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People person, technology enthusiast and all-things-open evangelist. I've managed and marketed communities for more than ten years, starting with the KDE community, followed by working as openSUSE Community Manager at SUSE and now managing community matters at ownCloud. Between helping to grow the ownCloud community, speaking at and organizing  conferences and writing about my passions ranging from psychology, communities, software releases to innovative technology, I take care of my dog together with my wife in beautiful Berlin. Find me also on Twitter and Diaspora!

21 October, 2015

Home Automation, AI and the Crownstone

Waiting for that future where you're dressed automatically? I'd rather do that myself and don't have a Roomba yet but as tech marches on, we'll get more automation in our homes.

With more and more 1984, Brave New World and Farenheit 451 being brought to this century by our esteemed leadership and our corporate overlords, I'm hoping that this tech will be ours, rather than theirs.

Enter a nice player in the "automate stuff" arena: Dobots. In their own words:
Our goal: Really smart buildings. Really smart robots. We're a startup in AiTech with applications in CleanTech and GreenTech.
What makes them nice is that they are real Open Source folks, putting what they code on github under a free license and working with and building on open tech.

They previously did industrial cleaning robots and other stuff. Currently, they are running a kickstarter for a smart power outlet as a first foray into home automation. EDIT: they've instead decided to, for the first run, only create EU plugs as there was little interest in the US. You can order them on the website.

Enter the Crownstone

How is AI relevant for power outlets? More than you'd think. One example is SLAM. SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) tries to answer two key questions in Robotics:
  • Robot Localization: “Where is the Robot?”
  • Robot Mapping: “What does the world around the Robot look like?”
(read more about SLAM here)

Dobots has turned this around in the crownstone, using these algorithms to map your house and localize people in it. Yes, the Crownstones know where THEY are and where YOU are. While not exactly a localization tech, the Crownstone uses Bluetooth LE for this so it works with pretty much any device. And the best part: their localization code is, in Javascript, to be found on github!

This means you need no motion detectors or cameras to know where people are in the house, keeping things simpler and cheaper. But Bluetooth LE is used for managing the Crownstones, too. Rather than turning to WiFi or (expensive) central control hubs, Dobots lets the Crownstones automatically create a mesh network. Your smartphone acts as control hub (apps on github, of course) though you can also take a Raspberry Pi, plug in a bluetooth usb module and have it act as hub. That way, even when you're not at home, you can control devices or get notificationsthat, say, your television, computer or other devices are getting unplugged. It uses XMPP and WebRTC to get through your firewall and guess where you can find the Cordova based Raspberry Pi app...

But there's another innovation in there which helps avoid extra devices and complicated configuration: extremely fine grained power usage monitoring. Yeah, it can tell you how much power your fridge and TV use but more importantly: it can automatically detect which device you connect to it! So when you leave the house, it can kill power to your tv but not your fridge... I've been told they think they eventually will be able to figure out different makes and models of laptops based on their power signature. Now is that cool, or what?

The algorithms to do this are currently Matlab code but once finalized, they'll be on github, too.

Dobots regularly works with students who get to play with their tech and come up with new, innovative use cases. And this works wonders. Just some results from a recent hackathon:
  • Team 1 developed ChildLock. Devices are only turned on when adults are in proximity.
  • Team 3 developed Start VR. Virtual reality that allows you to picture your own furniture in an Ikea store.
  • Team 4 introduced Never Lose. Lights indicate for elderly people where they have lost items with iBeacons.
  • Team 5 used Crownstones to indicate the way to store employees.
  • Team 6 worked on Tommy. An AI that analyzes patterns of daily life to combat loneliness.
  • Team 7 developed Any Morning. Your phone using the Crownstones guides you to your morning routines to make you leave your home on time.
  • Team 10 implemented Tipspromenad. Kids have to find objects in a place combined with solving puzzles for fun!
  • Team 11 developed SpotOn. In emergency situations lights indicate how to flee a building

All together

The Crownstone has some nice advantages over the competition:
  • Functional. Dimmer, iBeacon, a current measuring device, a standby killer and more in one.
  • Cheap: you get 2 ready-made or 3 do-it-yourself for Eur 75 but there's no need for a hub, motion sensors or other stuff.
  • Open. Using open protocols and code on github and I expect interesting applications to come from the community.

I did an interview with their COO - for more background, read it on LinuxVeda.

So I say - if you are looking to start with some basic home automation, go and get some Crownstones and get started!

20 October, 2015

ownCloud Server 8.2 is here

And on time following the new three month release cycle! The previous release, ownCloud Server 8.1, was all about stability, performance and security. Now, more work has been put in the user experience. That shows in the new sidebar, the new gallery app and refreshed style but for system admins, there's a large number of new control points as well.

Gallery app

For end users, the design improvements are nice but the new Gallery app is truly a transformation. It is essentially the 'Gallery Plus' app, developed by Olivier Paroz. It is essentially a full rewrite based on the new app framework, after which lots of features and performance improvements were made. The app has been around for a while and Olivier has solidly proven himself as maintainer so I'm really glad this app is now a part of the core ownCloud experience. Below is Oliviers' talk from the ownCloud Contributor Conference, introducing the new Gallery to the community!


The new notifications are cool, too - only one app supports them, for now, and that one isn't there by default so you won't see notifications until apps get updated. But as soon as they get adapted to the new API, accepting share invitations or getting notified of changes becomes easier and nicer. If you want to play with the notifications right now, go get the announcementcenter app and send some news to your users to see how it works!

New Appliance and Proxy app

Technically not new, as both were announced at the conference and made available since then, but super awesome: we have an official ownCloud appliance. This will make installing ownCloud a lot easier for a lot of people - and bring back some kind of Windows Server support, too.

On top of that, the appliance contains the ownCloud Proxy app, which is really great for lowering the bar even further. Simply put, ownCloud Proxy enables you to take a laptop and an Internet connection, connect to your privately hosted ownCloud from anywhere, without requiring you to make any changes to your local network settings – no router configuration, no DNS entries, no domain name registration. The ownCloud Proxy service relies on a partner who provides the service for a fee. Right now, there is one partner, pageKite. It would rock if somebody else saw business in this, too, of course!

Now, go, go and get it. Note that the VM isn't available as of right now (14:05) because it's still building... An 8.1.3 based one is there, though.

16 September, 2015

Help ownCloud rock SCALE and FOSDEM in 2016!

FOSDEM and SCALE are respectively Europe and North America's biggest FOSS events and, of course, we'd love to run a booth there again. We had a good time last year, just check out see my overview blog and detailed blogs about FOSDEM and SCALE. It is time to start preparing again to have as much fun and impact as last year!


For FOSDEM we will request a booth again and like last year I am sure it will be very well visited so we need help talking to the visitors!

My experience from last year was that many use ownCloud (and love it). These users often are interested in hearing and seeing what is coming, so I usually have a demo machine with me.

People new to ownCloud are almost invariably very interested and you can help them get started.

Note that you don't need any particularly deep insight in ownCloud to be able to help. For people new to ownCloud, a general overview of how it is for you as a user is already a huge help and we always have people around who can help with the harder questions.
Besides the booth, it'd be great if we get some talks in at various ownCloud-related devrooms, like the decentralization room and such. See some info on this page and stay tuned for the announcements of the devrooms.



The 14th SCALE moves to a new location, promising to be bigger and better than ever. I sure want to be at that epic first in a new venue and so should you!

For SCALE, too, we'll try to get us a booth again and we do expect it to be very well visited just like last year. SCALE is a very cool event with many friendly folks. It surprised me how many people already knew about ownCloud but there were still hundreds we could delight with the knowledge a real free solution exists for their cloudy needs. We can really use some hands with this!

And like with FOSDEM - you don't need to be an ownCloud expert to be able to help out. Being able to explain the concept from the users' point of view is the most important thing!

I'll shoot in a talk or two but - if you have anything you'd like to talk about, SCALE, too, has a call for papers open.

For both events we have the ability to help you with travel and hotel costs if need be. Just contact me directly about that and we can figure things out!

ownCloud needs you!

08 September, 2015

Lightning Fast

For the last two years, we had only lightning talks & workshops at the ownCloud Contributor Conference. This is an exceptionally good model for creation-type events like ours and your event might benefit from it, too.


To find the best way of presenting content to visitors you must define goals for an event. If your event focuses on creating, building, developing or making and collaboration between participants who might not know each other yet is important, a track of lightning talks is a great way to kick off.


Lightning talks are very short sessions (3-15 minutes, usually gravitating around 5 minutes) which are typically scheduled in a single track. This means that the entire audience of an event is in the room and explains why the talks have to be short. Even if some of the subjects aren't interesting for everybody, the next comes in just a few minutes.

These talks provide an opportunity for people to present what they work on and for the audience to find out what is going happening in the project. Perhaps more importantly, the audience can find out who to talk to - connecting names and faces to subjects.

Indeed, due to their nature, lightning talks do not go very deep. This is as much a strength as it is a weakness, though, as presenters are forced to get rid of most of the content so they focus on what matters most. Overhead like lengthy personal introductions, many examples or the setup of demos falls to the wayside and a single point emerges.


As the format is a little more unforgiving than 30 or 60 minute 'tech talks', it is a good idea to practice in advance. Luckily, the short duration means that rehearsing the talk 5 or 6 times isn't a big time drain.

For the organization of an event it is important to get the slides from the participants well in advance. This not only forces the participants to be prepared but, as there is no time to even switch presentation files, you can prepare them in a single go. I demand slides in PDF and concatenate them in a single file.

To keep the audience hooked, schedule the lightning talks with much variation. Vary technical subjects with process-oriented talks and social ones. Look for a light note occasionally and be sure not to push to many down the throat of the visitors without an occasional break. In that time, people can look up the presenters and dig a little deeper, process the inspiration and relate it to their own interests.

It also makes sense to have them in the morning and/or the first day, so they provide a starting point for, especially, new participants. They can set the tone, perhaps not like a keynote does, but more practical.

If you additionally need more in-depth sessions and technical talks, you can schedule them in parallel after the lightning talks. This also gives speakers in the lightning talks the opportunity to invite people to these sessions, giving participants some insight in what they will cover.

My personal todo for the next #ownCloudConf includes practicing all lightning talks with all speakers in a one-on-one video call, both to solidify the deadline and increase quality.

19 August, 2015

BREAKING: Netneutrality more complex than you thought!

It was simple: netneutrality is good. Companies shouldn't be able to buy their way on a fast lane! That stifles innovation and competition and risks ruining the internet. Just like John Oliver explained it! But now the Brazilians are making things complicated.

Brazil was one of the first countries to introduce strong Net Neutrality laws, points for them. But now, Brazilian banks and local government are paying for the data bundles of users! Heresy! Why?

Well, many Brazilians can't afford a data bundle. Yet they need to bank, or order new passports. And it turns out that handling people in person at the office is more expensive for the banks and local governments than have them use an app on their phone. So, they made a deal with some local providers: users, even without a data bundle, can do their banking online and order their passports without paying. That seems like a win-win.

Zero rating, as this practice is called, exempts some services from from the data bundle - exactly what Brasil is doing. It is used widely in India ("") and in Chile it offered many people access to a limited set of internet services - until it was outlawed. But in a country where only a quarter of the citizens has access to broadband internet, aren't we doing the population a disservice by taking away their internet access, however limited?

Zero rating is essentially the equivalent of a collect call - the receiver pays. What is wrong with that? Even wikimedia supports zero rating!

It isn't win-win but lose-it-all

The thing is - the provider will be the gate keeper of what services you can. You are allowed only on a piece of the internet, being blocked not by technical boundaries but by a business model. A model which allows providers to extract more money from their business than they otherwise would have - not by offering more services, but by offering less.

The result will inevitably be lower data caps because it forces more companies to pay for zero rating! This is exactly what happens in Canada, where $45 gets you 2GB of data - compare that to the price of 8 dollars for the same amount in Finland. Canada is now changing the rules. Cable providers have figured that out, too, and try imposing limits while excepting certain services. And indeed, when providers introduce zero rating, prices go up!

Interestingly, when zero-rating is squashed, the opposite happens. When the government forbade zero rating in the Netherlands, its largest provider KPN responded by doubling their users' data caps without a price hike.

Thus, my suggestion to the Brazil government would be: work with providers to get indiscriminate data bundles to more users, rather than empowering providers to control their users' Internet usage.

Zero rating exist by virtue of artificial Internet scarcity in the form of usage caps and it is not part of the solution to bringing Internet access to everybody. It is part of the problem.

03 August, 2015

Special people

After a rant on G+ I thought it'd be nice (for me, at least) to share a thought: we have an urge to put certain people on a pedestal because it helps our own identity and self esteem.

We need to feel superior

Self Esteem is very important for us - Maslov put individuality on top of the piramid for a reason. We need it to function, be happy in life.

So our brain lies to us

But how do you feel special and unique when you're not? Our brain lies to us, causing our illusion of superiority. I say 'our' because this is a near universal issue: 90% of people in pretty much any profession feels they are better than average, despite skills pretty much always following a bell curve (statistics speak for "half the people is worse and half is better than average").

Our brain is in charge of maintaining that positive sense of identity and has a series of tricks to keep that.

For example, identity depends on contrast. So we tend to exaggerate differences with others who are close to us. See for example countries who make fun of each other - it is inevitably between peoples very similar. Some interesting experiments were done with group behavior at a young boys' summer camp in the US in the 50's. Read a bit about this here if you're interested. You'll realize some of the problems we have in society are ingrained in our brains - a point I've made in an earlier blog.

Then there is the Self-Serving Bias which:
is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors.

We do that? Yes, we do. Examples are everywhere, and some honest introspection will show you. Why do we do it? Because it makes us feel better about ourselves! If something goes wrong, it's the fault of the world. If things go well, I DID AWESOME! (towards other people we show the related Fundamental Attribution Error). Just to get an idea of the impact of environment, watch this TED talk by James Flynn about the increase in IQ over the last 100 years (the Flynn effect, indeed).

Another important strategy is self justification: it is how we deal with a perceived discrepancy between what we believe about the world and what we see (also called 'cognitive dissonance'). Wikipedia again:
Internal self-justification refers to a change in the way people perceive their actions. It may be an attitude change, trivialization of the negative consequences or denial of the negative consequences. Internal self-justification helps make the negative outcomes more tolerable and is usually elicited by hedonistic dissonance. For example, the smoker may tell himself that smoking is not really that bad for his health.

External self-justification refers to the use of external excuses to justify one's actions. The excuses can be a displacement of personal responsibility, lack of self-control or social pressures. External self-justification aims to diminish one's responsibility for a behavior and is usually elicited by moral dissonance. For example, the smoker might say that he only smokes socially and because other people expect him to.

And there are many more of these biases which maintain our belief in ourselves.

Note that these persistent errors in judgment are part of a normal and healthy personality! But it is good to be aware of them and their effects on relationships, both private and in society at large.

Special or not

So, the rich have their brain lies to them, maintaining their illusory superiority. Now we can understand why somebody on top of the world feels that it is justified that he/she is paid more per hour than much of the world population earns in a year.

But why do we support this illusion by buying auto-biograpies and looking up to the Steve Jobs and Fords and Warren Buffets like they are such special people?

Because they support the narrative that we all need: the self made (wo)man.

There are always people who have a worse life than us - significantly so, often. As Sam Harris points out in a painful description of an iPad user, things are going very wrong in the world. So we have the need to justify ourselves, feel superior over the poor. We have many strategies for that - Sam mentions religion as one. Another one is the idea that we make our own life, supported by the biases I described.

I think that the stories of these great, wonderful people we've partially made up help us justify the thought that people who are worse off than us have only themselves to blame. We have a need to deny the harsh reality that the world isn't fair and we would be in their situation if the marbles would've fallen slightly different. 

22 July, 2015

The Washington Post again demanded that tech companies create special 'golden keys' for authorities to keep and use for access to private communication. Protected by a warrant, of course. For the benefit of this discussion (which is really getting old), I just put together the reasons why it is a dumb idea.

First of all. It is a pure fantasy, an entirely unrealistic wish of the Pink Unicorn variety that it is possible to create a key which only the US goverment (and other sanctioned agencies) would have access to. It is technically not possible. Ever. I explained that before so let me now just quote Bruce Schneier:
"We have one infrastructure. We can't choose a world where the US gets to spy and the Chinese don't. We get to choose a world where everyone can spy, or a world where no one can spy. We can be secure from everyone, or vulnerable to anyone. And I'm tired of us choosing surveillance over security."
And let's be clear - we've been over this, the Clinton government wanted a similar thing with the Clipper chip and as security researcher Matthew Green pointed out:
Clipper is only one of several examples of 'government access' mechanisms that failed and blew back on us catastrophically.
A second issue with the proposal is that it doesn't do anything. Just like all the spying programs that came before in this and previous decade. Here's Bruce talking about that, here the Guardian, the Newyorker, Wired and Washingtonsblog. Whatever these spy programs do - from spying on German Chancellor Merkel to US congress (that's the Washington Post itself!) to the United Nations and Unicef - the government spying programs certainly don't target or are helpful against terrorism or pedophilia or any of the other stuff they are claimed to be for. And neither will these 'golden keys' be used to catch terrorists.

Last, and this should already be blindingly clear if you see the list above of some of the targets of surveillance, you should doubt if the government agencies will abide by the rules - they haven't in the past.

I also want to point out that the very reason we're having this conversation in the first place is because we're idiots.