Magic at Codebits

I might have said previously that Codebits is just about hacking, working day and night. Wrong! There are also great diners and and even greater entertainment. See the video where Jose Alves de Castro made me feel like a fool, in a nice way – I did not see the cards changing hands…

… and I was not the only one to be fooled. I am told to do these tricks, one needs about 300 hours of practice, be completely focused and maybe be a little eccentric.

PS. The video was taken by Carlos Morgado and not by me as wrongly stated previously. Both Jose and Carlos are very well-respected employees of SAPO, the organizer of Codebits.


Life on the conference circuit – Part 3

From a rather cold Malmö, I was hoping for a warm Lisbon when I left home on November 14th. Wrong! It was a cold and windy Portugal that welcomed me for my sixth Codebits. Late morning, I decided to go to the venue to organize the O’Reilly table of books and sort out the pre-orders.

It is always fun to get into the Tejo Hall at Lisbon’s Parque das Nações as the main entrance is locked before the opening of the show. I therefore needed to find a side entrance but which one?  Most of them were locked. At long last I found an open door and soon met with Jose Alves de Castro, the main organizer. After the greetings he showed me the layout of the place. Once again big changes – or improvements – were made in the main room: more colours, and three new bubble-shaped igloos. But what were those bubbles? It seems that last year, there were 3 tracks of talks given in the main area – unfortunately the noise level was too high and some of the talks were badly interrupted. This year the talks were still given in this area but they are held in the bubbles. As you can see in this video and the photos, the room looks awesome and of course, Sapo’s logo, the little frog, is still the star of the event.

Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the Hackspace since it was in a different part of the building – some of the big names that gave presentations and workshops included:

  • Mitch Altman – a San Francisco-based hacker and inventor, best known for inventing TV-B-Gone remote controls, a keychain that turns off TVs in public places.
  • Rob Bishop – a RaspberryPi Foundation Member who has been involved with development of the RaspberryPi since the first Broadcom SoC based prototypes (when the RaspberryPi looked like this) and was responsible for the first Quake port.
  • Erik de Bruijn – is currently involved in a research project with Eric von Hippel (MIT) and Jeroen de Jong (E.I.M.) to assess knowledge transfers between actors in the additive manufacturing industry. In 2011 he co-founded Ultimaking LTD, a company that develops and sells a fast, large build volume, open-source 3D printer: the Ultimaker.

Unfortunately, I could not follow the talks in the main area but most talks were well attended.

Can you imagine three days and two nights of talks and programming contests? Very tough so there was a need for some light entertainment:

  • Presentation karokee – when the presenter does not have a clue about the content of the presented slides.
  • Quiz – random questions
  • Flashmob Gangnam Style
  • Nuclear tacos eating contest
  • Badges collections

and much more.

Codebits ended on Saturday evening with the presentation of the outcomes of the programming contests, and the prize giving ceremony as well as a few speeches from the VIPs of SAPO – unfortunately these speeches were given in Portuguese and I cannot therefore tell you what was said.

Codebits is well-established with more and more attendees from 400 in 2007 to approx 1 000 this year. I do not know if it can get bigger but in 2013 Codebits Lisbon will run parallel with Codebits Brazil.

After this rather demanding event, I took a few days off in Portugal with my daughter. There is so much to do there that three and half days were definitely not enough.

Day 1 was dedicated to the Lisbon aquarium – I was told one of the biggest and most populated aquariums in the world. There you can meet the usual fish as well as sunfish, sea otters, sharks and penguins. The day finished with a Fado dinner.







Day 2 was a nice visit to Sintra, the summer retreat of the Portuguese kings. There are several castles in Sintra. For me, the most beautiful was the Costello dos Mouros or Castle of the Moors from the eighth century. Beautiful old stones among huge boulders – you feel like a mountain goat climbing up the very narrow paths. Other castles included the Palacio da Pena and the Palacio Nacional. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit the Park of Pena – I suppose one has to keep something for the future.


Day 3 – Woke up with a reminder of the muscles I did not know I had. Mountain climbing is not for the unfit. With the aid of some painkillers we climbed yet another hill to visit the Castello S. Jorge in the centre of Lisbon – lots of stairs! This castle is yet another ruin dating from the Moorish era and then conquered by the first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, in 1147. More climbing on the ramparts – I must admit that the coffee shop with its peacocks and cats was very welcome. The afternoon was filled with a visit to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum with its treasures collected from all over the world. I loved the “Portrait of an Old Man” by Rembrandt but was not impressed by the French furniture or silver.

On the last day, we did a little shopping and walked around the centre of town and along the Tejo.

One thing I was not prepared for was an invasion of green and white t-shirts – Celtic played Benfica on Tuesday. No squirmishes, the ambience was great but why did the Celtic fans have to come back in the same plane as us! There was not one inch to spare.

Codebits V – Hackers Paradise or Death by Nuclear Tacos

Once again, I went to Codebits. Every year I write how wonderful this event is. As described on the Codebits site we had: 3 days. 24 hours a day. 800 attendees. Talks. Workshops. Lots of food and beverages. 48 hour programming/hacking competition. Quiz Show. Presentation Karaoke. Security Competition. Lots of gaming consoles. LEGO. More food. More beverages. More coding. Sleeping areas. More fun. An unforgettable experience. On Thursday morning, you walk in as a normal person, on Saturday evening, you crawl out – on your knees, entirely finished,  but with that warm feeling that you have achieved something and have been part of a huge community that hacks for fun and work. What is new this year: more people and more wacky ideas for fun ie badges etc. There is always something going on. Unfortunately being stuck behind a huge table of books, I can see only a little part of it.

What did I see/do:

  • The effects of the Nuclear Tacos – apparently they are awful. After eating one, the first 10 mn, you think you are going to die, then you feel awful because you know you are not going to die. As the queue to the restaurant was near me, I have seen some white, red and sickly faces – not a pleasant sight. See the Nuclear Tacos Sensor Helmet Gameshow @Codebits 2011 developed by altlab Lisbon’s Hackerspace as part of the hacking competition.
  • I was given a pleasant drink – I believe whoever made it played with the molecules of the ingredients – no killing field this time.
  • Conga – wild music would start and the staff would do a Conga in the main room.
  • Skateboards – I believe there was a kind of a contest for daredevil runs.
  • Even saw a plastic air gun toy.

I am glad SAPO, organize these types of recreation to keep everybody going – wake up calls that are very needed – see pictures.





I forgot to mention how much I like Lisbon and the joy of the walk from the hotel to the venue particularly on Saturday morning – it is fresh, calm and beautiful.







I hope one of the organizers will be able to tell you more about Codebits V in the very near future.




From OpenFest to Codebits or from Sofia to Lisbon

As described before, OpenFest is the annual gathering of fans, creators and supporters of open source in Sofia.

Unfortunately I had even more problems understanding the programme than usual. Cyrillic and I do not get on – so I will only tell you about the talks that kind of made sense to me. Michael Kerrisk’s talk seemed interesting: Why Kernel Space Sucks? (Or: Deconstructing two myths)(Or: Anabridged history of kernel-userspace interface blunders…). Philip Paeps (one of the Fosdem organiser among other things) gave a talk on Using FreeBSD in an Embedded Environment. I noticed that like everywhere else people here are concerned about the environment – Using Open Source Technologies to Create Enterprise Level Cloud System, Optimize your Costs and Offset your Carbon Footprint on the Environment by Венелин Горнишки, Илиян Стоянов.

After the event, we all meet at the Krivoto restaurant for beer and food, networking and discuss the talks of the day. You can guess what I did… tried to decipher the English menu.

Two days after Openfest, it’s Codebits time in Lisbon so instead of traveling home one day and flying to Lisbon the nest day, I decided to stay an extra day in Bulgaria thanks to my hosts Marian Marinov and his wife Toni. By the way Marian is the main organizer of OpenFest. We spent the day in Plovdiv, a charming city about 130 km East of Sofia with Roman ruins, typical Bulgarian architecture and much more. One should not forget that Bulgaria came under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries which explains the presence of so many Mosques. More….










After Sofia – Lisbon for Codebits.

I arrived a little too early at the venue but I remembered that the out of hours entrance was in the basement – the security guards were very kind and gave me a chair so I could wait in confort. Who said that life at conferences is not charmed!


Codebits IV, Lisbon 2010

SAPO Codebits 2010At Codebits (Lisbon, Portugal), Josette Garcia met with Celso Martinho and José Alves de Castro to discuss SAPO’s latest IT innovations including their latest Android phone. SAPO is part of Portuguese Telecom.

Once again I have been to Codebits and cannot stop being amazed by this very special conference. Organized by SAPO and inspired by Hackday

Balloon Launch

Balloon Launch

which took place in London in 2007, Codebits has grown year after year – The number of attendees has grown by 100 every year, in 2010 we had 700 people. How much bigger can it get?

The event lasts 3 days and includes talks, a programming contest, quizzes and lots of fun as well as a balloon launch. The technical presentations are given either by invited speakers or by the attendees. For the first time the programming contest lasted 48 hours. The attendees group themselves into small units (with a minimum of 2 persons). After 48 hrs, each group has 90 seconds to present their project.

Not everybody can attend Codebits. Those who wish to attend need to apply by giving some information – who they are, what they do, why want to attend. This is followed by a screening process to ensure that the audience is made solely of “techies”. The event is completely free for the attendees – no entry fees, free food, free entertainment and sleeping facilities if so wished.

SAPO-themed check-in

SAPO’s new projects:
During Codebits, SAPO also introduced a few new projects; two of them really stand out:

MEO Jogos, a platform that allows Portugal Telecom fiber clients to play games from the comfort of their homes without the need of a powerful machine; around 20 awesome games – with new titles added often – running on PT’s servers as if they were local, and available at less than 10 € / month; much cheaper than buying a console and the games, but only possible thanks to PT’s optic fiber network.

SAPO a5, SAPO’s first smartphone – an Android 2.1 with 512MB RAM, a 600MHz ARM processor, 800×480 multi-touch screen and a 5Mpixels camera for less than 150 €; but that’s not all: the address book has strong integration with several social networks and the terminal comes bundled with several apps developed at SAPO for the Portuguese audience – weather, movies, sports, news, etc.

Following Codebits, they announced another big project: Music Box, a platform that allows subscribers to play music on their computers, smartphones and even TVs, and while the service has a small fee, most current Portugal Telecom clients get it for free.

A few other minor projects were unveiled or revamped during Codebits – Photos website, for instance, got a major revamp; an Alerts platform and a few things related to authentication with SAPO’s services were launched.

SAPO was created 15 years ago by university students from Aveiro University including Celso Martinho who is CTO. SAPO stands for Servidor de Apontadores Portugueses Online. SAPO means frog or toad depending on which definition you read.

Shortly after that they were bought and eventually ended up being part of Portugal Telecom, where every year they’ve been strengthening their position getting more and more involved with all the other companies in the group.

O'Reilly Bookstall

O'Reilly Bookstall

During the last world cup, for instance, they were instrumental in quickly allowing Portugal Telecom’s clients to watch the world cup games on TV without the Vuvuzelas’ noise. Public service, they called it!

They currently have a team of over 150 techies working on pretty much everything, from photos to videos, maps to health solutions, etc. – the works!

One other interesting fact:
SAPO has also been founding and funding several laboratories in Portuguese universities. The faculty provides a room and someone to lead the project; SAPO provides free equipment and gives students scholarships and mentoring to develop new projects and ideas. In the end, some of these students get the chance to work at SAPO.