LibrePlanet day two: Empowering users in real and virtual space
The second day of the LibrePlanet 2021 conference is generally a calmer time for us here at the Free Software Foundation (FSF), because while there are still a lot of moving parts to manage (and here’s where I ask you to give a big round of applause to our tech team!), we’ve gotten to test out most of our plans and find, with relief, that everything is running smoothly and our guests are enjoying themselves. The Web sites work, the talks are running with not too much in the way of technical difficulties, attendees from all over the world are having a grand time socializing on LibreAdventure, we’ve given out Free Software Awards and announced a new ebook initiative, and now we can take a deep breath and just enjoy attending the conference a little.
It’s also been nice to get feedback about how well the all-online conference has gone, and how much people are enjoying the opportunity to watch and participate all over the world. The morning keynote speaker, digital fabrication expert and University of Washington assistant professor Nadya Peek, started off her talk by mentioning that she had attended LibrePlanet in past years, which was convenient because she lived in Boston, but this year, it’s quite convenient to attend from elsewhere as well. Free software programmer Martin Owens, who gave the talk “Empower users by asking them for money” today, told me that the LibreAdventure setup has him “looking forward to the future of the online conference,” and suggested that we use a similar social program again in future years alongside in-person attendance.
Despite some minor technical hangups, Nadya’s keynote talk was a thought-provoking highlight, which compared the ways that we make and use software, yesterday and today, with the way we make and use physical objects, and what the barriers and possibilities are for bringing a makerspace into every home. She started by talking about how historically, computers started out as gigantic machines that filled an entire room, which took a lot of money to build and run, but now, we have laptops and smartphones. Could a machine that makes other physical items be reduced to the size of a laptop?
The problems that need to be solved along the way are very different -- there isn’t a clear road to making Star Trek-style replicators just yet, but Nadya’s work has endeavored to lower the threshold to machine building, and the whole talk was a really fascinating step back into thinking about how things are made, and the interplay between the worlds of software and hardware. We’re planning on having videos of all of the LibrePlanet 2021 talks up on our GNU MediaGoblin and PeerTube pages in just over a week, and this video will be a must-see.
Another highlight of Sunday morning was “How to free the imagination,” with the artist David Revoy, who was of course wearing one of the wonderful shirts he designed for the FSF’s 35th anniversary celebration last year. As an artist who exclusively uses free software to create and distribute his Pepper and Carrot webcomic, he applies the free software philosophy to his creative efforts beyond the screen, and has important insights on how art should be shared, remixed, and/or commercially reused. One takeaway that I’m going to be mulling over for quite some time is how, because proprietary, commercial entertainment properties are so massive and have colonized our imagination so thoroughly that pretty much any character or story you think you’ve created originally could be said to be fan art or fanfiction. And if you don’t have the right to create and share these putative derivations, do you have the right to create or share anything at all?
I also spent some time watching Walter Bender, Martín Abente Lahaye, and Juan Pablo Ugarte introducing Ingestum, a free Natural Language Processing (NLP) document ingestion library that they chose to introduce to the world for the first time today, at LibrePlanet! Walter is the founder of Sugar Labs, and has given several LibrePlanet talks and workshops in the past on their Music Blocks free educational software program, but Ingestum is a rather different kind of program: it’s designed to replace proprietary programs that can “devour” sources of text in order to analyze them for NLP projects. I’m not a particularly technical free software enthusiast, just a writer on the subject, but an NLP talk was one of my favorites at the 2019 SeaGL conference, and I’m excited to see what Ingestum’s free digestive process can produce.
Today also brought to the stage representatives from some very important partners to the FSF in the free software movement. This afternoon, Bill Budington from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained the EFF project “Panopticlick” in his talk “An information theoretic model of privacy and security metrics" -- and we’re also grateful to our friends at the EFF for being one of the generous event exhibitors, and chatting up our guests in our virtual exhibit hall. Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) also made another appearance, with their president, Matthias Kirschner, delivering a talk on their “Public Money? Public Code!” campaign. It’s a straightforward-enough concept: if the government uses public money to fund the development of a piece of software, then the public ought to have free access to it, in accordance with the four freedoms. Matthias shared a very useful animated video on the campaign, and talked about how free software advocates throughout Europe are banding together under this framework -- and you can, too!
I didn’t get to watch the afternoon talk with Public Invention founder Robert Read and FSF pro bono lawyer Marc Jones, talking about Public Invention’s work with free solutions for the ventilator shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but I have no doubt that this will also be a video you’ll want to check out when they go live. The free software and hardware movements have so much to contribute to the democratization of access to health care and other human needs, and we tried to make our own contributions to this effort through our HACKERS and HOSPITALS initiative -- I know that Robert and Marc have some really valuable insights. The talk abstract they gave us noted that “The overall effect was mixed in terms of its success developing ventilators, but very successful in advancing the global free hardware community” -- and the latter is very, very good news.
The day ended with a final keynote from Guardian Project founder and director, Nathan Freitas. Nathan delivered his talk from his living room floor, and started his talk off with a show and tell session, with ancient Palm devices and plenty of his favorite books about technology and activism. The informality and intimacy of the talk underscored that our relationship to technology is highly personal: technology does so much to steer the course of our lives, and we deserve the right to control that technology.
Finally, an address from the FSF staff ended the official part of the conference, when all participants were asked to join the stream to crash the server, a suitable and fun goodbye to an amazing weekend. The event got over 1,250 registrations, welcomed at least 450 attendees at once at the highest point, and saw up to 350 different explorers in LibreAdventure alone. We also have some impressive Minetest artworks to commemorate the experience. We owe tremendous thanks to all of our attendees, our speakers, and our generous sponsors and exhibitors: Red Hat, Vikings, EFF, openSUSE, Sugar Labs, No Starch Press, and Bitfolk. And we hope we'll see you -- in the real world or the virtual world -- at next LibrePlanet.
Screenshots Copyright © 2021 Free Software Foundation, photos licensed under CC-BY 4.0.