Talking about Inkscape, in Leeds UK, from Boston USA, via Empathy.

Last Thursday, at the invitation of Rob Martin from the North East Leeds City Learning Centre in Leeds UK, I gave a talk about the Inkscape class I worked on as part of a Red Hat outreach program earlier this year. The occasion was the National City Learning Centres Conference 2010, which very excitingly had an open source track.The National City Learning Centers are organizations that help the area schools around them make use of technological innovations: providing training programs and workshops and supporting and developing solutions for technology use in the schools. Our Inkscape class seemed quite appropriate a topic! Here’s the thing, though: The conference took place in Leeds, UK. I gave my talk from Boston, Massachusetts. Take that, Atlantic Ocean! After numerous failed yet valiant attempts with Skype (no video, only audio and screensharing worked), Rob and his colleague Paul Bellwood gave empathy a shot – and it worked! Now, let me give you some caveats here: The call dropped two times during my talk. While Paul was very quick to reconnect the call, it was a little disorienting. We’re not sure why it happened.Screen sharing would not work in empathy. Sometimes it would be greyed out in the menu. Sometimes, it would not be, and we tried it, but on the Leeds end they just got a black screen. It worked right away in Skype.Audio feedback seemed to be more of a problem with the audio in empathy than it was with Skype. What I did was press the mute on my computer when I spoke and unmute when folks where asking questions. It was kind of annoying though. That being said, how cool is it to talk about using free & open source software to teach kids, via an openly-licensed and free curricula, at an open source track of a educational conference, using open source video conferencing?! That’s the way I like to roll 🙂 By the way, much of the content of my talk is available as an article – you’ll find links to all the worksheets and lesson plans there as well as a run down of the class mechanics, what worked, what didn’t, and suggestions for improvement in running your own. I haven’t filed bugs on any of the issues we ran into because I’m not sure if I really have any useful debugging information on them. 🙁 I believe we both used empathy-2.30.1-2, vino-2.28.2-1, and vinagre-2.30.0-1. I don’t know about their version of gstreamer but I have gstreamer-0.10.29-1. If there is any way after the event useful bug information could be tracked down let me know and I’m happy to provide whatever info I can.


  1. Nice, ofcourse you should have first tried with empathy and not skype :p
    About the caveats:
    * Call dropping, hard/impossible to analyse after the fact with no logs 🙁
    * Screen sharing.
    – If it's greyed out it means that we're not aware the other party has this capability. Can have
    multiple reasons, logs are needed here (whether you were disconnecting inbetween
    tries is useful info though)
    – black screen, either the setup of the data connection failed or stalled..
    Unfortunately needs logs again, either the setup of the data connection failed or
    stalled, which is odd since we have various nice relays around. As that one is
    probably easy to reproduce, would be great if you could try again and filing a bug
    with logs (help -> debug in empathy, gabble log is the interesting one) would be
    * Audio feedback, we don't do any echo cancellation, luckily collabora multimedia is working on
    that one, so should be better in the future (

    1. Sjoerd, we totally would have tried empathy first but the conference venue would only support Skype – I think the fact that Skype sucked is what enabled the opportunity to try empathy.
      Is there any chance the logs are captured on my system or would I have to have run it in some kind of debug mode to get them?

  2. Brian says:

    Mairin, you should be able to go to Help->Debug to get the logs.

    1. It looks like they don't go back to last Thursday. 🙁 Is there somewhere on disk old logs are stored or am I stuck 🙁

      1. Brian says:

        Unfortunately, your stuck since the debug info is only available per session unless you save it to disk manually.

        1. Ah okay. Well, I'll know for next time then! And at least with the whiteboard issue I'm sure I can do some testing with other folks to reproduce the issue 🙂

  3. Simon says:

    Yeah, you discovered once again that open source sucks compared to proprietary software 🙁
    I know it sounds like trolling but every time I try to show FOSS to the people this sort of embarrassment happens and I crawl back into my hole.

    1. Embarassment???? What embarassment? The proprietary software DID NOT WORK. Empathy saved the day, making my talk actually possible where it had not been. I don't know what FLOSS you've used/recommended but I've relied on a full open source desktop stack for professional design work for just over 6 years now and my tools have yet to fail or embarass me.

  4. Paul says:

    Hi Mairin
    Just to let you know we was on GStreamer 0.10.28, checking the empathy bug tracker there is nothing that immediately jumps out at me to suggest that its an issue with gstreamer or empathy, and I would more likely put the drop outs to network conditions.
    We was using wireless at our end which was also shared with the conference guests. There was sadly not enough time to get the venue to set up any traffic priorities.
    The feedback during the session was caused by the in-theatre PA system. You can see the Mic on the podium in your pictures and this was active during the session. I sadly had no control over the theatre PA System.
    Simon, there really was no embarrassment with the call dropping, especially considering the situation. Most of the time when video conferencing is involved with presentations, the audience expect some form of issue, its the nature of the beast.
    Video conferencing is not a new technology to us, but preforming the conference using Linux and empathy was. I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the set-up and quality of both the audio and video.
    As the guy at the conference, worrying that skype had let us down, I was seriously glad for the reprieve from FOSS Software.

  5. Hi Máirín!
    just wondering what protocol you connected through to get this working. Did you have to use a dedicated jabber server somewhere?

    1. Hi Ryan! It was jabber – we used Google Talk. I would rather an open source server but hey… 🙂

  6. Dear Mairin,
    I work as a Learning Co-ordinator for Art, Creative Media and Photography at North East Leeds City Learning Centre, so I attended the National City Learning Centres Conference 2010. I thought your talk about the Ink Scape class was very informative and inspirational.
    Currently I am running various art and design sessions with primary schools using Ink Scape and Gimp.
    I thought you might like to see some of the work by year 5 students from Moor Allerton Hall Primary School in Leeds.The children had been designing images to go on bags that could be sold for charity to aid flood victims in Pakistan. Here is the link for our website.
    Hope you like it!
    Kind Regards

    1. Hi Jelena!
      I've dropped you an email! Thanks for the comment, it's wonderful to see & hear how kids are using the software, and this seems like a great cause!

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