Shallow Thoughts : tags : scale9x

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

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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[ 19:59 Mar 04, 2011    More conferences | permalink to this entry ]

Mon, 28 Feb 2011

SCALE9x

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

Talks

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 LinuxAstronomy.com 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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[ 21:39 Feb 28, 2011    More conferences | permalink to this entry ]