Review: LinuxFest Northwest 2012
The end of April... is LinuxFest Northwest time in Bellingham, Washington. This was my 6th year attending and it was their 12th annual conference. As usual, I took my camcorder along and recorded all of the presentations I attended.
Unlike last year, where I was all by myself, this year I was lucky enough to have three other Montanans with me - Gary Bummer from the BozemanLUG, Warren Sanders and Andrew Niemantsverdreit from the BillingsLUG.
We all carpooled with Warren driving and for that I thank him.
Continue reading for the complete review.
As usual the venue was Bellingham Technical College (BTC). Like most educational campuses, BTC seems to be under a constant state of flux / construction. Recent years have seen the addition of a new building but the buildings used for the conference hadn't changed much.
One area I'm unsure of was the cafateria area. In previous years their used to be a snack stand in the back entrance of the main building. This year, there was a larger area behind the exhibit area along the center wall. I don't know if that has always been there and was just closed in the past or if it was new. My guess is that it is the former.
Food - On both Saturday and Sunday I decided to have a simple turkey sandwich from the cafateria whereas the rest of my group ate the hot lunch that was served in the outside courtyard. There was quite a bit of variety of food and all of it excellent. Warren enjoyed the Salmon and I think Gary and Andrew enjoyed a beef centered meal. Everything sure did smell good. I must compliment BTC with providing some fantastic food for LFNW this year. It sure is handy being able to have a quality, reasonably priced meal at BTC and not have to drive around town. That saves a lot of time and allows for better interacting with fellow show goers in the covered outside seating areas. There was also an inside seating area that was shared with a couple of exhibitors attached to the main exhibit area.
I've never really had any complaints with the venue and this year was no exception.
Procedural Change - One thing that was different this year was registration. In past years, presenters and exhibitors registered and received badges. This year everyone registered an recevied badges. The idea was that everyone should be pre-registered via the website so that when they went to get their badge it would be a fairly quick transaction. In reality a number of people didn't pre-register and as a result, going through the registration process was a bit time consuming. To their credit they had a number of volunteers helping out with registration and I think it went as smoothly as possible. But the "why register?" question still remains.
They did not have all of the badges printed out ahead of time. I'm guessing they didn't want to waste materials (and the badges were in glorious color) on anyone who failed to show up, so even if you pre-registered you still had to wait in line, check-in, and then wait for your badge to be printed. In the big scheme of things it wasn't really an issue but I'm sure a few people got frustrated with the process. So far as I could tell the only reason the registration badges were needed was for access to the Saturday Night Party where it was said they would be scanning the badges for entry. It was my understanding that if you weren't going to the Saturday Night Party, you didn't really need a badge. I wonder if the badges for everyone policy will continue next year. If so, that's fine... just let everyone know to show up earlier the first day.
The exhibit area was set up pretty much like it usually is and most of the usual suspects were there including Fedora, The Linux Fund, the EFF and FSF, OpenSUSE, Pogo Linux, etc. There were a few user group booths, a electronics yard sale booth, a KDE booth with a fancy touch tablet showing off Krita, and the manditory LFNW table with books, tee-shirts and raffle ticket sales.
Two exhibits really stood out for me this year were Pogo Linux and Plugable.
Pogo Linux was showing off a very elaborate and impressive wide-screen (3 x 32" I think) racing simulator. It had a very sturdy seat assembly with a steering wheel and all of the related controls. They had a competition with some prize for the winner but I didn't hear what it was. There was usually a long line of people wanting to drive it so I didn't give it a try. I don't know if it was running Linux or not... and/or if the racing software was open source or not. I hope to update this section once someone has informed me.
Plugable has been in the Linux news recently but I must admit I hadn't heard of them before seeing their demo exhibit. Plugable is a hardware maker of a number of "plugable" USB devices including video cards, docking stations, hubs, etc. They make two Docking Station products that can also be used in a multi-seat scenerio thanks to the efforts of systemd, GDM, and GNOME 3 Shell. What does that mean exactly? Basically you can plug-in one of their USB docking stations to a desktop or laptop running a new enough systemd (they were using Fedora 17 Beta) and systemd notices and turns it into a workstation for the user by offering a graphical login screen. The end user can login and use it as if it were a dedicated computer system. It is basically a hot-pluggable X11 terminal. Need more stations? Just plug-in additional units. Their target price is $50 a seat and they aren't far from it currently but I'm sure once they build/sell more the price will go down even more. It is definitely a neat concept that I'd like to give a try. Unfortuately they didn't have any for sale at the show. I noticed that they had donated several items to the raffle. I checked out their website and they have a number of interesting products so check them out yourself.
I would like to thank Jeff Sandy at the Fedora booth for giving three of our party Fedora tee-shirts... because we are all Fedora users. I always enjoy getting Fedora swag and share some of it with the LUG members when I get home.
Sessions / Presentations
The presentations were in full force again this year and it was hard to pick only one per time slot to go see. Here are the ones I attended and recorded:
- An Intro to CrunchBang (webm video)
- Software Patents: What You Can Do (webm video)
- Linux Logical Volume Manager Advanced Topics (webm video)
- ownCloud - Your Cloud, Your Data, Your Way (webm video)
- HA Solutions for MySQL (webm video)
- Krita - Digital graphics for real artists (webm video)
- XenClient: Client-side virtualization
- Meet Fedora: The Not-So-Miraculous story of a successful community (webm video)
- Teaching Linux and Linux System Administration as Distance Education Classes (webm video)
Two presentations really stood out for me this year and they were the Krita and Fedora talks.
Krita - Oscar Baechler is a graphic artist who has been drawing every day for years. He is a big Blender advocate (and I wish I could have seen his Blender presentation) and was asked to check out Krita and try to put together a presentation. Given the fact that Oscar has been using a variety of graphic arts applications for years he was able use Krita for a few hours a day for about a week and feel fairly comfortable with it. He wanted to show off the new 2.4 release (PDF) but his Linux distro of choice didn't have packages for it yet so he opted to show the Microsoft Windows build of Krita. While it might be somewhat painful for Linux users to watch someone using Windows, we all understood and it is nice to know that there is a Windows build that seems to work fairly well. Oscar explained some of the basics of the Krita user interface but it was obvious that much of the Krita muscles he was flexing were in the brushes he was using with his artistic talent as the fuel. It just so happens I gave a brief presentation on Krita at a recent LUG meeting and I too am fairly new to Krita... but I lack Oscar's artistic abilities... but that doesn't stop me from trying. One bonus for the show was that the Krita devs had mailed over a recently produced Comics with Krita video training DVD they have produced that was put in the raffle. I wanted to win that but didn't... but was lucky enough to buy a copy from the KDE booth (and LFNW organizer) guy. The videos are under a Creative Commons license and you can find them on YouTube or download them via bit torrent or better yet, order your own physical copy and you'll get the physical comicbook. Anyway, from the work Oscar did during the presentation and the array of amazing images on the Krita website that have been created in Krita, it is obvious that Krita holds a special place in the FLOSS graphic tool pantheon now.
Fedora - Robyn Bergeron is the new Fedora Project Leader having just assumed the role near the beginning of Feb. 2012. Robyn was previously a Fedora Program Manager and a volunteer marketing person. Robyn is the first female to take the helm of the Fedora Project (maybe of any Linux distro?). Since I hadn't previously met nor heard her speak, I was wondering if she was a "token" selection. I can assure you that that is definitely not the case. Robyn kicks butt... and I hope I didn't offend anyone with that previous sentence. Anyway... Robyn talked frankly about Fedora, gave her own take on the "four Fs", and provided some insite into the inner workings of the Fedora Project. Along the way there was a subtle explanation of why Fedora Rocks and why you should (or should not) be using it. I'm a LONG TIME Red Hat and Fedora fanboi so she was preaching to the choir although she readily admitted that Fedora isn't for everyone. I really enjoyed her down-to-earth approach of pacing back and forth in front of the attendees as she spoke without any projected slides. I got to her talk early and saw her sitting in the back of the room working on her laptop (KDE). She told me that she had been informed by a LFNW volunteer that the projector was broken and that no replacement was coming... but that that was ok because she really didn't need it. I'm not sure if it had been working if she would have used it or not. The only annoyance was that Robyn started about 5-10 minutes late because the OpenSUSE guy (also attending Robyn's talk) was in the room communicating (using sign language) with several of his translators and one of them asked Robyn to please wait for them to finish a conversation they were having. To me that was a little rude but Robyn was gracious and accomodating. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that either. Oh well.
World Famous Raffle
Another LFNW, another "World Famous Raffle". There were a number of fantastic prizes including books, books and more books, a Kindle Fire tablet, a KDE Vivaldi tablet (once they ship), an Android smart phone, an HP netbook, a few Plugable devices, magazine subs, entry to Lisa and/or Usenix, the Comics with Krita DVD, Drupal training videos from Lalabot, a killer desktop system from Pogo Linux, etc. I bought 20 tickets but didn't win anything. Maybe next year. The only suggestion I have for the Raffle is maybe they could give out more of the smaller prizes individually rather than lumping so many together. For example, they would give way 3 or 4 smaller prizes with 5 books. I imagine some people would have been perfectly happy to win a single book and that would have made for a lot more "winners"... but then again it would mean the raffle would have taken much longer and it was pretty hot and crowded.
Saturday Night Party
Another traditional event is the Saturday Night Party. This year it was at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. Remember how the registration badges were made a requirement so you could attend the party? Turns out that the scanner was late arriving to the party and the fact that it was raining outside meant that they decided to let everyone in early without being scanned so they wouldn't have to get wet.
Party food and drink - There were two Mexican food bars, Margeritas, and a variety a home-brewed beers as well as some home-made soft drinks that included root beer and giner ale. Let me just say that the beer was excellent (we had a designated driver)... and for the non-drinkers, the N/A beverages were also awesome... I tried the ginger ale too! When the beer became available everyone was encouraged to get their badge scanned although I'm guessing a large number did not. IDs were checked and wristbands were issued for access to the adult beverages.
The museum sponsor told us that it was ok to walk through the museum with our drinks as long as we were careful and respectful of the displays. The museum had an unimaginably large collection of vintage electronic gear... as well as some displays where patrons could experiement and play with the science. The evening was topped off with a giant Tesla coil presentation including a Faraday cage. There was electricity in the air... wait for it... literally. Wow. What a party.
Andrew is also a beer homebrewer and I hope to get him to write up a few paragraphs with more details about the Linux brewers who provided all of the beverages... maybe as a comment to this post.
With the exception of the badge situation being new and a little confusing, this year was another success. Access to the presenters and being able to interact with fellow geeks really makes LFNW something I want to attend every year. I really don't know how many were in attendance but since they did do the registration thing this year maybe they will have some solid attendance numbers to report?!?
My only suggestion would be to figure out the presentation video recording situation so all presentations get recorded and are available online after the event. I do what I can each year and I know there is some demand because I see the requests on the mailing list after. It would take quite a bit of work to get all presentations recorded and post-production done on them but it would be worth it. archive.org is the most obvious place to host them in a free format. Hope to see everyone at LFNW 2013!
Videos from the Saturday Night Party: