Wrap-up of linux.conf.au 2013

After being on the core team for linux.conf.au 2012 in Ballarat, it was somewhat of a relief to just be a delegate for the 2013 conference in Canberra. Luckily, I’d pre-arranged leave from work a few months earlier before starting a new role, but the downside was that I knew there would be a few  work emails that would need attention during conf, so I packed my thumping 17″ gaming laptop. Big mistake. It weighs nearly 2kg, and doesn’t fit neatly into my backpack handbag anything.  Next time, the little netbook comes with me instead!

After a quick trip to Melbourne airport on the Gull Bus, where I got to catch up with a couple of people from work who were also going, it was time for a Ballarat crew reunion – we’d booked out a whole row on the Qantas flight up. While waiting for the flight, we also had a chance to meet quite a few other Victorians who were going up, and we all got introduced to each other. Win! It was great to catch up and reminisce about the amazing experience we’d had last year, and get excited for this year’s conf.

Qantas really impressed me on this trip – with buffeting winds, the pilot was able to give us a smooth takeoff and landing, and the service was impeccable – a far cry from some of my previous Qantas experiences. MEL to CBR was much shorter than I’d anticipated, and within an hour we were disembarking. My first impressions of Canberra Airport were that it was small – around the side of Adelaide airport. The lack of shops and eateries seemed surprising, but it was wisely pointed out to me that most of the travellers through Canberra are generally fly-in, fly-out, and not wanting to hang around.

A quick, well-organised shuttle bus to Australian National University’s John XXIII College and we’d arrived at linux.conf.au. Registration was an absolute breeze. Organisers this year had sent people ‘boarding passes’ with a barcode that was used by Rego Desk to print badges. So, so easy. Next, it was off to Barton and Garran Hall for accommodation. On entering the room, my schwag had already been placed on the desk, with a t-shirt in my size, and my pre-ordered KeepCup. Fantastically awesome!

#lca2013 KeepCup #lca2013 KeepCup

That night, it was off to Debacle for Ghosts’ dinner. Absolutely delicious pizza and tapas, and a lovely way to get into the spirit of linux.conf.au. It was a great chance to catch up with Ghosts past, and hear their views on how the community had changed over time. Then, time for a delicious gelato (hazelnut of course!) on the way back before a quick shower to stave off the oppressive humidity – and an early night.

Bdale Garbee

Monday kicked off with a keynote by industry luminary Bdale Garbee, whose presentation centred around some of the changes and directions he’d observed in the technical direction of Linux. He noted that Linux was gaining ground in the mobile space, as the entire world shifts from the desktop to the laptop, to the tablet and to other mobile devices. His key message was that end users want applications that work seamlessly across platforms, and noted the key pickup in cloud services that offered these experiences. He criticised developers for making it difficult for end users to be able to modify their own applications, and similarly advocated that students should be taught more theory rather than vocational-style ‘how tos’ in a particular product or vendor suite. He also noted that there is no incentive for manufacturers to save costs by loading free and open source operating systems on their hardware instead of Windows; Microsoft provide significant financial incentives to OEMs not to load alternative operating systems – so it’s not in their financial interest. This was an eye-opener, given my recent negative experiences with getting a Win8 laptop to dual boot and having to work around UEFI. A solid talk, but not one I would classify as inspirational.

I had intended to sit in on the MobileFOSS miniconf to get a better handle on what’s happening in this space, but I needed to catch up on some work so headed back to the dorm rooms.

Radia Perlmann

Tuesday started with a keynote by Radia Perlmann, inventor of the spanning tree network protocol, who provided an overview of the invention of a number of key network protocols, including IP. The really interesting take away from this talk was that the best protocol is not necessarily the one that gets adopted – the selection is not a rational process, and evangelism is a key part in driving forward a number of initiatives. She walked the audience through the spanning tree algorithm using a series of pictures – which communicated the point very well. Her engaging nature, passion, use of appropriate anecdotes and delivery style made her an excellent speaker. I will never forget the story she provided in closing, where she recounted where her son, at that time a toddler, had come running up to her with what appeared to be a sore arm. After kissing it better she asked him ‘What happened?’, to which he replied ‘I got pee on it!’. In Radia’s words,

Make sure you’re solving the right problem

Then, it was off to the dorm rooms to grab my Arduino Lilypad gear for my Haecksen Miniconf presentation.

Fee Plumley

After my talk, Fee Plumley spoke on open cities and nomadic creative digital culture and one of the quotes she used in her presentation really resonated;

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.

Her ideas were around how decentralised communities, based on open source models, can operate more effectively than existing urban constructs. Really amazing lady, and wish I’d had more time to spend chatting with her.

Ruth Ellison

Ruth Ellison, a UX practitioner based in Canberra had one of the most inspiring talks at Haecksen. She opened with a great quote;

Everyone has lasers in their garage, right?!

and proceeded to tell the audience about how she uses open source technology to make laser-cut jewellery using a laser cutter. She’s an active member of Canberra’s Make Hack Void and Maker communities, and one half of the jewellery business CrankyBot. One of the most inspiring pieces she had was a 3D jewellery visualisation of climate ranges, plotted in SVG and then cut with a laser cutter. Inspirational stuff.

Katie Miller

Katie Miller  presented about teaching girls FOSS, and went through a case study of the best way to deliver teaching of FOSS by getting people actively involved, having tangible outcomes, and setting the difficulty level right so that people were challenged but not overwhelmed.

Next, I really wanted to see the Browser Miniconf sessions which dealt with the history of web development, and advancements in HTML 5, but caught up with work shennanigans ;(

Wednesday morning was the PDNS breakfast, which I didn’t go to.

Rusty Wrench goes to Donna Benjamin

During the conference opening, Donna Benjamin was awarded the Rusty Wrench award for services to the Australian open source community. Very well deserved.

Next, I took Peter Chubb’s excellent shell tutorial – I’m a bit rusty and it was a great refresher.

Adam Harvey

One of the standout presentations for me was Adam Harvey’s talk on ‘Users delighted’ which covered advancements in CSS3, HTML5 and user experience (UX). The key takeaways for me were that everything we do in this space needs to make it easy for users to do what they need to do, independent of what or where they’re doing it from. He’s a strong advocate of responsive design, and an excellent presenter. One of the key quotes from the talk was;

We were at the pub, as you do, because if you’re a web developer it’s the only thing that numbs the pain of IE6

Adam advocated the implementation of open web standards, and noted frustration with having to write browser-specific workarounds in CSS for different browser families.

Thursday’s keynote was Bunnie Huang, who invented the Chumby. I got caught up with moar work shennanigans and missed it. I also wanted to see the Git tutorial, but, well, moar work shannanigans…

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Friday’s keynote was packed with people eager to inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak. His presentation had two key tenets; the first was the openness and power of the web, especially under HTML 5, and the second was the tragic suicide of anti-SOPA campaigner Aaron Swartz, who had been the target of prosecutors for several years for alleged breaches of copyright. Berners-Lee’s presentation style was non-linear – in many ways it was like trying to drink from a firehose. The main is clearly a genius, and his plethora of ideas took a lot of concentration to keep pace with. He is a staunch advocate of the openness and neutrality of the net – and in his words he summarised the issues down to

no spying, no blocking

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at his meeting with Julia Gillard. One wonders whether Stephen Conroy would offer him an audience.

 

In summary, linux.conf.au was a brilliant, tiring, exhausting, overwhelming, inspiring, demanding experience. And I can’t wait to do it all again in Perth next year.

NOTE: Videos from #lca2013 are going up on the mirror at the time of posting.

 

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