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.)

Linux Plumbers Conference in review

The Linux Plumbers Conference happened last week, and it was exactly the conference I’ve always dreamed of. I’m clearly biased and a shill for the conference, but I’ll make one comment and then link to other people’s comments on it.

The LPC organizers really, really wanted this to be a working conference where developers could meet and have in-depth discussions about on-going problems and – key point – come up with solutions. I knew we’d succeeded when a V4L developer told me, with misty eyes and a huge grin, “We have… *action items*!” This was the first time many of them had ever met another V4L developer in person, ever, and they quickly worked out some vexing design problems that had been simmering for years. Several other microconference runners also spoke of action items with smiles on their faces. When you have developers excited and thrilled about AIs, you know you’ve won.

Anyway, a few other words on the subject:

Peter Graner, Ubuntu kernel manager:

Lennart Poettering (audio microconference runner):

We got to see an early Linux-based e-paper device with fascinating implications for X:

The LWN summary (paid subscribers only until Sep. 30th – a subscription is $2.50/month at cheapest):

And of course, Greg K-H’s keynote lived up to all my expectations for controversiality:

Linux Plumbers Conference on track to sell out

The Linux Plumbers Conference early bird registration has come and gone, and looking at the registration numbers, we appear to be on track to sell out! We’re limiting attendance to 300 people to keep it small, collaborative, and focused on getting things done. If you’ve been thinking about going but haven’t registered yet, you should probably do so soon:

In related news, I have a free ticket to LPC to give away (as a reward for doing LPC publicity). Email me if you’re a deserving Linux developer with no corporate means of getting your registration paid.

Linux Plumbers Conf accepted speakers announced

We just announced the accepted speakers and talks for Linux Plumbers Conference:

It’s obvious this is a technical conference – topics include Early bootup cross-distro collaboration by Dave Jones and one of the first public talks on btrfs by Chris Mason. I’m very pleased; we really wanted this to be a working conference, attended by the people who can make decisions and implement them.

We also need people who are actually using Linux and can give us detailed technical input. Too often developers end up in an echo chamber where we just repeat the same faulty assumptions to each other. It’s great to have someone from industry break in and say, “Actually, we do have millions of small files in a file system, fragmentation really hurts us, and fsck does take way too long.”

Early bird registration ends on Monday; save $50 on your travel budget and register before then. We also have a student program; check it out if you are a full or part-time student.

Keynote speakers for Linux Plumbers Conference!

Woot! Greg Kroah-Hartman and Jonathan Corbet are speaking at Linux Plumbers Conference!

I still remember sitting in the audience at Greg’s 2006 OLS keynote and seeing “Closed source kernel modules are illegal” pop up in big red letters on the projector screen. My eyeballs nearly fell out of my head. Saying that so publicly and definitely (and while representing Novell) took some major guts – and a lot of preparation. The text and slides from the keynote are here:

I make no claims that any such momentous event will happen at LPC, but I’m definitely attending Greg’s keynote.

Jon Corbet is, of course, awesome, but then I have a conflict of interest because he keeps buying my articles for LWN. :) He’ll be giving us his summary on where Linux is right now and where it’s going. I expect some interesting news from Kernel Summit, which co-located with and just prior to LPC. It’s great to have someone like Jon who is both a good writer and speaker, and a bona fide kernel developer. You’ll never hear him say “real-time technology” or “leverage the community.”

Oh, and we announced an early bird registration deadline – the fee goes up from a paltry $250 to a still paltry $300 on August 18th. Get your travel budget approved and your hotel rooms booked, we’re a-goin’ to Portland! I’m planning a group outing to Teardrop Lounge on Thursday night, and probably after the parties on Tuesday and Wednesday night too. I’m still kicking myself for missing out on this place while I lived in Portland.