linux.conf.au 2016 Geelong – LCA By the Bay

So, it’s been about six weeks now since linux.conf.au 2016 Geelong – LCA By the Bay concluded, and after a lot of sleep and catching up, it’s about time to pen some thoughts about the process, the experience and learnings.

Getting linux.conf.au to Geelong

When you think ‘epicentre of opensource’, Geelong is not what comes to mind. Well, it’s not what used to come to mind! So, how did we bring linux.conf.au to Geelong?

Late 2013

Firstly, we needed some core people to put a bid together. David Bell and I had worked on BarCampGeelong before, and had semi-seriously considered bidding previously. We felt that we had a complementary set of skills, and the drive, leadership and passion to make it happen.

We worked with Business Events Geelong, and the wonderful Terry Hickey, to put together a bid document, covering key aspects of what linux.conf.au in Geelong would look like. Business Events Geelong were able to assist with a professional bid document template, and with sourcing pricing to include in the bid document. A couple of hours later, and we had formally submitted our bid to host linux.conf.au!

linux-conf-au-geelong-bid (PDF, 1.5 Mb)

linux.conf.au is chosen by a committee of trusted senior members of Linux Australia, the organisation that umbrellas linux.conf.au and a stable of other events, such as PyconAU, Open Source Developers Conference and a number of WordCamp and Drupal events in Australia. Linux Australia calls for expressions of interest from teams interested in running linux.conf.au every year – bids – and forms a small committee to evaluate the submissions. This normally involves travelling to the bid city, and assessing elements such as;

  • accommodation
  • conference venue
  • transport to and from the conference
  • conference event locations

April 2014

Terry and the Business Events team were amazing at hosting the bid team, and showcased a number of Geelong’s leisure and recreation offerings, cementing the quality of our bid. It was a great opportunity to learn from the bid team, as they assessed our risk management, our planning and our ability to pull together such a large event.

Venue visit for #lca2015 #geelong. Beautiful.

A photo posted by @kathyreid_id_au on


Although Auckland were awarded linux.conf.au for the year ahead (2015), the decision was made to award Geelong linux.conf.au 2 years out. This was an excellent decision, and provided long term stability not only to the event, but also provided the conference team with a longer term planning horizon.

Woo! We won a bid for linux.conf.au! Now what?!

Once we had a strong idea of how the main conference venue (Deakin University’s Waterfront Campus) would work, we focussed our efforts on preparing to showcase Geelong as an outstanding venue at linux.conf.au 2015 in Auckland. Often, the next year’s conference prepares promotional material or flyers to help encourage conference attendees. We had decided on our conference theme of

life is better with linux

and in keeping with the theme, worked with Martin Print to have NFC keyrings printed.

Now the hard work began. Firstly, we needed to ensure that our conference management system was functional. linux.conf.au traditionally runs on a piece of software called ZooKeepr, and it needs a bit of maintenance each year. Luckily, we had Josh Stewart and James Iseppi to give us a bit of a hand, and with David Bell being generally awesome with anything technical, in no time we were able to get ZooKeepr ready for the Call for Papers.

Call for Papers (#CfP)

The Call for Papers (#CfP) happens about 6 months before the conference, and the challenging part for conference organisers is ensuring not only that there are a large volume of submissions, but that the quality of submissions is of a quality fit for an internationally renowned conference. One of the ways in which the conference spreads the word about #CfP far and wide is to reach out to all past Speakers of linux.conf.au and encourage them to make submissions. We also lean heavily on the Papers Committee, the group of senior and respected Linux Australia members who review the #CfP submissions and make recommendations to the conference team on which submissions should be accepted into the conference.

This year, the conference team decided to add another type of submission to the mix – Prototypes – alongside the standard 45-minute Presentation and 110-minute Tutorial. This worked out wonderfully and some of the most popular talks of the whole conference were submitted as Prototypes – including the crowd-favourite Linux-powered microwave by David Tulloh.

Thanks to the efforts of Papers Committee and past Speakers, we received almost 300 submissions, and the overall quality was excellent. The Papers Committee spent a day in Sydney in in August making some very tough decisions, and after around 10 hours we had our Schedule! I was incredibly impressed by the talent in the room, and the generosity of the Papers Committee to give up their time – and in many cases their own coin – to travel and attend.

Schwag

While I was busy liaising with Speakers and getting travel organised, and David was busy with event venues for our conference events, Sae Ra Germaine was being a superstar with our schwag. She found an excellent supplier for our conference bags, Ecosilk, and designed a contemporary yet simple t-shirt for our delegates (navy) and volunteers (orange). She also worked to ensure that we had sunscreen  and hand sanitiser as part of the Schwag bag.

#lca2016 all tired out.

A photo posted by ms_mary_mac (@ms_mary_mac) on

Sponsors

David took a strong leadership role in Sponsorship, and developed a Sponsorship Prospectus, and negotiated sponsorship agreements with all of our fabulous sponsors. Many of our Sponsors support linux.conf.au year after year – without them, the conference wouldn’t happen. One of the challenges the conference has is having to re-establish sponsor relationships year after year, and our Ghosts debrief session and good documentation helps to ensure continuity.

Venue and catering

Deakin University’s Waterfront Campus and Costa Hall are beautiful architecturally, and provide a wonderful environment for collaboration and learning. However, the campus cannot hold 600 conference delegates in a 5 stream conference easily. So, we worked with the National Wool Museum, located a block away from Deakin, who had a conference room available. Another benefit of this arrangement was that delegates were able to see the jacquard loom – programmed via punch cards that the Museum had in their collection.

Patching a bug on a two story high computer. #lca2016

A photo posted by John Dalton (@varrqnuht) on

We worked with Waterfront Kitchen to arrange lunch options for delegates, and arranged to have menus placed in the Schwag bag. WFK also handled all catering for the conference, including morning and afternoon teas. We also made the decision to have core team and volunteer lunches fully catered, so that we could free up time during the busy conference period, and this proved to be a wise choice. We received nothing but positive feedback from our delegates regarding WFK’s catering – the variety, the attention to detail and handling of special dietary requirements.

By November, organisation of event venues was in full swing. linux.conf.au has three traditional conference events – Speakers Dinner, Professional Delegates’ Network Session (PDNS) and the main conference dinner, the Penguin Dinner. Speakers Dinner was held at the fabulous Balmoral at Fyansford, with the Limoncello String Quartet for music.

PDNS was held at the fabulous Little Creatures Brewery, and it was perfect. Great beer, great food and great company. It was amazing to see over 300 people of linux and opensource having a great night out.

 

Our Penguin Dinner was at the fabulous The Pier restaurant, and was an amazing night out for all concerned.

AV and Networking

A great conference needs great AV and networking, and we were fortunate to have some wonderful people, including Andrew and Steven working with us. The networking crew laid over 200m of fibre optic to the Wool Museum so that they could have solid internet, and we utilised the services of AARnet for our on-campus networking. Deakin University also provided phenomenal support, working with AARNet to provide strong wireless across the conference venues.

A great team

There were so many different parts of linux.conf.au that had to come together to make it an excellent conference, and the entire team needs to take credit for that. Aaron, who co-ordinated our childcare arrangements, which was greatly appreciated by attendees, Brittany whose excellent accountancy skills kept us very well budgeted, Michael whose social media prowess ensured we trended nationally, George who provided a helping hand where it was needed, Erin who was our Rego super-hero, Josh who helped us keep ZooKeepr and our payment gateway under control, Daniel our stellar volunteer co-ordinator and Brett whose photographic talents and video production blew us away – every single person was part of an amazing, productive, motivated and awesome team that I was so incredibly proud to be a part of.

LCA2016 - Wednesday

Wrap up of linux.conf.au 2014

This year linux.conf.au was in the sunny and very hot city of Perth, Western Australia. The conference itself was held at the University of Western Australia. My first impressions were positive ones. Accommodation this year was a choice of Trinity College or St George’s College, independently run but very close to the University. I chose Trinity so that I could have a (hopefully more comfortable) double bed and a private bathroom. It was a good choice; the room was cool, comfortable and clean.

UWA is an older university and the most prestigious in Western Australia; its eastern seaboard counterparts would be the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney or University of Queensland. The campus buildings harkened back to a more glorious era of higher education where learning was revered rather than distilled into neat packages, sold as stepping stones to a rewarding career. The sandstone campus evoked much character; peacocks were found in one quadrangle and the tropical sunken garden was an oasis in the unrelenting heat. The Undercroft and reflection pool stood almost as a monument to brighter times for higher education; strangely still in the midday swelter. Internally, the facilities themselves were somewhat dated. One lecture theatre, while equipped with good audiovisual, had 70s-era bench desks and swing-out chairs; not comfortable for someone of my girth. Other lecture theatres were more modern, and two had videoconferencing facilities, evidenced by the PTZ cameras nestled in the roof. The Reid Library on campus was lovely and cool, and also followed the coffee-with-a-book trend by having a downstairs coffee shop. Power points were reasonably plentiful; located strategically in the upper and side locations of lecture theatres.

Interestingly, UWA had a number of digital signage screens on campus. They varied in size, and the images and text on display showed little in common. Underneath I suspect they were using disparate systems. I did have an opportunity to talk to one of UWA’s Audio Visual Team, Mark, and he walked me through the digital signage product  called Concerto. It’s open source and used in a number of universities, and is a product I’d like to explore further.

It’s traditional for the last year’s conference team to play host to previous organisers in an event called ‘Ghosts’ – this year held at the Raffles Hotel. We weren’t disappointed; cider by the pint and delicious gourmet pizzas got us talking. It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with people who are considered royalty in our community.

Monday was the first day of the conference proper, and started with the first keynote.

Dr Suelette Dreyfus on the Surveillance state

Video link to the Surveillance State presentation on the Linux Australia Mirror

Suelette’s keynote was particularly intriguing, and delved into the current hot topic of surveillance in a post-Snowden world. Her speech started with an excellent quote;

“In every community, there is a necessary balance between the rights of the citizen and the powers of the state – ours is out of balance”

She highlighted the incredible power of surveillance technology and just how far the balance has shifted, noting the rise in growth of corporate espionage and corporate hacking, leading the the era of the whistleblower. She demonstrated how the conceptualisation of what it is to be a whistleblower is changing and walked through academic definitions of whistleblowing.
From being seen as a ‘rat’ or a ‘turncoat’, the perception of a whistleblower has changed from that of a misfit or villain to become more of a hero (or anti-hero), based on the data of the survey her research team are working on. This shows a large public support for whistleblowers and whistleblower protection, including the ability to reach out to the media to have their story told. Part of this swing is due to the public losing faith in the parliamentary political system.She quoted Orwell;

“in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

and noted the similarity with the open source world and how the models it uses are also revolutionary. Dreyfuss went on to note how whistleblowers and journalists are treated in today’s world, facing pejorative action such as being detained and searched at airports and surveilled. She quoted several players from the military industrial complex in their responses to Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and contrasted this with their public support.She went on to describe how taxpayers’ funds are being used to fund surveillance activities, such as the infiltration of WoW and online gaming communities – the infiltration of which was seen as an NSA ‘opportunity’.Dreyfuss articulated the concept of security saturation, where there is so much money going into the surveillance system that they can’t spend it all – it’s so big that it’s not possible to reveal it all. She questioned the benefit of additional spending on surveillance, drawing a blank as to what societal benefit it could yield.She described how the surveillance state grows in seemingly benign ways, giving the example of the ‘Insight Platform’ for tracking educational progress of children through a one-stop-shop model. The tender document for the platform was analysed and she drew threads from this to show how a child could be tracked from maternal and child health centres right through to year 12, questioning what sort of data would be stored such as religious data, and how long that data would be retained for and who would have access to the data. When questioned on the data protections for the Insight Platform, many of these implementation details were left to the vendor – even when the government was keen to engage with overseas vendors!She noted some of the technical developments and the increasing sophistication of surveillance and surveillance tools. She then used a ‘Report Card’ on building the total surveillance state to show just how ubiquitous surveillance is, showing how data is cross matched across different government departments and how co-option of big data players is occurring.To wrap up, she articulated a number of actions people could take to do to prevent the surveillance state, such as

  • getting political
  • writing privacy enhancing software
  • writing detection software
  • get involved in not for profits and NGOs that give tech support to journalists and average citizens
  • if you work for government, use your voice

Pia Waugh and Open Government

My other pick for Monday was Pia Waugh’s Open Government miniconf, given that one of the things I’m hoping to do is have the higher education system open up some more of their data sources. Some of the key questions discussed at the miniconf include how to get more people talking about open data. The concept of the data journalist was also discussed – noting that this role is focussed on analysis, seeking, visualisation, reporting and use of data – ie storytelling through data.

One of the highlights here for me was learning that data.gov.au is using IdeaScale for logging, rating and improving innovation ideas. I grabbed the opportunity and logged an idea to get eTax opened up;

https://datagovau.ideascale.com/

Kate Chapman (@wonderchook) on Open Street Map

View the video for this keynote on the Linux Australia Mirror

Kate Chapman’s keynote on Open Street Map and the HOT project was inspirational. It covered how HOT is responding ti disasters with open street maps, using open mapping data. She started her presentation by outlining that most maps are not released under an open source license – you cannot reuse the data that they use. This makes it particularly difficult for humanitarian teams who may need a detailed map of an area in a hurry. They are using the HOT project to do mapping in advance.

She went on to explain that it was first activated in 2009 for the Gaza troubles, using iterative level of detailing – so that a basic map can be first produced, and then higher levels of resolution iteration after iteration. It was also used in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, particularly as the staff from the aid agency in Haiti died in the initial earthquake.

Tim Serong noted after the talk that it would be good to have plugin for Ingress which mapped out OpenStreetMap data as you hunted down portals – a great idea.

Darcy Laycock @sutto

View this talk on the Linux Australia Mirror

Darcy’s talk was a great one – on how to make APIs that developers love using. Most of it was common sense, but it was distilled in a very structured and meaningful way. Some of the key tips included using HTTP status codes for errors – as people are familiar with how the HTTP status codes work.

His comment that HTTP is for everything was accurate; HTTP is the protocol of the future and this is going to have major implications for technology such as the internet of things.

He also cautioned to make your API easy to explore – for coders, it’s another system to try and break, so make it easy for people to explore. They’re going to try and subvert it anyway, so encourage people to do so. He also encouraged developers to make the API ReSTful, as this is the generally accepted API standard, and is much nicer to use than XML-RPC or SOAP.

He also stated that change is inevitable, and that how you handle change is a sign of a good API. It’s much easier to introduce features than remove them. In particular, he spoke about versioning data versus versioning semantics – ie what does the endpoint do when you change the API. Data is much easier for people to deal with, however if you change the semantics it’s much more difficult to deal with. He also advised to use content type negotiation as another change handling technique.

He also noted that authorisation and authentication are hard problems to solve – so when building open APIs, don’t reinvent the wheel. People have generally through through the approach previously. OAUTH and OAUTH2 need special attention – you have to avoid developers having to write custom code to use your API. Keep the API simple and easy to understand so others can just ‘drop something in’.

On API design approaches, he gave a brief history such as JSON RPC, XML-RPC and SOAP, but SOAP doesn’t understand HTTP. He advocated the use of resource-based APIs and acknowledged the rise of ReST based APIs over the last few years, which leverage structs and paths. He cautioned to make a good API language agnostic so more people can use it, and noted the rise of graph-based APIs – with Facebook being the biggest and easiest.

He was a strong believer that APIs are for real people and should use user-centred design. At the end of the day,

“All the good APIs have something in common – the people who wrote it actually use it”

He also touched on the dangers of outsourcing APIs, which platforms shutting down, and the dependency that building off another API creates. He cautioned that you need to understand that the API can go away – you need to flag this from a risk analysis perspective.

Reflecting on this talk, the thought struck me that what Sutto was really getting at was an API maturity model, with best practices at the high end of maturity and worse practices at the low end. I’d really like to see him extend his talk toward this goal.

Alice Boxhall (@sundress) on Accessibility for Developers

Alice is a great presenter, and one of the things I liked most about her talk was that she wore a Google tshirt – in braille – to present.  Her talk was pretty basic on accessibility but was of a lot of use to developers who don’t necessarily think about the WCAG accessibility guidelines during development.

She showcased the ChromeVox screenreader, a Chrome extension, and spoke about the semantics of your interface.

There is an emerging standard in this space called WAI-ARIA. Although I’m pretty experienced with accessibility, I wasn’t aware of this development. From the site itself;

WAI-ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies.

WAI-ARIA uses a number of roles that can be defined for a widget to give it meaning for someone with disabilities. This allows the screenreader to interpret the function of the widget more clearly – such as button, tree, dropdown etc. You then need to ensure you handle keyboard events such as onKeyPress and tabIndex appropriately.

She then explained how native HTML5 objects are turned into accessibility objects which are then ‘rendered’ by a screen reader using the aria-role attribute.

She gave some excellent tips for testing accessibility such as killing the mouse for starters, trying a screenreader such as ChromeVoc, Orca or Talkback, professional testing and talking to your users. She also cautioned to make your feedback mechanisms accessible – so that they can actually be used!

She cautioned that automated testing only catches low hanging fruit, and would like to see increased visibility of accessibility as a concern for developers. Accessibility testing should be performed regularly to prevent regression. She also cautioned that it won’t catch all possible tools, and that testing doesn’t negate the need to understand accessibility issues. The results then need to be acted upon in a cyclic fashion.

She then gave an example of how accessibility testing could be incorporated into workflow using the Capybara suite of tools; suitable for continuous integration.

Conclusions

There are many more talks that I went to, but unfortunately my netbook was playing up so I didn’t take a lot of notes. Mark Nottingham’s talk on the HTTP 2.0 protocol was another standout, and I also very much enjoyed Jon Oxer’s ArduSat keynote – about reducing the price it takes to to excellent science. Both inspirational. Again, a great conference, a great community and I can’t wait for linux.conf.au 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand.

On a closing note, because it sums up the conference so well, is Jenna Drawing’s take on the conference t-shirt – amazing as always.

Jenna Drawing's modified conference shirt, credit to Jenna Drawing
Jenna Drawing’s modified conference shirt, credit to Jenna Drawing

My must see list for #lca2014 linux.conf.au 2014

So, another year has sped around and it’s almost time to head to Perth for linux.conf.au 2014. The schedule has been up for a while so I have no excuse for not yet posting my must-see list.

Kathy’s must see #lca2014 list
Day Highlights
Monday Not being a hardcore sysadmin person, I’m really interested in the OpenGov miniconf, and what it has to offer open source communities in terms of opening up access to government data; but moreover making a difference to the open source mindset of government. Props Pia Waugh for running the miniconf. The Continuous Integration miniconf, run by Stewart Smith, will be worth a look but I’d like to see what’s on the schedule first. Automation of tests and test-driven development is a hot topic, and I’m interested to see what these practices have to offer multimedia and front end production as well as back end development.
Tuesday Haecksen, run by Lana Brindley, is always worth a look, but the schedule isn’t up yet. I’m intending to have a look at Jonathan Woithe’s music and multimedia conference, particularly Silvia Pfeiffer’s talk on node.js and the talk on web animations (which I’m presuming might cover SVG, HTML, JS and CSS).
Wednesday First up, Adam Harvey can talk to me about anything. He’s a brilliant presenter, and I love to learn more about where Android is headed. Writing documentation is fun, so I’ll go to that one too. Then I’ll catch the talk on HTTP 2.0 by Mark Nottingham and then the excellent Karen Sandler’s talk on bringing more women to open source. In the afternoon I’ll catch Pia Waugh on opening government data, and then Deborah Kaplan’s talk on accessible content. Then it will be time for the Linux Australia AGM, where I’ll need to take minutes.
Thursday Thursday morning might be a sleep in, but if I’m up it will be Ashe Dryden on Diversity and @codemiller on Elixir. Nothing really appeals to me for the rest of Thursday.. might go do something social or hallway track it instead.
Friday Friday morning will be Building APIs and VisualEditor for Wikipedia, then Alice Boxhall’s talk on Accessibility and TCP tuning for the web by Jason Cook. Totally bummed that Josh Stewart’s talk on engine hacking is up against VisualEditor.