with me throughout life and I still follow human achievements in space closely.

Coming hard on the heels of the Ubiquity helicopter’s first flight on Mars (posts passim), German IT news website heise reports that NASA’s next lunar rover will also be powered by free and open source software.

In 2023 NASA will launch its Viper (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) rover which will be searching for and mapping water ice (which could one day be used to make rocket fuel) on the Moon’s surface. The rover will be equipped with high-tech instruments and tools: wheels which can revolve well on the dusty lunar surface; a drill which can dig into the lunar soil and hardware which can survive the lunar night which lasts 14 days and during which temperatures can drop to -173 degrees Celsius.

Viper Lunar rover

Image courtesy of NASA

Whereas Viper’s equipment is largely bespoke, the rover will run mostly on open source software which can be freely used and adapted. If the mission is successful, it will not only lay the foundations for a future Moon colony, but also enable the aerospace industry to develop and operate its robots in a different manner.

Open source technology has been little thought of to date in respect of space missions. It costs vast sums to build something space-worthy which can find its way to a target hundreds of thousands of kilometres away and carry out its specific tasks there. The natural impulse is usually to conceal the necessary know-how. On the other hand, open source software is often associated with cobbled-together programming for small projects such as hackathons or student demonstrations. The programming code that fills online repositories like GitHub is often a cheap alternative for groups with little money and few resources.

Into space with open source

The aerospace industry is being propelled forward by many factors, not least the increasing drive into space. This also entails a demand for cheap and accessible technologies, including software. Even for major organisations like NASA, for whom funds are less of a problem, the open source approach can result in better software. With open source, scientists can access additional expertise and feedback from a wider community when problems arise, just as amateur developers do.

If open source software is good enough for the likes of NASA, it should probably also be good enough for everyone else trying to control a robot remotely from Earth. As ever more new companies and new national agencies throughout the world are trying to send their own hardware into space and at the same time keep costs down, cheaper robotics software able to cope with risky missions could be a major benefit.

2 Robonauts robotsNASA has already been using open source software for 10-15 years in several research and development projects. It manages a very comprehensive range of open source program code. However, its use for space robots is still in the initial stages. One of the systems the agency has tested is the Robot Operating System (ROS), a collection of open source software frameworks which is maintained by Open Robotics, a non-profit which is based in Mountain View, California. ROS is already used in the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, which has assisted in the International Space Station’s research, and in the autonomous Astrobee robots, which float around the ISS supporting astronauts in their routine tasks.

The ROS will carry out ground flight control tasks. NASA staff will control the Viper rover from Earth. Ground flight control will then use the data collected by Viper for a real-time map and rendering of the lunar environment, with which the rover’s drivers will then be able to navigate more safely. Other parts of the rover’s software also have open source roots: the “Core Flight System” (cFS) program, which NASA developed itself and made available free of charge on GitHub, is responsible for basic functions like telemetry and on-board file management. Viper’s mission operations beyond the rover will be carried out by Open MCT, another NASA development.

Viper will be controlled in real time – almost

In addition, the Viper mission is suitable for open source software. Because the Moon is so close, the rover will be able to be controlled almost in real time, meaning that part of the software does not need to be on the rover, but can be run on Earth instead.

However, Viper doesn’t run fully on open source software. For example, its onboard flight system uses reliable proprietary software. Nevertheless it can be assumed that future missions will both use and extend the open source software used for the Viper mission.

Local elections 2021 – the recycling poll

It’s getting close to election time again and the period of what is informally known as “purdah” (also known rather more formally and stuffily in local authority circles as the “pre-election period” Ed.), which has very little to with purdah’s original definition, i.e. a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim and Hindu communities, and more to do with preventing central and local government from making announcements about any new or controversial initiatives that could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the forthcoming election.

Here in the Bristol area, elections are being held not only for the local council, but also for the elected Mayor of Bristol, the Avon & Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner and the Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

As is usual with matters electoral, I keep a record on a LibreOffice spreadsheet of all election leaflets received, which ultimately end up in their rightful place – the waste paper recycling box (apart from personally addressed material, which is fed to the confidential waste shredder. Ed.).

The latest state of the parties – as of first thing this morning – is shown below.

Screenshot of election leaflet spreadsheet

As can be seen, the Greens are clearly putting a major effort into depriving Labour of their 2 ward seats for Lawrence Hill in the council chamber.

Whilst elections may be regarded as a vehicle of change, there are certain features that are reassuringly familiar and are thus recycled election after election.

For instance, the first leaflet received after the notices of persons nominated were announced was one from the Liberal Democrats, as per their decades-long reputation for opportunism.

That leaflet also comprised other reassuringly familiar Liberal Democrat tropes, such as the bar chart below for the WECA Mayor. I am reliably informed by a fellow linguist who took a ruler to the y axis, that the column sizes are reasonably accurate (for once. Ed.)

Bar chart scanned from LibDem election leaflet

That just leaves the equine graphic with the heading “It’s a 2 horse race! (Insert_party_name) can’t win here!” and the traditional graphics requirements for LibDem leaflets will have been fulfilled.

More leaflets can of course be expected to land on the doormat as polling day approaches, so updates will be provided in due course.

One word English street glossary

Spotted earlier this week in Stratford, London and arriving on my screen via social media.

It is believed to have been created by London-based conceptual, video and installation artist Jeremy Deller, whose work has strong political overtones.

Given the current Conservative government sleaze and “chumocracy” scandals, no further comment is necessary.

Billboard reads Cronysim is English for Corruption

You tell ’em!

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