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

Open Source Systems – Mobile FOSS workshop

The last day of the Open Source Systems conference was dedicated to two workshops – one on free / libre and open source software (FLOSS) in education, and the other to the same in the mobile sector – denoted ‘mFOSS’.

Led by Tony Wasserman, a professor at the Silicon Valley campus of Carnegie Mellon University, the goal of the workshop was the creation of a research agenda for open source software in the mobile environment. He set the scene by illustrating how the number of mobile applications had grown from zero to almost a million in just a few years, and placing this in the context of cloud computing; the code used to write the application itself may be open source, the platform it’s targeted at may (or may not be open source), the storage may be open source and the development tools used may (or may not be) open source.

The workshop raised several key discussion points.

Where are the open source mobile apps?

The participants discussed why we are not seeing more mobile applications released under open source licenses. This included barriers such as difficulty with the current dominant mobile app stores – Apple’s iTunes platform and the Google Play store – with open source licensed applications being disallowed with Apple. This gave rise to discussion on whether there would be the rise of a ‘SourceForge’ or ‘GitHub’ style of mobile application store geared toward open source apps. It was also noted that many apps were hosted using open source resources – whether it be storage, platform or even development tools – but they themselves as end products were not open source.

What makes mobile different?

Discussion was also centred around differentiating mobile application development from traditional application development – and a long list was generated;

  • In mobile applications, there are many hardware and software platforms to cater for, and the users of them expect a continuous or familiar experience.
  • From a user interface perspective, there are many form factors to cater for.
  • There are many development platforms and languages to choose from when developing, and although there are some dominant ones, the market is essentially in a state of flux.
  • Traditional applications are not required to be context aware – and mobile applications must effectively sense and use context through sensors such as accelerometer, touch and swiping, GPS and location based services, cameras and voice input.
  • Applications are much more distributed – the hosting may be in one country, the storage in another and users in several other countries
  • This leads to a related issue of the complexity of testing mobile applications – with different operators and different gateways in different countries – essentially the number of intermediaries between the device and the internet is greater.
  • Internet connectivity on mobile devices is not continuous – and mobile applications need to be able to gracefully handle loss of connectivity. A related issue is the availability of 3G and LTE/4G connections in some communities – particularly remote communities – where data services are not available all the time. Can the application detect the network on which it’s running and adapt to the internet connectivity (or lack thereof) that prevails? Effectively this calls for ‘responsive design’ – not to the form factor but to the network. As a related point, SMS rather than 3/4G is the transport layer of choice to reach the most people, and in developing countries there tends to be a high penetration of mobile phones, but they are basic feature phones, not smartphones. Designing around SMS is very different to internet based applications.
  • While mobile device technology has advanced significantly in recent years, it’s still not perfect. Battery life and device power consumption needs to be a key factor in application design – as it’s possible to build a fantastic app that drains the device in a matter of minutes, effectively rendering it useless.
  • The social element of app design is becoming ubiquitous – and must be factored in – such as for social shopping.

What technical challenges remain?

There are very few standards for mobile devices – for screen resolutions, data handling and even privacy and security. Touch interfaces and other sensors differ between hardware and software platforms. There is scope for research to identify ways that effort for cross platform development could be minimised.

Testing remains a challenge also given the heterogeneity of hardware and software. What works well on one device under one se tof conditions may not work well on another.

Load is also an issue, particularly when the user base of a mobile application grows large. How is app availability under high loads assured? This has implications for platform services like EC2 and Amazon web services.

One point of discussion was differentiating between ‘building’ applications and ‘engineering’ them – the teepee versus the Taj Mahal. The key question of course comes back to fitness for purpose – is the application doing what it was designed to do, and is it doing it well?

Another challenge is the nature of application feedback. If applications break, they garner negative reviews, which persist even after the bug might be addressed. This introduces the notion of community – which forces a degree of testing and quality assurance.

Monetisation also remains a challenge, with people very reluctant to buy mobile applications, even though their handset costs a significant amount of money – so different business models are likely to emerge.

Privacy and security of personal data are also issues worthy of attention, particularly with the distributed nature of mobile applications.

In general, this was a worthwhile session which captured a number of the issues currently facing the mFOSS community.

Open Source Systems – Keynote #6 – Carol Smith on Google’s Summer of Code programme

Carol Smith opened her keynote talk by providing a brief history of her life with Google; she started as a journalism graduate, and now runs the Google Open Source Programs office, which oversees all open source code used internally at Google, ensuring compliance with the relevant open source licenses. Part of this role is to undertake outreach programs to open source and student communities, and to maintain a relationship with the open source software organisations external to Google; of which there are many.

She is very interested in open source software and the motivations that drive people to contribute to the open source community. She walked the audience through a number of concepts from Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us‘. As she explained, Pink has analysed motivations around the world, with the conclusion that for tasks that are straightforward or repeatable, money is an appropriate motivator. Pay people more, and they will work harder or better. However,  for tasks that are conceptually oriented (like programming, let’s say), money is not an effective extrinsic motivator. So, what drives us?

  • Autonomy – our desire to work independently on a task and to feel ownership of it
  • Mastery – our urge to get better at things. This is why people have hobbies
  • Purpose – in CS opinion, is a sense of making a contribution to a cause – humans want to feel part of a bigger cause

If you pay people enough that they’re not worried about paying their bills and feeding themselves, they work to do the things that enrich them and that they enjoy. As Smith explained, open source software development lines up really well with these motivations. People are even willing to work for free on open source software because it enriches their lives.

Carol explained that universities are where students get lessons on independence; tools that enrich them for the rest of their lives – where they learn to feel ownership of their work – often in collaborative environments and through group work; but whether they pass or fail is their own responsibility. This is a lot like what motivates us; and a lot like open source.

However, we aren’t teaching open source in universities.

Some students are getting introduced to open source software in their university, but we could be doing a lot better. teachingopensource.org only lists 15 universities with programs in open source. Enter the Google Summer of Code program.

GSOC is a fully online, international program encouraging uni student participation in open source development. Interestingly, around half of students who participated in GSOC in 2012 listed something other than computer science as their major. To me this indicated the wide use of open source software in many fields – from graphics to humanitarian FOSS, astronomy, science and gaming. GSO inspires students to begin participating in open source development while providing an attractive alternative to other menial summer jobs  and also yields critical workplace experience. There are also benefits for the open source community and larger society in general through having more contributors to open source, and having more code released under open source licenses.

Carol encouraged other organisations to adopt the GSOC model, even if they could not be part of the program as a mentoring organisation. She also encouraged us to help get our universities to teach open source as part of the computer science curriculum.  She also noted that GSOC has around 12-13% female participation, and this is a statistic that she would like to change in the future.