I've been going to
about four years now, and this year's
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.
[ 20:59 Mar 04, 2011
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Another year of
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
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
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
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.
[ 22:39 Feb 28, 2011
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