A Free Agent at MozFest 2014
It has been some days since I’ve been back from the amazing Mozilla Festival and its time to post about all the amazing things I’ve seen and done over there. This event was probably the most engaging “tech” event I’ve ever been. The whole mindset of sessions and facilitators is something that we should replicate all around the globe. In my humble opinion this event represents the best of the Mozilla mission and spirit and in these brief words I will try to explain a bit of my wonderful experience over there.
A Free Agent (or being a bit lost)
I am a Mozilla Rep and love working on Web related stuff. I’ve been to many events around the globe but this was my first MozFest. This event is very different than all other events I’ve been to and part of my experience was shapped by how I got there.
There was an application form for Mozilla Reps that were interested in going to the event. I’ve filled it. There was also a public call for sessions and I’ve submit my proposal about teching how to run Mozilla Appmaker on a Raspberry Pi. My session was reject but my trip was approved. So in essence, I was going but I had no idea what I was going to do there.
I pledge myself to the open web!
After arriving in London and getting to know the London MozSpace I ended up talking to a lot of Mozillians and learned about their amazing projects and hopes for the festival. The whole motto of the Festival resumes what it is all about:
Arrive with an idea, leave with a community
By talking to people I decided that my time would be more effectively used if I threw myself at the mobile web track and helped people as an impromptu facilitator.
Facilitators and Space Wranglers (aka awesome peeps)
The way the Mozilla Festival works is a bit different than many events I was familiar with. In most events in my country (Brazil, aka HUEland) even when there are multiple tracks they are usually made by a speaker on a high stage and watchers. This festival had a different approach. It had many tracks and each track had many sessions but the sessions were not about speakers and watchers but facilitators and attendees. Each session would have an arbitrary (aka not known to me) number of facilitators attached to it, they would help the attendees with the session. There were so many facilitators at the event that in every group of three people there was one facilitator. Basically from the total of 1500 attendees there were 500 facilitators.
Facilitators, tracks and sessions were coordinated by amazing space wranglers who were fantastic. Among all that there was also the people from MozHelp ready to assist you after a simple tweet or call for help. The Mozilla Reps were spread among facilitators, mozHelp and space wranglers. This ratio of facilitators to attendees led to a positive creative chaos that encouraged working in small groups on personal (and soon to be community) projects. Working these groups was a very rewarding experience and seeing some little projects come to life was special.
Since most of my knowledge and ability to contribute lies in the mobile web ecosystem I kept myself at the sixth floor of the Ravensbourne Magic Palace (or whatever they call that fantastic building) and talked and helped a lot of people and was helped by a lot of people in return. Some stuff deserves special mention.
BRCK is a special device. I came into contact with BRCK people before the event so I was already looking for them when MozFest started.
BRCK: The go anywhere, do anything, self-powered, mobile WiFi device.
BRCK is a little box of wonder that contains power, WIFI and 3G connection and storage. Basically you can think of it as a very rugged device that is at the same time a router, a NAS and violates the law of thermodinamics by having enough juice to last for hours.
If you live in a major modern urban center then you might not see the need for a self-powered router storage gizmo but there are many problems that it can solve. It can actually help change peoples life. Among the different things you can do with BRCK:
Cheap Weather Station
With some COTS electronics attached to a BRCK you can acquire sensor data and transmit it to a central place. Weather stations are most important in regions where there are flash floods, landslides and other unfriendly displays of affection by mother nature. With its 3G connection, BRCK could alert residents of an area using SMS if a river start flooding for example.
Long distance sync solution
Some times you need to sync data between locations that are so far apart that they can’t reach Telephone networks or WIFI. This is a reality in some places of Brazil and Africa where in the most rural areas away from urban development you can simply go off grid. These locations might not be far apart, a couple kilometers may be enough for them not to be contacteable anymore.
One could use a BRCK attached to a car or motorcycle to drive from location to location. Everytime the BRCK entered the range of the location LAN it could push and pull data from it. After driving to all locations and back, the central place would have data on all locations. This can be useful for example to manage bed and medicine availability in far away clinics in case of west nyle fever or dengue fever.
Impromptu Workshop Classroom Server
There is a lot to learn from Mozilla Webmaker initiative. By teaching people how to become makers of the web instead of simply being consumers of media it has a potential to transform lives. This program is based on giving workshops among other things. Webmaker Parties are so much fun! But what if you want to give a workshop on a place where there is no connection or stable power? BRCK enables you to creat a self-powered server and then you could use affordable tablets as clients and give your workshop anyway. No Power? No Worry!
Mozilla Location Service Bicycles
Mozilla Location Services aims to build a free and open location database for everyone to use. Once it is complete it will allow you to infer the position of a device from the cell phone towers and wifi networks nearby. Its all built with crowdsourced data and it depends on you walking your city with Mozilla Stumbler. BRCK could be used to power a device while you cycle around your city. Not only is geekly awesome but its healthy too.
I went to BRCK session to help people with ideas regarding BRCK application. They were interested in running Mozilla Appmaker in a Raspberry Pi attached to BRCK and I was helping them with how to do it. In the end we left with many ideas and applications for this technology and I am eager to try out what things I can do with BRCK in here.
Marcia and her Flashing Gurus
Everyone that knows Marcia Knous knows how awesome she is. Through her coordination and the passionate work of many volunteers hundreds of Flame devices were upgraded to Firefox OS 2.x
A thousand flames were distributed at the event, almost one per attendee. All those new flame owners were instructed to go meet the flashing booth and upgrade their devices. I sat there and helped as much as I could. I was flashing devices during dinner… I was not there full time like many other volunteers, those folks are heroes!
Fundraising for events
Among the many sessions that left an impression on me was the fundraising session where we learned from other people efforts how to raise funds for our events. We touched topics such as crowdfunding and approaching foundations for grants. It was a very positive experience and I met some awesome people there such as Lawerance Kisuuki who is helping organize Mozilla Festival East Africa and bring this fantastic event and spirit to new places.
I parachutted into a session by Mozilla Research on how to conduct research in a high school environment. This was a hands-on experience with lots of exercises and insight. With our diverse group of attendees and facilitators I came into contact with many out-of-the-box ideas that I plan to use the next time I need to conduct any research.
Firefox OS & Raspberry Pi (aka the web of things)
This will receive a post of its own shortly but for now lets to a summary. I was at the Reps HQ at the fifth floor when someone arrived talking about how cool was a the session about Firefox OS + Raspberry Pi that was going on on the first floor. I literally run to the first floor in time to catch the session end.
You, dear reader, must know how important this topic is to me. I’ve been trying unsuccessfuly to run Firefox OS in a Raspberry Pi since forever. Yes, I could run it but only on top of Raspbian and that was not good enough for what I wanted.
During that session, Firefox OS was shown running directly on bare metal Raspberry Pi. Another piece of awesomeness was shown which is the Sensible &mdash a framework for the web of things by the fine folks at Monohm. This framework can run on top of many things including Firefox OS and it allows you to do Internet of Things stuff using Web Technologies. If you can’t realize why a Web of Things is an awesome idea then stop and do the following exercise: Pick internet technologies such as email, web, gopher, voip, uucp, and wonder for a bit how much time you spent with each one. Also think for a bit on which of these and other internet technologies you benefited the most. The Web is the Platform and its now getting physical.
I will do a post shortly on running Firefox OS on a Pi and doing WoT. In the meanwhile you may find all info regarding Firefox OS on Raspberry Pi on the Mozilla Wiki. There is an image there that you can flash to your SD Card and play.
Be aware that this image is built with Raspberry Pi B/B+ in mind. I had only a Raspbery Pi A here but thru a generous donation from a Ali I got a B+ and am already putting it to good use. Stay tunned for more info.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to check how awesome the Mozilla Festival was check this fine article full of images and videos and content from our Ravensbourne friends.
One of the main things I am taking away with me from this event is a different approach to doing events itself. A new mindset more focused on facilitating sessions than presenting stuff. Now, I want bring a bit of this Mozilla Festival spirit into Brazil. Pro tips to Rosana Queen of the Reps for the facilitator tips session.
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