A month ago I attended my seventh Linux.conf.au, LCA2014 in the lovely Perth. January rushes by so fast I often neglect to write about it at all, but this time I would like to highlight my two favourite talks.
The first is Friday’s keynote, “Deploying software updates to ArduSat in orbit” by Jon Oxer. I would call this talk: “A school class can do a science experiment in space for a week for $300”. CubeSats are a “standard micro-satellite” (about 10×10cm). Jon got involved with a Kickstarter campaign called ArduSat and helped them design an Arduino board to go in the CubeSat, as well as a prototyping board that students could use in their classroom to design their experiment.
Jon shows the web-based interface where a class would submit their Arduino design, which includes an “upload to satellite” button. Really. :)
(My title for this talk is a little bit of an over-sell, as at the moment the ArduSats have massive waiting queues for anyone to book time on them. But Jon’s intention is to get lots more of them up there, so hopefully that will change sometime soon. I’m not sure where the best place to stay in the loop on that is. I would also love to read a blog or something where schools talked about how their experiments went.)
The second is a little more down to earth! I was really into the talk on Visual Editor by James Forrester and Roan Kattouw of the Wikimedia Foundation. (Youtube, mp4, slides) Visual Editor is the WYSIWYG-ish/rich text/Google Docs-ish editor that Wikimedia has developed to avoid people having to learn arcane mark-up and help drag MediaWiki’s interface into this decade.
First of all I think this is inherently interesting, that they have solved (or are well on the way to solving) this problem, as it is one that loomed so large that it has threatened to topple Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects many times. Large vibrant communities have certainly been destroyed (or destroyed themselves) over less.
Secondly, they needed to build something that would largely work for the existing corpus that is millions and millions of Wikipedia articles, in over 300 languages. OVER 300 LANGUAGES.
What was most fascinating was hearing about how they tried to reproduce “expected behaviour”. For example, in a right-to-left script, when you press the right arrow, should you move right in the text or “forward” in the text? And in bidirectional text such as numbers embedded in Hebrew, which direction is “forward” anyway? And do Windows apps behave in a similar way to OSX? Or phone OSes? What about IME software for inputing non-alphabetic scripts?
You would think the simple design of moving a cursor around some text was a well-solved problem, but not necessarily. It must have been a nightmare. A fascinating nightmare.
Oh, and if you work on some web-based software and think a nice HTML editor could be an improvement over whatever your default is, they would love to help you try and integrate VisualEditor into another project, like Drupal or Wordpress.