PICNIC Festival 2012 Day Two

Today was the second day of the 2012 PICNIC festival in Amsterdam. My notes about the first day are available here. Below my notes and thoughts on day 2:

Doc Searls – How the Old Bottom is the New Top

Searls spoke at at SxSW earlier this year. I caught him there already and made some notes. His talk today was very similar and still relates to the new book he has written: The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.

Andy Hood – The Unselfish Gene

Hood is from AKQA a (marketing? branding? ad?) agency and sponsor of the festival that helps brands “improve business performance through innovation”. He talked about how in our current times it is incredibly necessary to try things and to make sure you learn from whatever it is that you try. According to Hood whenever you learn you can consider yourself to be successful. He quoted Wayne Gretzky who said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Having learned something you have to act on it and follow it through.

His reference to The Selfish Gene was a bit thin: “evolve or die” (meaning you need to keep learning) and “the genepool needs to be diverse” (meaning you need to have an ecosystem of partners).

Finally he referenced an interesting Disney project around gesture recognition on normal surfaces (like a door knob):

Rupert Turnbull – An Inside Job: Tales from a Corporate Startup

Turnbull is the publisher of Wired UK. He talked about intrapeneurship (although I am not sure what he meant to say other than that we should cherish intrapeneurs). He beliefs we are all born with an entrepeneurial spirit, but that we don’t all use this spirit when we grow up. Turnbull is a good storyteller and shared his own forays into the world of starting businesses. He also discussed how disruption can be an opportunity: Wired UK has an incredibly diverse sets of business outlets: website, magazine (print and tablet), podcast, consulting, events, hospitality, retail, etc.

Louisa Heinrich – I am Superman

Heinrich works for Fjord and has no slides (brave!). She talked about how the extended Quantified Self movement and its thinking can make us better human beings. Our lives are made of thousands of decisions every day without us even being conscious about many of those decisions. Our brains process massive amounts of data and it is an illusion to think that computers can just take over that task.

We are inherently narrative creatures. We think of our own lives as a set of very rich stories and we cannot help but see patterns in these stories. She loves the ideas of technology helping us creating stories about ourselves on the basis of the data that is in our lives. When this happens we should all have the power to decide who gets to look at our data though.

I’ve put some thought into the quantified self and how this relates to learning myself. There is a summary of a talk I did on that topic in Dutch or in English.

Ross Ashcroft – No More Business As Usual

Ashcroft is from Motherlode and directed Four Horsemen, a film about the fundamental flaws in our economic system:

His talk was also mainly about storytelling. He showed the Hollywood formula:

The Hollywood Formula

The Hollywood Formula

On the basis of these plot elements Ashcroft told a story about a new way of doing business and “new ownership” (the theme of PICNIC). Similarly to the talks of Turnbull and Hood this seemed to be more about how you say something than what you say. I’m left with barely any content… Yes, the world is changing. Now what?

Elizabeth Stark – The Democratization of Knowledge and Innovation

Stark talked about the largest online protest in history: against SOPA. She described how the media portrayed the demonstrations as a top down approach from a set of Silicon Valley executives, whereas in reality it very much was a bottom-up, decentralized and chaotic movement. Stark sees this as a way of working and innovating in the future: harnessing the creativity of millions of people who realise that you can learn anything you want, that experts are made (rather than born) and you don’t need a PhD to innovate.

Farid Tabarki – Burdened with Radical Freedom

Tabarki (a trendwatcher with his own company Studio Zeitgeist) started his talk by looking back at the rise of Lady Gaga who rose to the position of most influential woman in media in only two to three years. She was able to do this because of three things:

  • In the past you needed MTV to become well known. Lady Gaga uses a platform where anybody can tune in anytime (2 billion views on her YouTube channel)
  • Before you could only communicate with your fans through magazines. She has around 30 million followers on Twitter.
  • In the past you had to make sure your records were in physical stores, now you have global instant delivery with things like iTunes.

We are all little Lady Gagas: we are also liberated from the constraints of the past and we live in the age of digital decentralization. The next part of his talk focused on education (the usual Coursera-like examples). These new ways of doing education are based on the fact that one size no longer fits all. Other fundamental changes are related to sharing, transparency (check out this Norwegian website showing the income of all Norwegians for an example of true radical transparency). Finally, we will also have a much more hybrid approach to things.

How will we go from the old centralized system to the new system? Will it be a revolution or a transformation? One thing is for sure: we need take some risks.

Cathal Garvey – Enter Bio-Hacking!

Garvey is a biohacker and an academic (his slides actualy have content, unique in PICNIC):

Garvey's R&D interests

Garvey’s R&D interests

His wish is for this “most fundamental technology of them all” to be democratized. Garvey showed quotes from Bill Gates and Freeman Dyson saying how important biotechnology will be in the future (“the machine language of life”). Biotechnology as the original open source technology, it is there for anyone to hack on.

He talked about open access, PLoS and the concept of Research Blogging. He showed us something I hadn’t heard about before: sciencecommons.org (an open source Material Transfer Agreement).

Why biohacking? Basically because it is about the ownership of self. 20% of the Human genome is currently patented (WTF?!). So there is a rich community of hackers (in hackspaces and dedicated biolabs) and biopunkers using things like the OpenPCR (for thermocycling) trying to democratize access to this type of technology and genetic information.

Jon Lombardo – HealthyShare: Because Friends are Good for Your Health

Lombardo leads social media for GE and talked about their new app: HealthyShare, a way to let your friends help you with your health challenges. GE sees health as a social thing. There are four things you do to or with others when it comes to health:

  • Well-wishing
  • Researching
  • Inspiring
  • Teaching

The app transfers these pre-existing things to the online domain (unfortunaty this is another app that is heavily based on Facebook). Right now the app is mainly focused on what he calls “casual health”. They want to move it to the more serious health concerns.

Tim O’Reilly – The Clothesline Paradox and the Sharing Economy

I saw O’Reilly being interviewed on the same topic at SxSW and wrote a blogpost about it. His truly excellent talk today (refreshingly full of content compared to the morning) was mainly a rehashing of what was discussed there.

Make sure to also read his first principles titled Work on Stuff that Matters and his article Trading for their own account.

O’Reilly has published a case study documenting the economic impact of open source on small business.

Finally O’Reilly talked about skateboarder Rodney Mullen talking about innovation and creativity:

Clash of Systems: A Socratic Conversation

Humberto Schwab, the “innovation philosopher for business” who used to be my philosophy teacher at the Montessori Lyceum and was called Huib then, led a Socratic conversation with a few of the speakers of the day.

Schwab started by outlining the basic rules for the Socratic method (as one way of battling the intellectual fallacy and putting the practical knowledge and practical intelligence in the center of our acting):

  • You can only get the floor when you ask for it by raising your hand, and only then when the chair gives you the floor
  • There is no discussion, you are in a process of thinking together and trying to answer a question
  • Before you can speak, you have to be capable of repeating what the person before you said and you have to be able to summarize the previous 15 minutes of dialogue
  • You are not allowed to refer to books, investigations or other smart people
  • You have to use simple and concrete language
  • The chair will be a philosopher, who will not provide any content but will make sure that all dimensions of the question are explored by creating the space for that
  • If the rules madden you then you can ask for a timeout

He then asked the four speakers to come up with one philosophic question each. The speakers asked the following questions:

  • Why do people do things for eachother without necessarily getting something in return?
  • Do we own ourselves?
  • What am I willing to share as a human being?
  • Are we losing leadership?

I focused more on the methodology than on the contents of the discussion, very interesting!


Cardboarders is “a blog about artists, engineers, architects and people with a fetish for cardboard.” They created a giant cardboard marble run in the main hall of the Eye:

The Carboarders Marble Run

The Carboarders Marble Run

LiquidFeedback: Interactive Democracy and Non-Moderated Proposition Development

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop about LiquidFeedback organised by Netwerk Democratie and Waag Society. LiquidFeedback is a piece of open source (MIT-licensed) software that is used by the Pirate Party in Germany to help them in their decision making process. The tool aims to deliver the following:

  • Pure and representative democracy
  • Non moderated proposition development process
  • Indisputable results

In the Netherlands we live in a representative democracy founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people. This has issues in the legitimacy of representation. A pure or direct democracy (in which all decisions are made by referendum) is more legitimate but is usually impractical at a large scale and has a danger of mob rule. Liquid democracy is an alternative (maybe a synthesis?) where you directly participate in issues if you have knowledge, are interested, are affected by it or if you think the issue is important. If you don’t have engagement with the issue, then you give the “power of attorney” (i.e. delegation) to somebody else on the basis of their expertise or your sympathy and trust for them. This delegation is transitive: your delegate can delegate his or her votes to the next person.

The LiquidFeedback software puts issues into areas, which themselves are clustered into units (e.g. the “parking permits” issue sits in the “transportation area” in the “Amsterdam” unit).

An Initiative in LiquidFeedback

An Initiative in LiquidFeedback (click to enlarge)

Unique in the software is that issues can be deliberated without moderation. The creators of the software had the following objectives in how issues should be discussed:

  • Participation of all members in decision making
  • Not just yes/no decisions
  • No need to compromise
  • Trustworthy and indisputable results
  • Aplicable in large organizations

Their design criteria were as follows:

  • No need for moderation (nobody in the system has special privileges), troll resistancy
  • Only constructive criticism and change requests
  • Quantified feedback
  • No encouragement to vote based on majorities and chances rather than political objectives
  • Integrity to be achieved by traceability

The whole process follows a simple model: First there is a discussion phase which consists of three parts: new, discussion, freeze. After that there is voting.

There is no anonymity in the system. Every member can start an issue. When they do, it is considered “new”. Everybody can then give constructive and quantifiable feedback. They can support the issue, or they can give a suggestion on how to improve the issue. Their suggestion is delivered as a “must”, “should”, “should not” or “must not”. Suggestions can get support too. The original initiatior has full discretion on if and how to amend the issue on the basis of the suggestions and is scored on how well the suggestions are incorporated (“yes” or “no”). Anybody can also post an alternative issue which can get support. If there is enough support (and a quorum is reached) then the issue turns into an initiative and can, after a frozen period, be voted on.

In the voting LiquidFeedback manages to solve a classic voting problem: sometimes similar initiatives can steal eachother’s votes (i.e. would Gore have lost the 2000 US elections if Ralph Nader would not have been in the race?). The presenters used the following example:

Imagine three plans for the redevelopment of a closed military plant and the number of votes they would get in a referendum:

  • Community park (30%)
  • Camp ground (30%)
  • Chemical plant (40%)

In this case the plan for the chemical plant would win, even though there is a majority of people who would prefer a green option. This is problematic. LiquidFeedback solves this by using preferential voting. For each initiative you have following three options: approve with preference (you can prioritize each of the initiatives you aprove), abstain or disapprove with preference.

Business use?

LiquidFeedback is not only used in politics, but has also been piloted in business. The CEO of the large german IT consultancy company Synaxon (who sympathises with the Pirate Party) has implemented the software in his company. He wanted to avoid the peer pressure that would naturally come within office politics, so Synaxon’s implementation is pseudonymous. The CEO as committed himself to act on any ideas that get enough support, even if he doesn’t like them. Here is a German article if you want to read a bit more.

I do realise that business isn’t a democracy (nor should it be), but I do see many domains inside business where it would be beneficial to have a much wider discussion and to get broad feedback on ideas. I would be very interested if anybody knows other companies experimenting with this type of information technology enabled deliberation.

P.S. LiquidFeedback isn’t the only tool for this purpose. An alternative is Adhocracy.

Moodle Changes its Approach to Mobile

Moodle for Mobile

Moodle for Mobile

I haven’t been blogging much about Moodle lately, but this news excited me very much, so I’ll do a quick write-up.

Moodle HQ has decided to move away from native mobile Moodle app development and will switch to developing with HTML 5 and the open source mobile development framework Phonegap. This will allow developers to work on a single codebase and compile a release for all mobile platforms simultaneously. The important part in the news item is this:

The app will be highly modular, and allow the community to contribute to development just like Moodle itself. [..] Although we will lose a little speed and smoothness in the interface when moving to HTML5, I think the idea of building up community effort around a cross-platform mobile client will far outweigh that and sets us up better for the long term. [..] The app will be licensed under the GPL. You are allowed to fork it and build your own custom apps if you wish. (Institutions may want to rebrand it and modify it for their own purposes).

This is the first open source project that I know of that has taken this approach. I’ve always found the way that the mobile space fragments development efforts irksome. I’ve also seen very few true open source projects targeting mobile technology. This masterstroke of Martin Dougiamas solves both of these problems. Once again he is at the vanguard of community based software development. His has my attention!

You can read more about the app here or check out its roadmap.

Update: I’ve now learned that this approach towards mobile started at CV&A Consulting, a Moodle partner in Spain. Kudos to Juan Leyva for coming up with Unofficial Moodle Mobile which will now drop the “unofficial” part!

Create More Value Than You Capture


Tim O'Reilly (CC licensed by Pelle Sten)

Tim O'Reilly (CC licensed by Pelle Sten)

Tim O’Reilly was interviewed by Andrew McAfee (writer of Rage against the Machine). It is worthwile to fully quote the introduction to the session:

One of the great failures of any company – for that matter of a capitalist economy – is ecosystem failure. Great companies build great ecosystems, one in which value is created not just for a single company or group of industry players, but for partners who didn’t even exist when the product or service was introduced. Many companies start out creating huge value. Consider Microsoft, whose vision of a computer on every desk and in every home changed the world of computing forever, and created a rich ecosystem for developers. But as Microsoft’s growth stalled, they gradually consumed more and more of the opportunity for themselves, and innovators moved elsewhere, to the Internet. Internet innovators like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have also created a rich ecosystem of opportunity, but like Microsoft before them, they are leaving less and less on the table for others. This is a bad trend. Wall Street firms, which got their start trading on behalf of clients, then began trading against them, then created vast Ponzi economies to drain the value from entire segments of the economy are even more dire examples of this trend. But this crisis of capitalism goes beyond individual industry segments. For example, the race by companies to eliminate labor costs has been a short term profit win but a long term loss. Since the cycle of capitalism depends on consumers as well as producers, and consumers are less and less able to find employment, at some point, we’re going to have to start thinking about how to put people to work, rather than how to put them out of work. At O’Reilly, we’ve always tried to live by the slogan “Create more value than you capture.” It’s a great way to build a sustainable business and a sustainable economy.

O’Reilly started off by talking about the banking industry which went from a value-creating industry to a value-destroying industry by wanting to keep more from themselves. He next switched to Microsoft which in its startup days managed to create a true platform on which others could create a massive amount of value. When Microsoft started to try and capture that value for themselves the value creators moved out and onto the web (O’Reilly’s was the first commercial site on the web). The definition of ultimate ecosystem failure is if you take more value out than you create. He says that we are effectively stealing from our grand children.

He observes that very often value creation starts by people having fun and then only later do entrepreneurs come along and start monetizing that value. An example is the make movement. We are only now (seven years into the maker fair) have people turning this movement into serious businesses. He really dislikes the current culture of startups raising money and then going for an exit (“despicable” is the word he used). A lot of these startups see money as gas and see what it is that they do as a journey from gas station to gas station, rather than as creating something that brings value to people. Finding your passion, getting people to believe in it and then try and make a difference is a more sustainable model. Great companies should have big and audacious goals.

The open source movement has had an immense positive impact on the technology ecosystem. These people very often did not make buckets of money, but they did create the infrastructure that all of us are building on top of now. He described to the clothes line paradox: when somebody decides to hang their clothes on the clothes line instead of using the dryer, we don’t just shift some energy use from hydrocarbons to renewables: it just disappears. This is a great metaphor for what is happening on the Internet with open source. MySQL for example “shrunk” the database market, but when you really look at it, it actually grew the market and created a lot of value.

How do you actually measure this type of value and the size of this (free unmeasurable) economy? That is hard. Investors don’t create jobs, customers create jobs. The only reason you need investors is because you cannot keep up with the demand of the customer. Tim O’Reilly is now looking for ways to put labour back into the economy. His first example is the Apple store. Most other retailers have laid off as much staff as possible. Apple has found a new model that works. Walgreens is now trying to do the same with healthcare. Other examples are Kickstarter and Etsy which both are putting labour back into the economy. He thinks we will be doing more of this “added value for eachother”. There is also a whole peer to peer thing happening. If you see a sharing economy it eventually does get monetized, so policy makers can start protecting the future from the past, rather than the past from the future.

Fosdem 2012 or Why Open Source is Still Revelant

Fosdem is the place where you’ll find a Google engineer who as a “full time hobby” is lead developer for WorldForge an open source Massive Multiplayer Online game, or where you have a beer with a developer who has a hard time finding a job, because all the code he write has to have a free software license: “you don’t ask a vegan to have a little bit of meat do you?”. It probably is the world’s biggest free software conference: More than 5000 people show up yearly in Brussels, there is no fee to attend and there is no registration process.

I really enjoy going because there are few other events that have this few barriers to attendance and to approaching the event the way you want to approach it. I like wondering around and thinking about how these are the people that actually keep the Internet working. Below some notes about the different talks that I attended (very little educational technology to be found, beware!).

Free Software: A viable model for Commercial Success

Robert Dewar from AdaCore had an interesting talk about how to use free software as a true commercial offering. There was no ideology in his talk but only a pure commercial perspective. They usually sell free software as “open source” and focus on convenience and utility in their selling proposition. They tell the customer they get the source code included without locks and with no limits on the number of installs.

The business model is based around subscriptions (for support, testing, etc.). What he really likes about that model is that the interests of them and the customer are fully aligned: they only make money when the customer renews. Often companies have to get used to asking for support though, they have not been “trained” to value support in the past.

He considers commercial versus open source a bogus distinction. In many ways he would consider AdaCore to be very similar to what Microsoft in what they do. The main difference is the license of the software. The AdaCore is much more permissive as you are allowed to copy and do with it what you want.

He also spent some time thinking about whether AdaCore’s approach would work with other companies. Could Microsoft open source Windows? He thinks they could without it affecting them badly: people would be willing to pay for timely updates and support. Could a games company open source their games? Copryright protection is one way they currently protect their very large investments. It might be hard for them to open source, but in general the model could be used much more widely. Every company is in the business of giving users what they want and open source licenses are that much more convenient for users.

A New OSI For A New Decade

Simon Phipps has joined the board of the Open Rights Group and the Open Source Initiative (OSI). He talked about reptiles: they have no morality and are very old and only react to fear and hunger. Corporates are reptiles too. Corporations don’t have ethics, people have ethics. OSI tried to find a way to show large organizations that the four software freedoms (use, study, modify and distribute) are important for them too. A pragmatic rather than a moral perspective on open source software helped the OSI to be able to get corporate involvement. Their initial focus was very much on licensing. They have been succesful: OSI has become the standard for open source in government and the fear around the term has been turned around: other processes are now appropriating the term.

We are now in a new decade: Open Source is the default and digital liberty is moving to centre stage. OSI has lost some of its relevance, so they decided to reinvigorate the organization with a member-based governance which should include all stakeholders. They now have new affiliates (other open source non-profits like Mozilla or Drupal) and the next stage will be government bodies and non-entities (whatever that might mean). Later they will get personal associates and then corporate patrons. All of this should enable a bottom-up governance. Members will decide how OSI will operate, they will create OSI initiatives, they can use OSI as a policy venue and they will co-ordinate initiatives locally and globally.

A new OSI project will try and help educators educate the world about open source: FLOSSBOK. I am personally not sure the world is waiting for another project like this. There are quite a few alternatives already.

Mozilla Devroom

Tristan Nitot, Principal Mozilla Evangelist kickstarted the Mozilla Devroom. He told us that six European organisations have gotten significant grants from Mozilla (one of them being Fosdem). Mozilla strives to create an Internet that is benefiting everyone. The Internet that is being built currently does not benefit everyone. He focused on a couple of trends on the net:

  • App Stores have good sides (app discovery and monetization), but also very bad sides: they create vendor lock-in and prevent people from switching platform (I have personally felt this when contemplating switching away from the iOS platform) and occasionally inhibit free speech through “censorship”. Mozilla believes you can get the good of the app stores without the bad.
  • Social networks have obvious good sides, but also profile users, prevent users from porting their data to other services and identity providers can even lock people out of their digital lives. Using Facebook is ok, but don’t use it exclusively to interact with others. When you use something for free, then you can assume that you are the products. He showed us a great cartoon about Facebook users:

    The "Free" Model by Geek&Poke

    The "Free" Model by Geek&Poke

  • Newer devices (tablets, smartphones and netbooks) are increasingly convenient and popular. Very often they force users to a specific browser (e.g. Chrome on the Chromebook or Safari on iOS) making them definition the opposite of the web.

What is Mozilla doing about these things:

  • Open Web Apps are based on open web technologies, cross-browser and available in multiple app stores. You can even host your own apps on your websites for others to install in their browser. WebRT brings this a step further. It is a runtime for web applications that makes web apps look and feel like native apps on multiple platforms. Things like a Media Capture API will really change what is possible to do with Javascript in a browser. Other surprising APIs are the Battery API, the WebNFC (Near Field Communications) API and the Vibration API(!). More documentation is available here
  • They are trying to solve identity in a decentralized, browser agnostic and privacy respecting way. The codename for the project is BrowserID and it is based on using email addresses to provide identity.
  • Boot2Gecko (B2G) is a complete operating system build for the open web. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions about the project.

In my book these three projects (especially the last one) make Mozilla a group of absolute heroes. Donate here!

There was an interesting talk about how Mozilla organizes its own IT services. Currently that is done by paid staff, but they strongly believe they can get this done through the community (MediaWiki does something similar.

Kai Engert talked about a very important topic: “Web security, and how to prevent the next DigiNotar“. He has a let’s say “unconventional” presentation style: instead of slides he used a piece of written text that he displayed on the screen and read out loud. Maybe this should be called something like “live visual podcasting”. His points were good though. He explained how it is a problem that every Certificate Authority (CA) has unlimited power and he listed the alternatives. You could maybe use a web of trust like the CAcert community. This still doesn’t solve the problem of a single root key. Another proposed solution was Convergence using notaries that would monitor certificates. Kai see too many problems with this as a solution for general users. One suggestion could be build on top of DNSSEC. Again that has problems. How do you know who has signed the the DNS? Google has also proposed something called Certificate Transparency which might work, but also might create some problems. His proposed solution builds on what is in existence using the existings CA combined wit the notary system. This talk was bit dense (I got lost half way if I am honest, obsessibely reading Megan Amram), so if you want to read it yourself find it here.

Michelle Thorne is the global event strategist for Mozilla. She is currently very focused on creating communities of “webmakers” and they are starting with children, video makers and journalists first. She presented three tools/projects for these webmakers:

  • Hackasaurus let’s anybody edit the web. Kids are suddenly empowered to remix existing web pages. Check out the hacktivity kit if you want to use this in the classroom.
  • Popcorn.js is a HTLM5 media framework that allows you to connect web content with video.
  • OpenNews (formerly called knight-mozilla) puts web developers in newsrooms building tools that help journalistic challenges.

One thing I noticed is that she used htmlpad to present a few slides. I need to check this out as it is probably one of the simplest ways of collaborating around text or getting a quick HTML page online.

The focus for Mozilla in Fosdem is very much on the technology side of things and less on the broader themes that the Mozilla foundation is tackling. I had a hard time finding somebody from the Mozilla Learning team to talk about Open Badges, but did get some good connections to have this conversation later in the year.


Wikiotics did a very short lightning talk of which I only managed to catch the tail end. Their goal is to make a site that allows anybody to create, update, remix interactive language lessons.

The Pandora

The Pandora is a small Nintendo DS sized open Linux computer designed for gaming. It has a 800×480 touchscreen, wifi, bluetooth, two SDHC card slots, SVideo output, two analogue controllers, a DPad, L/R buttons, a QWERTY thumb keyboard, 256/512MB RAM and 512MB NAND Storage. It has about 10 hours of battery life (full use).

It comes with its own repository (an app store) allowing for easy installation and updating of games and other applications. One thing that will appeal to many people is the amount of emulators that it can run. If you want to relive the days you spent on the Amiga 500, Commodora 64, Apple II or the Atari ST it will work for you.

Because the device is so open, the possibilities are limitless. For example, you could connect a keyboard and mouse using a USB hub and connect it to a TV to turn the Pandora into a small desktop PC or connect a USB harddisk and turn it into a web- or fileserver. The price price will be €375 (ex VAT). What is great is that the device is produced in Germany and so does not have any sick labour conditions for the people building it.

Balancing Games, The Open Source Way

Jeremy Rosen has been working on Battle for Wesnoth, a turn-based strategy game, since 2004. He talked about how to achieve balance in a game. When you are talking about multiplayer balance:

  • No match should be decided by the matchup
  • No match should be decided by the chosen map
  • The best player should win… usually

Single player balance is different, in single player game fairness is not important anymore, it is just about having fun:

  • The AI won’t complain if the game is unfair (Jeremy on the AI: “By the way our AI doesn’t cheat, but is very good in math”)
  • Players want the game to be challenging
  • Each player has different capacities, we need to decide who we balance for

Balance problems can occur in many places (e.g. map balance, cross scenario balance, unit characteristics) and aren’t easy to find. One way of finding them is by organizing tournaments as people will do their best to exploit balance weaknesses to win. Balance will always be a moving target and new strategies will appear. User feedback is not so useful because players think they never make mistakes and that all their strategies should work. Sometimes you can find some good providers of feedback: “These persons are important, and like all of us, they are fueled by ego. Don’t forget to fuel them”.

His recommendation is to find somebody in your game’s community who can make a balance a fulltime job.

Freedom Box: Out of the Box!


The FreedomBox Foundation

The FreedomBox Foundation

Bdale Garbee, gave us an update on the activities at the FreedomBox Foundation. According to him it really is a problem that we are willfully hand over a lot of personal data to companies to manage on our behalf without thinking much about the consequences. Regardless of the intention of companies, for-profit companies have to operate within the rules of the jurisdictions that they operate and can lead to things like Photo DNA.

Freedombox’ vision is to create a personal server running a free software operating system and applications designed to create and preserve personal privacy that should run on cheap, power-efficient plug computers that people can install in their own homes. That will then be a platform on which privacy-respecting federated alternatives to current social networks can be build. These devices will probably be mesh-networked to augment or replace the current infrastructure.

The foundation has to do four things:

  • Technology
  • User Experience (this is very important if it is going to be useful for people who are not “geeks”)
  • Publicity and Fund-Raising
  • Industry Relations

They have had to bound the challenge by focusing on software, rather than custom hardware and on servers and services rather than client devices. They have also decided to use existing networking infrastructure where appropriate while working to move away from central infrastructure control points (like the Domain Name System (DNS)). Another decision has been to build all elements of their reference implementation on top of Debian which is a completely open volunteer based International organisation. This means that regardless of how successful they will be as a foundation all of their work will survive and remain available. Their goal is that new stable releases of Debian should have everything needed to create FreedomBoxes “out of the box”.

The first “application” they want to deliver is a secure chat service. They have based this on XMPP with Prosody on a single host (by chance I was sitting next to one of the Prosody developers).

They have also decided to make OpenPGP (GnuPG) keys as the root of trust. It is great technology, but it is hard to establish initial trust relationships. One interesting idea is to take advantage of smartphone technology (that we all walk around with) to facilitate initial key exchange (see the work from Stefano Maffuli).

They have done some investigations into plug computers. They focused mostly on the Dreamplug (which gave them quite a bit of GPL related headaches), but you also have the Sheeva and the Tonido.

He finished his talk by quoting Benjamin Franklin:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

What I should have written last year: distributed and federated systems

There is an overarching trend at Fosdem that I could already see last year: the idea of decentralisised, distributed and federated systems for social networking and collaboration. There is a whole set of people working on creating social networks without a center (e.g. BuddyCloud or Status.net or distributed filesystems (like OpenAFS), alternatives to GoogleDocs (LibreDocs) and mesh networking (like Village Telco with the Mesh Potato). There are even people who are trying to separate cloud storage from the cloud application (Project Unhosted). These are very important project that have my full attention.

If you have reached this far in the post and still want to read more (with a little bit more of a learning perspective) then you should check out Bert De Coutere’s blogpost. Through him I learned about Open Advice, an interesting approach to capturing lessons learned.