SCALE 8x (Shallow Thoughts)

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

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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[ 15:34 Feb 24, 2010    More conferences | permalink to this entry | ]

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