May the FOSS be with you


I travelled home from FOSS4GUK in Southampton yesterday afternoon on something of a high, we had had a great 3 days and at the end England had scraped a sneaky win against Wales in the 92nd minute (seeing Gareth Bale cry can’t be bad, can it?). Then I saw the awful news about Jo Cox and I was flattened, what the fuck is wrong with our world? This morning I realised that whilst our little conference is pretty trivial when a family (and a nation) are grieving, there were a lot of wonderful people doing something pretty damn good over the last three days and that was worth celebrating. Apologies for the overly mawkish start.

FOSS4G UK was a great example of what makes the Free and Open Source Software community such a remarkable phenomenon. It is largely down to the people involved – the organisers, the sponsors, the speakers and teachers, the participants and anyone else I may have missed off the list.

A small group of volunteers somehow managed to organise a big event, 3 days of maps and open source, 170+ delegates, 35 talks, 13 workshops, an unconference, a hack, a codesprint and (of course) a blitzer party. Everyone who attended should say thank you to Abi Page, Aileen Heal, Andrew Bailey, Antony Scott, Barry Rowlingson, Ian Turton, Jeremy Morley, Liz Scott, Matt Travis, Matt Walker, Ross McDonald, Simon Miles and William Allbrook.

There is one person who I left off that list because she deserves more than thanks, Jo Cook deserves our admiration and colossal appreciation for her hard work, calmness and focus to steer the event to such a success.


Jo has been contributing to OSGeo for over a decade, evangelising, writing code and encouraging others to participate, she has been an OSGeo board member, the founder and chair (twice) of OSGeo:UK and was the vice chair of FOSS4G 2013 and created and maintains Portable GIS. That’s some record of service to our community! I can almost hear my modest friend Jo tutting as she reads this, well it needed to be said (and publicly).

Thanks also has to go to all of the sponsors without whom the event could not have been staged as well or at such reasonable prices. Their generosity also meant that we could subsidise those who could not afford the full ticket price and we were able to offer free places to 8 students. Particular thanks go to those sponsors who don’t have an obvious business benefit from exposure to the audience but who wanted to support us because they think FOSS4G is a “good thing”. Thanks to the OS who donated their fabulous Business Centre because they appreciate the benefits that their business gets from Open Source and want to put something back. I had a fascinating conversation with Charles Kennelly, the CTO of ESRI UK, who told me that he was keen to recognise the dependencies within ESRI’s software on a range of Open Source libraries and also stressed how the competition between proprietary and open helped both to “up their games” (I have paraphrased slightly, so apologies to Charles). And thanks to all of the sponsoring companies who are part of the community, competitors and friends. The full list of sponsors is here.

Thanks to all of the people who presented talks and workshops, no one could hear them all (4/5 strands for most of the time) but it appeared that all were well attended and highly regarded. I attended Jo Cook’s workshop on getting started with GitHub, it’s astonishing how much you can learn in a couple of hours from someone who knows their stuff, now if only I can remember to init, clone or was it fork?, commit and make a pull request! I think the person who called me an Old Git was a little unfair but basically correct. What was apparent was that the combination of talks and workshops worked well and enabled some people to justify their attendance on the basis of skills refresh/development. One lesson that I learnt from observing those of the team running the workshops is that

However much you publish the pre-requisites for a workshop, people will turn up without having read them, without having downloaded the software/data or created the account and even without the right type of machine (at least one workshop relied on a Windows OS to run ‘Portable GIS’)

If you don’t RTFM before attending a workshop, don’t expect everyone else to wait for you to try and download software packages on flaky conference wifi or complain that you can’t participate because you don’t have a DVD drive!

You can look at the programme of talks and workshops here and here, we will try to get the slides and workshop notes linked from the site in the next week.

On Tuesday evening we had a great beer/cider and food party at the Dancing Man Brewery with a #FOSS4GeoTune disco run by Simon Chapman. Throughout the build up to the event we were promoting the party as a great way to let your hair down (if you have any left) and meet people, tickets were slow selling for some reason and as we got near to the deadline for catering we took a gamble and booked 75 places even though we hadn’t sold that many. Of course come the day and loads of people are coming up to me saying “I forgot to book are there any places left?” but by then we were sold out. Lesson for everyone, make the organisers lives easier and book early (conference, party and anything else that needs booking and preplanning) and RTFM i.e. when it said there was limited parking at OS, that was because there really was limited parking at OS!

On Thursday we hosted a code sprint lead by the team from Lutra and Tom Chadwin the driving force behind the wonderful QGIS2Web. Loads of good stuff got done. At the same time there was a hack lead by Ant Scott on HXL (pronounced hexel) which stands for Humanitarian Exchange Language. I sat in on this even though I can’t script, code or wrangle XML, I learnt a lot, wrestled with the complexities of humanitarian data while struggling to make a half decent map and discovered a bug in QGIS. Ian Turton and I report the bug and today it had been fixed, how f’ing awesome is that?

I did subsequently manage to use the QGIS2Web plugin to share the crap map that I had wrangled out of the humanitarian data, the maps not great but being able to get from QGIS to the web in 10 minutes is stunning! If the map doesn’t appear below then you can play with it here


And then to finish off the final day there was this

Gareth Bale’s misery after England’s winner goes in with thanks to

Who isn’t going to enjoy that?

So what’s my take away from three days of FOSS4G UK?

A lot of people are contributing to FOSS4G, writing code, writing docs, fixing bugs, organising events, helping each other and helping others. Some of us contribute because it’s our job, some of us contribute because we just plain love it, most of us do both. FOSS4G is a passionate community of incredibly talented people who have created awesome software that helps to deliver some important and worthwhile solutions to the public sector, industry and to humanitarian and other NGO’s.

Did I mention that it is also a lot of fun?

Jeremy Morley in ‘that’ t-shirt

In her welcome on the first day Jo said that part of the organising team had been on the organising team for FOSS4G 2013 and that it had taken us 3 years to recharge the batteries and get back into gear to run FOSS4G UK. I hope that it won’t be that long before the next FOSS4G UK.

May the FOSS be with you


There are a some more pics from FOSS4GUK here

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