FUDCon Toronto report.

There have already been plenty of posts about all the good stuff that happened at FUDCon Toronto 2009, so just repeating the same details would seem like gilding the lily. Easily over 200 attendees as of Day 1, and we had other people showing up over the weekend, and students stopping in on Day 3, asking questions and sharing stories. A great facility at Seneca, thanks to Chris Tyler and crew. Lackluster broadband at the hotel, but a great hack suite experience nonetheless. Questionable pub surroundings, very little sleep, loads of fun, and a marvelous event overall.

OK, that sums up everyone else’s posts, so how about what I accomplished, other than teaming up with Mel Chua and Chris Tyler behind the scenes as the Indefatigable FUDCon Ninja Trio?

Day 0: Not much other than checking in with the hotel to make sure they were ready for the bus. Dinner with Greg DeKoenigsberg, Howard Johnson, David Huff, Yaakov Nemoy, and many other Fedorans at the infamous “Irish Pub.” Arrived a bit late for the actual FUDBus landing, but got to greet almost everyone arriving at the hotel. Then realized everyone was going to the pub again and cursed the fact that I hadn’t had a healthy snack to get me through for a late night dinner.

Day 1: Realized we just broke BarCamp — at least as a “do everything the day of” event. In the future, we’ll need to have a night event for our scheduling. The consolation prize, of course, is our “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to talks: more than we can fit in the schedule, to be sure. Thanks to Yaakov and an intrepid crew of volunteers, we also had almost every talk logged on IRC so that remote contributors could “listen in,” ask questions, and participate from afar.

In between event troubleshooting and hallway conversations, I caught part or all of:

There’s kind of a trend there, since I’m keenly interested in the experience of Fedora and how we might all bring our individual skills to making it better. I also gave my own wacky commentary on Fedora and some ideas on thinking beyond our subjectivity to broaden Fedora’s reach, widen its appeal, and attract more contributors to what I think is ultimately a more sustainable approach to working in the free software community.

On a semi-related note, there’s a saying you’ll find on my blog site. You won’t see it in RSS readers of course. It reads, “Esse quam videri,” which means “To be and not to seem to be.”* The free software distribution that we enjoy comes to us thanks to the efforts of thousands of people upstream from Fedora that write some of the code we use, and one of the things we need to do over the next year is redouble our efforts to support them. In addition, we need to recognize all the Fedora contributors who are vital parts of upstream communities, and support them as well. And in doing that, we need to be true to our FOSS philosophy and practices — walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

I drew a brief metaphor in my FUDCon closing comments on Day 1 to $FAST_FOOD.** Leaving aside all my veggiesaurus friends for the sake of argument, the success of $FAST_FOOD implies that a great number of people find $FAST_FOOD’s goods to be tasty and affordable. And the advertising and marketing of $FAST_FOOD sure tends to reinforce that — even going so far as to imply their food good is for you, and high-quality.

But unfortunately, the widepsread, negative side effects worldwide, from obesity (yes, I’m looking at you, mirror) to agricultural nightmares to economic problems, tend to say otherwise. There are better ways to produce nourishing food, and promote healthier and more sustainable lives. And in the same way, there are better ways to produce free and open source software that don’t sacrifice freedom or choices for users, and promote “healthy” upstream collaboration and cultivation.

And that’s what Fedora represents to me: being this sustainable force, not simply appearing to be so.

So, back to my FUDCon tale: Following the technical sessions in BarCamp, of course there was the world-famous FUDPub event, dominated by snicky-snacks and pool sharks. I also got to meet, live and in person, previously virtual-only friends like Adam Miller and Karlie Robinson. I also tried to troll Max Spevack, but was too earnest to carry that off properly, and failed miserably (sorry Matt, I tried). Max is a master at this so maybe I need to take some lessons! Or alternately, in the future I’ll just stick to wearing my heart on my sleeve, which apparently suits me better.

Day 2-3: We moved to a different building where the hackfests would be more effective, putting people together in small rooms or around workgroup-sized tables for better face-to-face exchanges.

To start off the day, I gave an introductory talk on PyGTK development, aimed at people who were in the position I was last year — understanding the basics of Python, and knowing how to write basic programs, but not understanding how to build a GUI around it. I explained things in rudimentary terms, such as how events work with GTK, the inheritance model for objects, and how to look up properties and functions using system resources like DevHelp when writing code. These were the things that were so difficult for me to wrap my head around as a liberal artsy non-programmer, every time I sat down and tried to bridge this gap, and I think I hit the sweet spot for a bunch of the attendees. And fortunately, there were a couple experts in the room too, who I could rely on to tell me if I was Getting It Wrong, or offer additional advice to the attendees.

A bunch of people took this information and started thinking about cool ways we could extend and, to some extent, universalize PulseCaster to meet more of our media origination needs. We did some brainstorming about use cases and also interface design to support them; that’s hard work but very worthwhile, and also incredibly important to me because I want a tool that meets the GNOME HIG and remains simple, slick, and usable by non-technical people. I’m really keen on working on this more over the next few weeks, especially during my vacation time when I can set my own agenda.

During the rest of these days I had a number of meetings with different people to understand issues, listen to ideas, give feedback where it was wanted, and facilitate everyone else’s FUDCon experience:

  • Watched Mairin Duffy and the FOSS usability lab in action, although I didn’t get a chance to participate myself as a tester (surprise!).
  • Sat in on part of a conversation between Fedora contributors that ranged widely from PackageKit to team dynamics. Unfortunately, I had to leave partway through to handle some hotel logistics.
  • Talked to Pam Chestek from Red Hat Legal, who attended the whole conference and not only gave a planned talk on trademarks on Saturday, but made herself generally available all weekend for people to walk up and ask questions. She let me know she very much enjoyed FUDCon and I hope that she’ll return for the next one.
  • Discussed EMEA events and community with Jeroen.
  • Had a chat with Christopher Aillon and Jon McCann about their Fedora install/update talk and related issues, and thanked them for the work they’ve been doing to improve communication between members of the Desktop team and the overall Fedora community.
  • Had lots of ad-hoc meetings with Mel Chua where we tried to make sure all of our financial i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.
  • Handled a couple of urgent Fedora issues on the side, but generally failed to keep up with my email and RSS (and paid the price this week!). 🙂

Day 2 ended with a nice dinner with Max, Matt Domsch, Dennis Gilmore, and some other Fedora folks at the Ice Cream Patio. Christopher Aillon and I split a nice bottle of valpolicella, although I think that I probably got the better part of a 60/40 split, and the food was very good, especially the dessert (my amaretto trufata was excellent, and if Dennis wasn’t so imposing a figure, his raspberry crepe would have been in danger too if I could have distracted him somehow!). We talked a lot about disasters for some reason, and hearing what Matt and Christopher had both experienced in the way of real estate catastrophes, I felt completely humbled about my stupid and trivial basement leaks.

Day 3 ended quite differently, with dozens of Fedorans crammed into our hospitality/hack suite at the hotel for hors d’oeuvres and fun conversation. For the most part, people set their laptops aside and wound down from an action-packed weekend. My manager, Tim Burke, VP of Linux Development at Red Hat, was there too.  I do have to say that it is incredibly empowering and supportive for one’s manager to show up at the most important regional event as a participant — and at the risk of sounding like a suck-up I think that’s one of the things I really like about working with Tim. Maybe I’d better say something negative to balance it out — we wish he’d brought beer! 😀

In general, this FUDCon was one of the most exciting events I think we’ve ever had. It was certainly one of the, and maybe the single, largest ever. I’m really grateful to all our contributors who made it such a success, bringing their talent, their knowledge, their passion, and their willingness to help others contribute to free software through Fedora.

Coming up to this event, I’d been struggling a bit with some mental and spiritual exhaustion. This event helped me get Fedora back into perspective and reminded me what a beautiful thing it is to be surrounded by wonderful, smart people — and how much we can accomplish when we bring our ideas together and compare them constructively to find the best way forward. Thank you to every single one of you who participated either on-site or remotely, for the gift of renewal.

See you at the next FUDCon!

* The original Cicero quote is also worth knowing: “Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem to be so.”

** I’m not naming one here to avoid the obvious legal entanglements. 😉

UPDATE: Apologies to Colin for absent-mindedly fubar-ing his last name.

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