Serious Geeking Going on in Oxford Over Online Publishing

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On Wednesday 22 October, over a hundred geeks attended the ninth Oxford Geek Night, upstairs at the Jericho Tavern. After the musical theme of the previous OGN, this one had a distinct flavour of online publishing.

Jeremy Ruston of BT Osmosoft demonstrated TiddlyWiki (an open-source wiki application that works offline) and revealed its offshoot Project Cecily, a prototype ZUI (Zooming User Interface). Adrian Hon of Six to Start then explained the ideas and tech behind We Tell Stories, a complex Django-based site of interactive fiction, built for publishers Penguin UK.

Continuing the Django-ish theme, Rami Chowdhury discussed WSGI—the server/application web standard—in one of the more technical microslot talks (five minutes each, from local volunteers). In another, David Sheldon took us through the steps required to hack a CurrentCost electricity meter, to get at the regular XML packets it emits from a serial port.

In the microslot sessions we also covered moving your business mail to Google Mail, protection—or otherwise—against socially engineered virus vectors, and how to use an interlocking stack of Python, Ruby on Rails and Java to crawl the web for comparisons of mobile-phone tariffs. We also had a short talk from the Oxfordshire branch of the British Computing Society about their forthcoming IT-industry events.

As usual, the evening was rounded off by a book raffle, this time courtesy of Pearson Education. Many of the night’s talks—especially the keynotes and the microslot on antivirus protection—had generated heated debate among the geeks in the room, and this carried on for some time after proceedings had officially finished.

The Oxford Geek Nights are free events, thanks to Torchbox and the Google open-source team. But even the generosity of our sponsors couldn’t prevent the upstairs bar staff from tapping their watches, as we all headed downstairs into the main room of the pub to continue arguing.