Shallow Thoughts : : conferences

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 05 Jul 2016

GIMP at Texas LinuxFest

I'll be at Texas LinuxFest in Austin, Texas this weekend. Friday, July 8 is the big day for open source imaging: first a morning Photo Walk led by Pat David, from 9-11, after which Pat, an active GIMP contributor and the driving force behind the PIXLS.US website and discussion forums, gives a talk on "Open Source Photography Tools". Then after lunch I'll give a GIMP tutorial. We may also have a Graphics Hackathon/Q&A session to discuss all the open-source graphics tools in the last slot of the day, but that part is still tentative. I'm hoping we can get some good discussion especially among the people who go on the photo walk.

Lots of interesting looking talks on Saturday, too. I've never been to Texas LinuxFest before: it's a short conference, just two days, but they're packing a lot into those two days and but it looks like it'll be a lot of fun.

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Wed, 06 Jan 2016

Speaking at SCALE 14x

I'm working on my GIMP talk for SCALE 14x, the Southern California Linux Expo in Pasadena.

[GIMP] My talk is at 11:30 on Saturday, January 23: Stupid GIMP tricks (and smart ones, too).

I'm sure anyone reading my blog knows that GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program, the free open-source photo and image editing program which just celebrated its 20th birthday last month. I'll be covering an assortment of tips and tricks for beginning and intermediate GIMP users, and I'll also give a quick preview of some new and cool features that will be coming in the next GIMP release, 2.10.

I haven't finished assembling the final talk yet -- if you have any suggestions for things you'd love to see in a GIMP talk, let me know. No guarantees, but if I get any requests I'll try to accommodate them.

Come to SCALE! I've spoken at SCALE several times in the past, and it's a great conference -- plenty of meaty technical talks, but it's also the most newbie-friendly conference I've been to, with talks spanning the spectrum from introductions to setting up Linux or introductory Python programming all the way to kernel configuration and embedded boot systems. This year, there's also an extensive "Ubucon" for Ubuntu users, including a keynote by Mark Shuttleworth. And speaking of keynotes, the main conference has great ones: Cory Doctorow on Friday and Sarah Sharp on Sunday, with Saturday's keynote yet to be announced.

In the past, SCALE been held at hotels near LAX, which is about the ugliest possible part of LA. I'm excited that the conference moving to Pasadena this year: Pasadena is a much more congenial place to be, prettier, closer to good restaurants, and it's even close to public transportation.

And best of all, SCALE is fairly inexpensive compared to most conferences. Even more so if you use the promo-code SPEAK for a discount when registering.

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Thu, 17 Apr 2014

Back from PyCon

I'm back from Montreal, settling back in.

The PiDoorbell tutorial went well, in the end. Of course just about everything that could go wrong, did. The hard-wired ethernet connection we'd been promised didn't materialize, and there was no way to get the Raspberry Pis onto the conference wi-fi because it used browser authentication (it still baffles me why anyone still uses that! Browser authentication made sense in 2007 when lots of people only had 801.11g and couldn't do WPA; it makes absolutely zero sense now).

Anyway, lacking a sensible way to get everyone's Pis on the net, Deepa stepped as network engineer for the tutorial and hooked up the router she had brought to her laptop's wi-fi connection so the Pis could route through that.

Then we found we had too few SD cards. We didn't realize why until afterward: when we compared the attendee count to the sign-up list we'd gotten, we had quite a few more attendees than we'd planned for. We had a few extra SD cards, but not enough, so I and a couple of the other instructors/TAs had to loan out SD cards we'd brought for our own Pis. ("Now edit /etc/network/interfaces ... okay, pretend you didn't see that, that's the password for my home router, now delete that and change it to ...")

Then some of the SD cards turned out not to have been updated with the latest packages, Mac users couldn't find the drivers to run the serial cable, Windows users (or was it Macs?) had trouble setting static ethernet addresses so they could ssh to the Pi, all the problems we'd expected and a few we hadn't.

But despite all the problems, the TAs: Deepa (who was more like a co-presenter than a TA), Serpil, Lyz and Stuart, plus Rupa and I, were able to get everyone working. All the attendees got their LEDs blinking, their sonar rangefinders rangefinding, and the PiDoorbell script running. Many people brought cameras and got their Pis snapping pictures when the sensor registered someone in front of it. Time restrictions and network problems meant that most people didn't get the Dropbox and Twilio registration finished to get notifications sent to their phones, but that's okay -- we knew that was a long shot, and everybody got far enough that they can add the network notifications later if they want.

And the most important thing is that everybody looked like they were having a good time. We haven't seen the reviews (I'm not sure if PyCon shares reviews with the tutorial instructors; I hope so, but a lot of conferences don't) but I hope everybody had fun and felt like they got something out of it.

The rest of PyCon was excellent, too. I went to some great talks, got lots of ideas for new projects and packages I want to try, had fun meeting new people, and got to see a little of Montreal. And ate a lot of good food.

Now I'm back in the land of enchantment, with its crazy weather -- we've gone from snow to sun to cold breezes to HOT to threatening thunderstorm in the couple of days I've been back. Never a dull moment! I confess I'm missing those chocolate croissants for breakfast just a little bit. We still don't have internet: it's nearly 9 weeks since Comcast's first visit, and their latest prediction (which changes every time I talk to them) is a week from today.

But it's warm and sunny this morning, there's a white-crowned sparrow singing outside the window, and I've just seen our first hummingbird (a male -- I think it's a broad-tailed, but it'll take a while to be confident of IDs on all these new-to-me birds). PyCon was fun -- but it's nice to be home.

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Fri, 27 May 2011

PII 2011: Privacy, Identity and Innovation conference

I'm just now finding time to write up some of my notes from PII: Privacy, Identity and Innovation last week. PII was a fabulous conference, fascinating and well run. It was amazing to be in a room with so many people who actually care about these issues.

There were two days of speakers and panels, most of them in the same room, which surprised me: usually conferences have multiple tracks to give you lots of choices. But I ended up being glad for the single track. Almost all of the speakers and panels were interesting, including some I might not have chosen on my own. I had my laptop along with some projects I figured I'd work on during the boring sessions -- but that never happened. I didn't even get time during lunch or breaks -- too many fascinating people to talk to in the hallways.

Then Saturday was "Privacy Camp", a less formal "unconference" full of round-table discussions about some of the issues raised during the regular conference. Conversations were lively and informative.

Usually after a conference I have a couple of suggestions for improvement. For PII I really can't come up with anything. The website was very informative (they even had detailed parking information), everything ran pretty close to on time, rooms were easy to find, they had an A/V crew recording everything, and wow, that Thursday lunch. Plus: Best. Badgeholders. Ever. Great job, PII organizers!

And I couldn't help but notice the gender balance: a third of the speakers were women, and by my rough count-of-nearby-tables, women were close to 40% of the attendees. At a tech conference! That's about double most conferences. Most of the women I talked to were entrepreneurs, many with a history of successful startups already, plus some researchers and a few developers.

The opening talk was worth getting up early for: Julia Angwin, the journalist who wrote the Wall Street Journal's excellent "What they know" articles, discussing the research that led to to the series and what they've learned from it.

Later, once the panel discussions got started, the biggest takeaway from the conference was a question mentioned early on: "Were users surprised? When were they surprised?" Sometimes companies say they care about privacy, but haven't thought much about user expectations. Asking yourself this question is a great test of how well you're really protecting user privacy.

Privacy statements don't work

One of the panels I wouldn't have chosen that was unexpectedly interesting discussed web site privacy statements. First, M. Ryan Calo of the Stanford privacy center presented a study on user behavior with regard to privacy statements. They tried several different types, on websites of very different designs, to see what worked best for users. The upshot? "We couldn't test how well various privacy statements worked, because no users clicked on them. Zero."

Then Aleecia McDonald of Mozilla presented a study where they tried structuring privacy statements in different ways to make the information clearer to users. How can you improve on the "natural-language" policy you see on most websites, consisting of several pages of dense obfuscated text? They tried hierarchies where they showed the basics and let users click through to the details; interactive pages where you could expand and contract sections or mouse over a category to see more; colored tables, cute icons, the works. They found that most of the seemingly easier formats were actually worse than the long natural-language expositions no one reads.

If you make the page interactive, users won't expand the sections and won't find the important mouseovers. If you make sub-pages, users won't click through. If you use icons, users won't know what they mean. But too often, they'll end up thinking they understand, making assumptions about the details that don't match what's really in the policy. So most simplified, "user-friendly" policies are actually worse than a dense wall of text.

The only style that tested slightly better than natural-language policies was the "Nutrition label" style, where they presented several aspects of privacy with ratings for how good or bad the site was.

I felt sorry for the two panelists after Ryan and Aleecia, who were there to show off their cool hierarchical privacy statement page designs. They'd obviously put a lot of work into trying to make their policies clearer ... but we'd just been convincingly shown how ineffective such policies really are.

How to be stupid much faster

One panel discussed big data collection, and some of the ways data can be misused. Someone (Beth Givens?) related a story of a family arrested for marijuana growing after their power company's algorithms flagged them as suspicious for their heavy late-night use of power. Turns out they just had two teenagers who liked to stay up late playing video games. Terence Craig, in my favorite quote from the conference, quipped: "It used to be that it took weeks to accumulate that data. Now you can be stupid much faster."

I enjoyed a workshop given by Brian Kennish of Disconnect and Calvin Pappas of SelectOut about their projects. Disconnect arose from a chrome browser extension, Facebook Disconnect, to block Facebook tracking from widgets on third-party sites. SelectOut also arose from a chrome extension, making it easy for users to opt out of all the major advertising networks at once. The workshop turned into a lively discussion of opt-out versus do-not-track solutions, and what future directions might be.

In another workshop, Martin Ortlieb described a Google study comparing attitudes toward privacy of people in several countries. Someone in the audience asked a question about data being collected and held by government agencies versus private companies. Martin commented that attitudes in the study tended toward "I'd rather companies have my data, because then the government might regulate how it's used. If the government has it, no company's going to regulate it."

Assorted notes

Someone mentioned that Mozilla didn't seem to be taking "Do not track" very seriously, hiding it in the Advanced preferences tab, not under Privacy where you'd expect it. Why? Later we heard that Mozilla is listening to those concerns, and Firefox 5 will move Do Not Track to the Privacy tab.

Esther Dyson: "Personal data can be traded; reputation can't. Reputation is not a currency." She was responding to someone who described a business model involving trading reputation points.

M. Ryan Calo: The government doesn't need a warrant to access your webmail if it's older than 6 months, something most webmail users don't realize.

Finally, Raman Khanna observed: kids get tattoos, then when they're older they pay a lot more for laser removal services. There will be data services like that. "You were stupid when you were in college, and you put all this info online. We'll clean it up for you."

A good insight, and it reminded me of the old threat they used to give us in school (do they still say this to kids?) "This is going on your permanent record." Nobody was ever sure what this permanent record was or why anyone would want to look at it. I wonder if mine still exists somewhere?

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Fri, 04 Mar 2011

Thoughts on moving SCALE?

I've been going to SCALE for about four years now, and this year's SCALE9x was as good as ever.

There's really only one aspect of SCALE I'm not wild about: the LAX location.

On the conference's #scale-chat IRC channel Sunday night, some folks were discussing whether it might be possible to move away from LAX. It seemed like a great idea, which I want to examine.

Apparently there's a Marriott at the Burbank airport that handles conferences very well, if being near an airport is important, Other folks have suggested Pasadena, a great conference venue if it's not so important to be right next to an airport.

In Burbank or Pasadena, there would be more space, better and cheaper parking, nice scenery, and options for lunch besides overpriced hotel restaurants and fast food. But there's another factor, too: out-of-towners would come away with a much better impression of LA.

I grew up in the Los Angeles area, and I love going back to visit. But I've lost count of the number of times I've heard "Ugh! I bet you're glad to be out of there!" I always ask how much time they've spent in LA, and where; the answer is invariably, "Not much, just a few days near LAX."

It makes me wince. The area around LAX is one of the most smog-ridden, characterless hives of asphalt in four counties. It's a long way from either culture or nature, it's hard for locals to get there on traffic-choked freeways, and it's difficult and expensive to park. It's not even easy to fly in and out of, last I tried; the smaller airports are much friendlier. But face it: a lot of people never see anything of Los Angeles besides LAX. And those folks go away thinking what a pit LA is -- even if the conference itself was great.

While I was at SCALE, my husband amused himself in Burbank. On Saturday, it snowed (!) and he drove around watching folks having snowball fights and ogling the snow piled on their cars. Sunday dawned clear and beautiful, and he went for a hike in the Verdugo hills, with spectacular views of the snowy San Gabriel mountains, and the resident raven flock practicing aerobatics like snap rolls, inverted and knife-edge flight.

Okay, so you won't see any of that while listening to talks. But in Burbank or Pasadena, you could get out during lunch, walk to a restaurant, see the mountains looming over you, make a Trader Joe's run (I heard more than one attendee asking about the nearest TJs). And parking and hotels would be much cheaper, for those who can't afford to stay at the conference venue.

A reader points out that I forgot to mention there's a Fry's Electronics just across the street from the Burbank Marriott -- geek paradise! Even more important than Trader Joe's!

I know, you're thinking people don't go to computer conferences to walk around outside, or to go to zoos or museums or whatever. But ... don't they? I've sure had fun exploring the attractions of cities like Melbourne or Brussels, hiking with friends in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, visiting Powell's books in Portland, or petting a koala in Hobart before or after Linux conferences. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Sure, they could rent a car and go driving after the conference. But if all they've seen is LAX, they probably don't even know any of that other stuff is there. LA is just endless freeways and parking lots -- everybody knows that, right?

I know there are lots of arguments for staying at LAX, and I'm sure it's a lot easier for international visitors flying in. But, SCALE organizers, you do such a fantastic job running the conference; please consider some day moving it to a venue that lives up to the rest of the conference.

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Mon, 28 Feb 2011


Another year of SCALE, the Southern CAlifornia Linux Expo, is over, and it was as good as ever.


A few standout talks:

Leigh Honeywell's keynote was a lively and enjoyable discussion of hackerspaces -- from the history of the movement to a discussion of some of the coolest and most innovative hackerspaces around today. She had plenty of stories and examples that left everyone in the audience itching to get involved with a local hackerspace, or start one if necessary.

John Wise and Eugene Clement of presented the entertaining "A Reflection on Classroom Robotics with Linux Robots in classrooms". They've taught kids to build and program robots that follow lines, solve mazes, and avoid obstacles. The students have to figure out how to solve problems, details like when and how far to back up. What a fantastic class! I can't decide if I'd rather teach a class like that or take it myself ... but either way, I enjoyed the presentation. They also had a booth in the exhibit hall where they and several of their students presented their Arduino-based robots exploring simulated Martian terrain.

Jonathan Thomas spoke about his OpenShot video editor and the development community behind it, with lots of video samples of what OpenShot can do. Sounds like a great program and a great community as well: I'll definitely be checking out OpenShot next time I need to edit a video.

It's worth mentioning that both the robotics talk and the OpenShot one were full of video clips that ran smoothly without errors. That's rare at conferences -- videos so often cause problems in presentations (OpenOffice is particularly bad at them). These presenters made it look effortless, which most likely points to a lot of preparation and practice work beforehand. Good job, guys!

Larry Bushey's "Produce An Audio Podcast Using Linux" was clear and informative, managing to cover the technology, both hardware and software, and the social factors like how often to broadcast, where to host, and how to get the word out and gain and keep listeners while still leaving plenty of time for questions.

The Exhibit Hall

In between talks I tried to see some of the exhibit hall, which was tough, with two big rooms jam-packed with interesting stuff.

Aside from LinuxAstronomy and their robots, there were several other great projects for getting technology into schools: Partimus from the bay area, and Computers4Kids more local to LA, both doing excellent work.

The distro booths all looked lively. Ubuntu California's booth was always so packed that it was tough getting near to say hi, Fedora was well attended and well stocked with CDs, and SuSE had a huge array of givaways and prizes. Debian, Gentoo, Tiny Core and NetBSD were there as well.

Distro Dilemma and "the Hallway track"

Late in the game I discovered even Arch Linux had a booth hidden off in a corner. I spent some time there hoping I might get help for my ongoing Arch font rendering problem, but ended up waiting a long time for nothing. That left me with a dilemma for my talk later that day: Arch works well on my laptop except that fonts sometimes render with chunks missing, making them ugly and hard to read; but a recent update of Ubuntu Lucid pulled in some weird X change that keeps killing my window manager at unpredictable times. What a choice! In the end I went with Ubuntu, and indeed X did go on the fritz, so I had to do without my live demo and stick to my prepared slides. Not a tragedy, but annoying. The talk went well otherwise.

I had a great conversation with Asheesh from the OpenHatch project about how to make open source projects more welcoming to new contributors. It's something I've always felt strongly about, but I feel powerless to change existing projects so I don't do anything. Well, OpenHatch is doing something about it, and I hope I'll be able to help.

The Venue

Not everything was perfect. The Hilton is a new venue for SCALE, and there were some issues. On Saturday, every room was full, with people lining the walls and sitting on floors. This mostly was not a room size problem, merely a lack of chairs. Made me wonder if we should go all opensource on them and everybody bring their own lawn chair if the hotel can't provide enough.

Parking was a problem too. The Hilton's parking garage fills up early, so plan on driving for ten minutes through exhaust-choked tunnels hoping to find a space to squeeze into. We got lucky, so I didn't find out if you have to pay if you give up and exit without finding a spot.

Then Sunday afternoon they ran short of validation tickets (the ones that reduce the cost from $22 to $9), and it wasn't clear if there was any hope of more showing up (eventually some did).

To top it off, when we finally left on Sunday the payment machine at the exit swallowed my credit card, requiring another 15 minutes of waiting for someone to answer the buzzer. Eventually the parking manager came down to do a magic reset rite.

So I didn't come away with a great impression of the Hilton. But it didn't detract much from a wonderful conference full of interesting people -- I had a great time, and would (and do) recommend SCALE to everyone with any interest in Linux. But it left me musing about the pros and cons of different venues ... a topic I will discuss in a separate post.

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Mon, 05 Apr 2010

Where 2.0 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Where 2.0 conference (thanks, Linux Pro Magazine!) Then, on the weekend, the free WhereCamp followed it up.

I'd been to WhereCamp last year. It was wonderful, geeky, highly technical and greatly inspiring. I thought I was the only person interested in mapping, especially in Python, and after the first couple of sessions I was blown away with how little I knew and what a thriving and expert community there was. I was looking forward to the full experience this year -- I figured Where 2.0 must be similar but even better.

Actually they're completely different events. Where 2.0 was dominated by location-aware startups: people with iPhone games (Foursquare and others in a similar mold), shopping apps (find the closest pizza place to your location!) and so on. The talks were mostly 15 minutes long, so while there were lots of people there with fascinating apps or great stories to tell, there was no time to get detail on anything. I think the real point of Where 2.0 is to get a sketch of who's doing what so you can go collar them in the "hallway track" later and make business deals.

Here are some highlights from Where 2.0. I'll write up WhereCamp separately.

Ignite Where

The Ignite session Tuesday night was great fun, as Ignite sessions almost always are.

The Ignite session was broken in the middle by a half-hour interlude where a bunch of startups gave one-minute presentations on their products, then the audience voted on the best, then an award was given which had already been decided and had nothing to do with the audience vote (we didn't even get to find out which company the audience chose). Big yawner: one minute isn't long enough for anyone to show off a product meaningfully, and I wasn't the only one there who brought reading material to keep them occupied until the second round of Ignite talks started up again.

Best Ignite talks (Ignite Where 2.0 videos here):

Wednesday talks

Patrick Meier gave a longer version of his Ignite talk on Mobilizing Ushahidi-Haiti, full of interesting stories of how OpenStreetMap and other technologies like Twitter came together to help in the Haiti rescue effort.

Clouds, Crowds, and Shrouds: How One Government Agency Seeks to Change the Way It Spatially Enables Its Information, by Terrance Busch of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, was an interesting look into the challenges of setting up a serious mapping effort, then integrating later with commercial and crowdsourced efforts.

In Complexities in Bringing Home Environmental Awareness, Kim Balassiano of the US EPA showed the EPA MyEnvironment page, where you can find information about local environmental issues like toxic waste cleanups. They want users to enter good news too, like composting workshops or community gardens, but so far the data on the map is mostly bad. Still a useful site.

Thursday talks

There were a couple of interesting keynotes on Thursday morning, but work kept me at home. I thought I could catch them on the live video stream, but unfortunately the stream that had worked fine on Wednesday wasn't working on Thursday, so I missed the Mark L. DeMulder's talk on the USGS's National Map efforts. Fortunately, they were at WhereCamp where they gave much more detail. Likewise, I missed the big ESRI announcement that everyone was talking about all afternoon -- they released some web thing, but as far as I can tell they're still totally Windows-centric and thus irrelevant to a Linux and open source user. But I want to go back and view the video anyway.

There was another talk on Thursday which I won't name, but it had a few lessons for speakers:

Base Map 2.0 was a panel-slash-debate between Steve Coast (OpenStreetMap), Timothy Trainor (U.S. Census Bureau), Peter ter Haar (Ordnance Survey), Di-Ann Eisnor (Platial), and moderated by Ian White of Urban Mapping. It was fabulous. I've never seen such a lively panel: White kept things moving, told jokes, asked provocative and sometimes inflammatory questions and was by far the best panel moderator I've seen. The panelists kept up with him and gave cogent, interesting and illuminating answers. Two big issues were the just-announced release of Ordnance Survey data, and licensing issues causing mismatches between OSM, OS and Census datasets.

Community-based Grassroots Mapping with Balloons and Kites in Lima, Peru by Jeffrey Warren was another fabulous talk. He builds balloons out of garbage bags, soda bottles and a digital camera, goes to poor communities in places like Lima and teaches the community (including the kids) how to map their own communities. This is more than an academic exercise for them, since maps can help them prove title to their land. Check it out at and build your own aerial mapping balloon! (He was at WhereCamp, too, where we got to see the equipment up close.)

Visualizing Spatio-temporal War Casualty Data in Google Earth by Sean Askay of Google was just as good. He's built a KML file called Map the Fallen showing US and allied casualties from Iraq: the soldiers' hometowns, place of death, age, gender, and lots of other details about them with links to tribute pages, plus temporal information showing how casualties changed as the war progressed. It's an amazing piece of work, and sobering ... and I was most annoyed to find out that it needs a version of Google Earth that doesn't run on Linux, so I can't run it for myself. Boo!

Overall, a very fun conference, though it left me hungry for detail. Happily, after a day off there was WhereCamp to fill that void.

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Wed, 24 Feb 2010


I'm finally getting caught up after SCALE 8x, this year's Southern CA Linux Expo.

A few highlights (not even close to a comprehensive list):


The UbuCon and Women in Open Source (WIOS) were both great successes, with a great speaker list and good attendance. It was hard to choose between them.

Malakai Wade, Mirano Cafiero, and Saskia Wade, two 12-year-olds and an 8-year-old, presenting on "Ultimate Randomness - Girl voices in open source". Great stuff! They sang, they discussed their favorite apps, they showed an animated video made with open source tools of dolls in a dollhouse. Lots of energy, confidence and fun. Loved it! I hope to see more of these girls.

I liked Nathan Haines demo of "Quickly", an app for rapid development of python-gtk apps. It looks like a great app, especially for beginning programmers, though his demo did also illustrate the problems with complex UIs filled with a zillion similar toolbuttons. (I'm not criticising Nathan; I find UIs like that very difficult to use, especially under pressure like a live demo in front of an audience.)

Happily, the UbuCon and WIOS scheduled their lightning talks at different times (though UbuCon's conflicted with WIOS's "How to give a Lightning Talk" session). So lightning talk junkies enjoyed two hours of talks back to back, plus the chance to give two different talks to different audiences. Hectic but a lot of fun.


I was a little disappointed with the Git Tips & Tricks panel; I wanted more git tips and less discussion of projects that happen to use Git. I liked Don Marti's section on IkiWiki; it looks like a great tool and I wish Don had had more time to present.

I liked Emma Jane Hogbin's useful and interesting talk on "Looking Beautiful in Print", full of practical tips for how to design good flyers and brochures using tools like OpenOffice.

Diana Chen, who got introduced to open source only a year ago at SCALE 7x, gets the award for courage: she gave a talk on "Learning python for non-programmers" using a borrowed laptop that I'm not sure she'd even seen before the presentation. Unfortunately, the laptop turned out to be poorly suited to the task (no Python installed? Dvorak keymap?) so Diana struggled to show what she'd planned, but she came through and her demos eventually worked great. I hope she wasn't too discouraged by the difficulties, and keeps presenting -- preferably with more time to practice ahead of time. The room was absolutely packed -- they had to bring in lots more chairs and there were still a lot of people standing. There's obviously a huge amount of interest in beginner programming talks at this conference!

Shawn Powers' talk, "Linux is for Smart People, and You're Not as Dumb as You Think", was as entertaining as the title suggested -- an excellent beginner-track talk that I think everyone enjoyed.


I'm not going to review Sunday's program, because I was busy obsessing over my own "Featherweight Linux" talk. I'll just say that SCALE is a great place to give a talk -- the audience was great, with excellent questions and no heckling and, most important, they laughed when I hoped they would. :-)


I didn't get to spend much time on the show floor, but it looked active and fun.

The Linux Astronomy folks had a fantastic display, with a big table with a simulated Martian landscape and a couple of robotic rovers exploring it and a robotic telescope driven by a milling machine program, as well as computers exhibiting a selection of Linux astronomy, science and math-teaching software.

ZaReason had a booth, and my mom was able to get info on how to get a spare battery for her laptop. (Can I take a moment to say how cool it is to be wandering around a Linux conference with my mom, who's carrying her own Linux netbook?)

An Ubuntu/Canonical table was testing people's laptops for compatibility with the next Ubuntu release. (There may have been other distros tested as well; I wasn't clear on that.)

Engineers Without Borders, Orange County looked really interesting and assured me that not all of them were in Orange County, and there's activity up here in the Bay Area as well. Definitely on my list to learn more.

Linux Pro magazine was giving out copies of Linux Pro and Ubuntu User, both fantastic magazines packed with good articles.

Beginners and Hobbyists

One notable feature of SCALE is the low price. This conference is very affordable, which means there are a lot of hobbyists, beginners and even people just considering trying Linux. They've offered a "Beginner track" for several years, though not all the talks in that track are really accessible to beginners (speakers: here's your chance to propose that great beginner talk the other conferences aren't interested in! Help some new folks!) There's a lot of energy and diversity and a wide range of interests and knowledge -- yet there's still plenty of depth for hardcore Linux geeks.

Overall, a fantastic conference. The SCALE organizers do a great job of organizing everything, and if there were any glitches they weren't evident from the outside.

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