Tuesday, 30 December 2008 02:53

One Bush who has designs on LCA2009

In some ways, Joshua Bush is very much your typical open source person. But, in some other ways, he, very definitely, does not fit the mould.

Of himself, he says: "So far as personality profiling goes, I don't feel like I really adhere to any particular mould. I'd rather spend a night playing chess or reading a book than going out, but at the same time, I spend a lot of time out and about being active. I like to spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts, but I have a fairly outgoing personality.

"I'm a programmer who also does graphic design. I'm a tech geek who hates mobile phones (the only reason I have one is because I'm going overseas in February, and I won't keep it when I get back). I like to be patient and thoughtful, but I'm also very impulsive and can find something to laugh at wherever I go. For my birthday this year, I flew kites on the beach with a friend and chased seagulls."

But when it comes to his profession, there is crystal clear clarity. Bush, a photographer who also does graphic design, is in the main responsible for design for the forthcoming Australian national Linux conference; he is part of the teams that handle the conference web presence, merchandising and also open day.

He wasn't the first person to take up the task of designer. The Tasmanian Linux User Group team had a designer who left soon after the bid to host the conference had been submitted.

Bush, who lives in Launceston, about 200 kilometres from Hobart, became aware of the bid when he was talking to the TasLUG folk to organise an inter-LUG event. He "jumped at the opportunity to help when Leah (Duncan, one of the co-organisers) suggested it. LCA fit with the timeline I had for a state-wide event, so I've taken up the reigns for open day and am looking to get buses and transport for people from around Tasmania so that we can all gather together. I had a few exciting ideas early on that piqued a bit of interest, and since the graphic designer they'd had onboard for the bid had left, I was also able to slot into that role."


In all his designs for the conference, he says he has tried to keep to the theme and colours which were used before he became part of the team.

"Because of the lateness of my involvement - I came onboard not long before LCA08 and was straight into designing post cards and posters - I didn't really have time to build a comprehensive image/look and feel before I started, but I've consciously been trying to keep to the theme and colours that we've got on the website, which is mostly based on our postcards with a little bit of the original bid document thrown in.

"My biggest thing was being able to redo our mascot image as an SVG in open source software. The fellow who originally created it left the bid team long before we were awarded the conference and had lost all of the source files. Until I was able to get something else running, we were working with a JPG that had been ripped out of a PDF. It was a fair challenge to recreate our beak-wearing-devil and polish him up whilst still remaining true to the first incarnation."

As far as fresh design goes, Bush says he knocks together a few concepts and picks what feels like it fits best with what else is being done. "For things that aren't obvious, I throw it out to the rest of the team for opinions, but ultimately I've been given creative freedom (within the limitations of what's been achievable so far as print and production stuff goes)."

Having worked with mini-conference organiser Joshua Hesketh in the past on other web projects, he has found it easier to get the backend matching up with the interface design.

"The rest of the LCA09 team has been really supportive of my stuff, which has been great," he says.


Bush was about six when he had his first introduction to a computer. "In 1988, I think it was, Dad came home one day with our first computer - a Commodore Amiga 500. He and I learned to code in AMOS and AmigaBASIC from magazines, and I spent some time painting and doing animations in Deluxe Paint. I still have my Amiga and fire it up whenever I'm feeling nostalgic."

And, like many others in the open source community, though he does have several formal qualifications, he has taught himself most of what he knows,

Bush was home-schooled until high school with a few years of institutionalised primary school thrown in when the family moved from the outer western suburbs of Sydney to Tasmania in 1993. He says he is really thankful for those primary school years.

His entry into a tech-related job came about after he wrote an essay on how internet technology could change the lives of people in rural communities. "That caught the interest of some people involved with the Tasmanian Communities Online project, and I scored myself a job with the pilot programme, which was based inside the State Library's Deloraine branch," he says.

This was the first public online access centre in Tasmania. Bush worked there until the funding ran out and then served as secretary on the steering committee and a volunteer at the centre after he moved from Deloraine to Launceston. He has diplomas in programming, database design and administration, and a couple of other smaller IT qualifications, which he obtained at TAFE colleges.

"As seems to be the story with most people I know, the qualifications that you earn often have little bearing on the work you do," he says. "I'm a professional photographer and I do freelance graphic design, I've done stints in retail, held the often under-appreciated position of pizza delivery driver, and I've been doing combined sysadmin and tech support roles as my day job for the past four years."


Bush has been using Linux and open source software for the last five years. The child in him he indulges by using Wine, which makes it possible to run games written for Windows on Linux.

"I got to a point where, as a starving student who couldn't afford proprietary/commercial tools, I realised that I wasn't particularly happy with the idea of piracy (it's just not sustainable - if you don't support the people who make the stuff you like, they can't make the stuff you like) and went hunting for other options. The philosophies behind open source software, as well as the more user-oriented development cycles, were immediately attractive to me and I haven't looked back," he says.

"I've been doing Software Freedom Day events (and a few spin-off events, thanks to demand and interest in more stuff) for several years now, and in the effort to help foster community growth, I started looking into ways that I could help connect the people who came to our events and provide a focus for some of the enthusiasm.

"An idea I was particularly keen on was a larger event that was a joint effort by all the assorted LUGs and enthusiasts across the state to help solidify statewide bonds and reassure those in more rural areas that they're not alone and they're part of a bigger community."

Bush's involvement in TasLUG is relatively recent. "I've been running local meetings in Launceston for nearly six months, and when I came about, things were more or less dormant. Ben (Powell, the other co-organiser of the conference) and Leah have been involved for around a decade now and have stories of heydays and other quiet times.

"My personal feeling is that there's just not quite enough people in the major population centres to sustain regular LUG meetings, given the disparate nature of Tasmania's population. I feel that by making sure things are happening regularly and making resources and recordings of our meetings available for everybody, we're able to also connect with those who can't make it to the meetings and sustain interest that way. It's a tough balancing act with LCA though."

Asked about his choice of distribution, he says he's primarily a user of Fedora, Red Hat's community distribution. "I have been (a user) since Yarrow (the first release, which came out in November 2003), and I guess I've stuck with it because it meets my needs. When you get right down to it (and I'm sure I'll cop a bit of flak for saying it - but I'm a flight sim nut and a bit of flak doesn't faze me), all distros are the same. They all run off the same kernel, they all make use of the same sets of utilities (man, mount, more, cat, ls, etc), and most of them use the same window managers.

"When you get right down to it, the only differences that I can see between most distros are a) community attitudes, b) the default theme and c) what's in the repositories. Fedora's community is an alright bunch, and I'm hoping to become a Fedora Ambassador when I get some time. It's also a bit of a loyalty thing. If I move to another distro as my primary OS, it'll be because Fedora doesn't meet my needs anymore, not because there's something newer and shinier floating around."


Bush feeds his programming itch by involvement in a project called Neverball, which is described as "part puzzle game, part action game, and entirely a test of skill".

"Neverball's my refuge when conference stuff gets too much and I need to clear my head," he says. "It's a small project that will be having its first community release soon. Up to 1.4.x, all the development was done by one fellow, Robert (Kooima), and he's taken a step back to let the rest of us run with it. It's been great to work with some fantastic people across the world on it. I've made a couple of code contributions and a bunch of in-game and other (icons, posters, website, etc.) art as well. We've got some great designers who're taking the game in some new directions in terms of the level of ball control and cerebral puzzles required to complete their levels, and it's all really exciting to be a part of it."

Bush says the premise of Neverball is similar to those puzzles where the goal is to tilt a maze to guide a ball through it to the finish, except that one has to collect coins. "I'm a firm believer that open source software should be judged on its own merits. Neverball has deviated from whatever closed source projects might have inspired it to a point where the comparison is not really all that relevant anymore. It is one of those games that is easy to learn, and hard to master, which gives it a degree of replayability," he says

"Robert set a very high standard for gameplay and art that we're working really hard to stay true to. On the surface the game is very simple, but Robert has polished it to a shine that is quite astounding for an open source project. I might be biased, but even before I was involved with development, I considered it to be one of, if not the most polished open source games around. We also have a community of players who upload replays and compete to get the fastest times, most coins and best freestyle runs."

Tasmania is the most beautiful state in Australia and the green movement is alive and well there. Thus it is not surprising that some of it seems to have rubbed off on Bush. "I've been a cycle commuter for about three years, which can be difficult in Launceston (there is a lot of intolerance and aggression on our roads - I was knowingly struck by a vehicle carrying a trailer last week, which was very unfortunate) and a member of the local bicycle users group where we advocate cycle awareness, provide consulting for the city council on cycling infrastructure and try to organise a few rides where people can feel safe riding with the support of others," he says.

"I really enjoy wildlife and landscape photography, which fits nicely with my enthusiasm for bushwalking (or hiking, depending upon where in the world I am). I had some casual work at a wildlife park when I was much, much younger, and that piqued my interest in Australia's native fauna. I'm really passionate about our animals and am absolutely over the moon that we are planning to donate merchandise proceeds and proceeds from the traditional LCA dinner auction to research and management of the Tasmanian Devil's facial tumour epidemic. Not only are we supporting the open source industry, but also conservation of one of our State and Nation's iconic animals who are currently facing extinction - that's two good causes in one!"

At 26, Bush shares his life with Mr Squishy, his cat. "I'd like to be a Dad someday, but I'm not in any rush," he says. Which leads one to surmise that he may well have his eyes on some fair damsel somewhere. But for the moment, his attention is on the conference.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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