Help improve open source, make the world a better place, AND travel to Australia

The LCA 2012 Call for Papers (speakers and tutorials, really) is still open. The Linux Conference Australia audience is bright, curious, and eager to learn more. In particular, LCA attendees seem to love talks about file systems and storage, and I know there’s at least one fewer file systems-related talk than usual in the system this year!

Part of the reason I went to LCA 2007 was to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing a giant squid in person – and it totally worked.

VAL and giant squid

One of the big secrets about a career in open source is that you get to do interesting technical work that makes the world a better place AND travel around the world without paying for (most) of it. If you think you have something even vaguely interesting to talk about, and happily would go to Australia if you could work out the travel somehow, please consider submitting a proposal and figuring out how to pay for it during the next few months. LCA wants fresh faces and new ideas, and if your topic is interesting enough, everyone can work together to find a way to make it happen.

LCA 2011 trip report

The LCA organizers have done it again; not even a natural disaster could prevent them from throwing a conference that lived up to the LCA standards: friendly, fun, and technical. As usual, there was something for everyone, from the hardened kernel developer to the person who installed Linux last week. Unique among Linux conferences, LCA’s partner program even makes the conference fun for people who think of Linux primarily as the source of irritating penguin-themed decor in their house.

I was ready to forgive any number of organizational snafus due to the conference being relocated at the last minute due to the floods, but found it unnecessary. Internet access was reliable, fast, and copious (even when I rudely downloaded an entire installation CD image in the middle of the conference). Projectors and microphones worked, with a legion of A/V assistants for each room to make sure things ran smoothly (and the talks finished on time). Several people said that all time slots had a talk they wanted to see, and many slots had several talks. LCA does a great job of soliciting talks that are both technical and fun, like Andrew Tridgell’s Linux-powered coffee roaster talk.

The conference atmosphere was, as usual, friendly and relaxed. This year many people put in a great deal of effort to make the conference more welcoming, including adopting an anti-harassment policy. I heard of only one major violation of the policy, which was handled with record-breaking speed and sensitivity. One of the keynote speakers, Mark Pesce, included several inappropriate images in his talk. The discussion that ensued between conference organizers, the speaker, and attendees was rational, speedy, and respectful. Within 6 hours, the conference organizers made a public announcement apologizing for the incident and promising to follow up on it. Within 2 days, Mark Pesce made a public apology for the images, without, to my knowledge, any significant flame wars or disrespectful behavior on anyone’s part. The controversy was over almost before it had a chance to start, and both LCA and Mark Pesce came out smelling like roses, in my opinion.

Both the LCA organizers and Mark earned my personal respect and goodwill. I want to personally thank the conference chair, Shaun Nyquist, for his grace and quick thinking in a difficult situation, and Sarah Smith, for leading the effort to adopt an anti-harassment policy for LCA. If the 2012 Ballarat team is anything like the Brisbane team, I’ll be back, and I’ll encourage my friends to attend as well.

Going to LCA 2011

Just a quick note to say I just finished putting together the funding to attend this year’s Linux Conference Australia. I will be running a session at the Haecksen miniconf and volunteering at Haecksen’s Open Day booth but not speaking at the main conference.

I hope to speak to as many people as possible about their thoughts around how to make open source friendlier to women and other underrepresented groups. Introduce yourself at the conference, stop by the Open Day booth, or send me an email. Thanks!

Back on the speaker circuit

Over the years I have attended a lot of conferences, as you can see from this photograph of my conference badge collection:

Table full of badges

The badges are sorted into columns, starting with 1995 – 2000 on the left and 2009-2010 on the right. If the table was bigger and I didn’t have to squish the years together, you could see there was a big bump around 2006 – 2007 and then it leveled off.

I cut down on my conference attendance for many reasons, most of which were personal and most of which no longer apply. But I would like to start attending more conferences, and I would also like to promote the new open source conference anti-harassment policy. So I came up with a publicity stunt.

I swear an oath upon the K&R C Programming Manual that, for the entire year of 2011, if your conference, fest, users group, or other open-source related gathering:

  • Adopts an anti-harassment policy based on this or similar
  • Arranges some method to cover my expenses
  • Does not conflict with a prior engagement of mine

I will:

  • Speak at your conference about a technical topic and/or women in open source
  • Help you write your anti-harassment policy
  • If I can’t attend due to conflicts, help you find another speaker

Or, if you prefer, I will promise NOT to come to your conference – whatever floats your boat.

Some of the topics I can speak on are: Linux file systems, the TCP/IP Drinking Game, careers in open source, women in open source, btrfs, kernel development using Usermode Linux, practical git usage (ugh), kernel profiling and tuning, practical kernel development tips and tricks, and a variety of obscure and rather boring file system related topics (union mounts, relatime, chunkfs, making fsck faster, parallelizing IO, making ext4 64-bit, etc.).

I think I’m a middling good presenter – I got invited to speak at LCA (known for high standards on speaker technique), I got invited back to speak at LCA, and while people laugh during my talks I think they are usually laughing with me. Or at least that’s what they tell me.

The anti-schwag movement

Are you a conference organizer? Then you’ve probably had to deal with schwag – the endless pile of branded leaflets, cup-cosies, and badge lanyards that your sponsors want to “give” to your attendees. It’s a huge pain to the conference organizers – it has to be trucked in to registration, sorted into little baggies, and then handed out during registration. It’s a huge pain to the conference-goers, who nearly universally hate conference schwag and throw most of it away at the first available trash can or trash-can-like receptacle. Have you ever heard a conference-goer say, “Oh boy! A beer-can cozy with the AnnoyingCompany logo! I’m so excited!”? To complete the cycle of uselessness, schwag is a huge pain to the sponsoring company too – choosing it, getting the designs in, paying for it, etc. – and for what? The good will of conference-goers? Perhaps not – frequently, a particularly useless logo-branded piece of schwag incites feelings of anger and hatred in me towards the sponsoring entity.

The great thing is that we can do something about schwag. I thought that Linux Plumbers Conf did a really good job of cutting down on schwag in a way that made sponsors, conference organizers, and attendees happier.

First, they cut down on pure conference schwag. No bag, no paper schedules, no pens. Instead, they got a sponsor to pay for branded USB keys and put all the conference information on the USB key. Most people are happy to get a USB key and will use it long after the conference. (The downside of the LPC 2008 key is that it features epilepsy-inducing blinkenlights of multiple colors and stunning brightness. The kids will love it.)

Now that they had a USB key, they could then handle the sponsors who want their leaflets given to attendees. Sure, you can have your leaflets – in electronic form on the USB key. In fact, you can make them multiple pages and full-color at no additional cost.

Conference t-shirts are an interesting problem. Some people really love them. Some people (me) really hate them. LPC did a good job of getting high-quality, comfortable, attractive t-shirts in both men and women’s styles. What was really awesome is that the women’s shirts came in L, XL, 2XL, and more. Women’s shirts are sized absurdly small these days; usually the largest available women’s shirt will fit me but be too skimpy to wear in a professional situation. I usually hate conference t-shirts, but I took the LPC t-shirt because it looked and felt great and came in 2XL. I even wore it at my next conference. So the summary for t-shirts would be: Make them optional, make them pretty, get high-quality t-shirts, order men’s and women’s shirts, and order the women’s shirts in large sizes.

LPC did have one obvious piece of schwag: the IBM/LPC logo travel mug/thermos. I was grumpy when I saw it (“Dammit! They’ve SOLD OUT!”) – and then I realized that I had “travel mug” on my shopping list. It’s a great mug and I’ve used it many times since then. So the lesson learned here is that if there is a really great, really useful piece of schwag, go for it – but make it optional.

(Update: Obviously I think a laptop bag can be a really great, really useful piece of schwag.)

LCA laptop bag even cooler than previously thought

I have gushed about the 2007 Linux Conf Australia laptop bag before, but I just found out that it’s even cooler than I thought: My Macbook Air fits in it! Photographic proof:

I mean, this is the bag that was so eensy that no one believed I could have a laptop inside it at all. I carried around my Panasonic CF-R5 in this bag for a long time, but that laptop was about half the width of the Air.

Not to diss the LCA 2008 bag. It’s also a great bag that I use on a regular basis, it just doesn’t bend space and time the way the 2007 bag does. Thanks again to Brandon Philips for giving me his extra LCA bag after my first one died.

I am sadly not sure I can attend the 2009 LCA, but I highly encourage people to go if at all possible. I encourage people even more to submit talks for 2010 – speakers get wined and dined, taken on adventures, and even picked up and dropped off at the airport. If you’re going to visit Australia, this is the way to go.