Shallow Thoughts

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

Sat, 27 Jan 2007

linux.conf.au 2007

Australia! I spent the last week in Sydney as a speaker for linux.conf.au 2007. My first time overseas, and first time in way too long at a technical Linux conference.

I had lots of plans to write about it as it was happening. Jot down events of the day, impressions of the talks, etc. In retrospect I have no idea how anyone manages to do that. There's just so much stuff going on at LCA that I was busy the whole time. Blogging or sleep ... that might be a hard choice for some people, but I like sleep. Sleep is good. Sleep lets me have a lot more fun at the talks and the social events afterward.

First, about technical conferences. With the emphasis on technical. In California we have a bunch of conferences like Linux World Expo and the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference, where a few geeks-turned-PR-people make whizzy presentations to marketing and CIO sorts. Ick. Sometimes there are a few presentations that are actually technical, but not many. And oh, did I mention the multi-kilobuck reg fees?

Linux.conf.au isn't like that at all. It's all geeks, all the time. Not everyone is a programmer (though the majority are), but of the hundreds of people I talked to during the week of the conference I didn't meet a single person who wasn't deeply and passionately involved with Linux in some way. You could pick any person at random, start a conversation and immediately be deep in conversation about interesting details of some aspect of Linux you hadn't thought much about before.

Picking people at random and talking to them? What sort of a geek would do that? Well, the cool thing is that in an environment like LCA, the shyest geek can still network pretty well. If you can't make small talk or force a fake smile, you can jump to the meaty stuff right away and start trading notes on filesystems or network configuration or IRQs or python GUI toolkits. I was almost late to the post-conference LinuxChix meetup because it turned out the person sitting next to me at breakfast was a udev expert who knew how to get my memory stick reader recognized (more on that in a separate article).

Not that you'd really need to talk to random people if you didn't want to. One of the many highlights of the conference was the chance to meet people from all over the world whom I'd only met before on IRC or mailing lists. I already "knew" lots of people there, even if I'd never seen their faces before.

There were tons of talks, with four or five tracks going at all times, and all on good topics. It was quite common to want to go to two or three or even more simultaneous presentations. Fortunately nearly everything was video taped, so with any luck we'll be able to catch up on sessions that we missed (and folks who couldn't afford the trip can benefit from all the great talks). The videos are still being uploaded and aren't all there yet, but they've done an amazing job getting as many transcoded and uploaded as they have so far, and I'm sure the rest won't be too far behind. (Some of them are on the mirror but not yet linked from the Schedule page.)

How do they get all those great talks? I must say, LCA treats its speakers well. In addition to the super-secret "Speakers Adventure", which we were assured was worth getting up at 6am for (it was), they gave us a dinner cruise on scenic Sydney harbor, which included an after-dinner talk on how to give better talks (focused on flash rather than content). I didn't agree with all his points, but that's okay, the point is to get people thinking. I bet every one of us (certainly everyone I talked to) went back and revised our talks at least a little bit based on the presentation.

I hope my GIMP tutorial and my miniconf bugfixing talk lived up to the organizing committee's expectations -- it's intimidating sharing a schedule with so many smart people who are also good speakers!

The first two days of the conference were taken up by "miniconfs". I originally had my eyes on several of the miniconfs, on topics such as Kernel, Education and Research, though I knew I'd start the day at the LinuxChix miniconf. As it turned out, that miniconf was so excellent that I spent the whole day there. It included a mixture of technical and social issues: talks on women in FOSS (Sulamita), my talk on "Bug Fixing for Non Programmers", "Demystifying PCI" (Kristin), a set of terrific "Lightning Talks" under five minutes, and eventually concluded with talks on networking in the social sense (Jacinta) and negotiating wages (Val). After Jacinta's and Val's talks we broke up into small groups and headed for the lawn outside for some very productive discussions of networking and negotiation, which were so interesting we kept the discussions going all afternoon.

The LinuxChix miniconf was Standing Room Only all day, with plenty of men listening in. It was quite a rush to see so many technical women all together, giving talks and discussing details of Linux and FOSS.

Another miniconf-like activity was Open Day, on Thursday afternoon, when the conference invited people from the area (particularly teachers and students) to wander through displays on all sorts of FOSS topics. There were booths from most of the major distros handing out CDs or inviting people to do network installs, a booth showing the One Laptop Per Child project, booths showing games and interesting projects such as amateur rocket and satellite projects or the open source Segway clone, a Linuxchix booth, and booths from a few companies such as Google. Open Day was jam packed, people seemed to be having fun and they gave away a few amazing prizes, like Vaio laptops (donated by IBM) which came in an amazingly small box. I was itching to see what was in those little boxes (we never get the cool small laptops in the US, where the national philosophy is "Bigger is Better") but alas, I wasn't one of the lucky winners.

A couple of other notable talks I went to: Making Things Move: Finding Inappropriate Uses for Scripting Languages by Jonathan Oxer, which included live demos of hooking up radio switches and controlling them from the commandline (with a little simple C glue); and "burning cpu and battery on the gnome desktop" by Ryan Lortie, who not only gave an excellent and entertaining list of programs and services which use up system resources inefficiently by polling, opening too many files or other evils (several other speakers offered similar lists), but also gave concrete advice for finding such programs and fixing them. I'm looking forward to seeing his slides uploaded (I'll link them here when I find them).

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[ 22:30 Jan 27, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry ]