Ohio Linux Fest 2011 report.

Following a truncated workday on Thursday, I quickly packed, threw my stuff in the car, and raced up the road as quickly as torrential rain would safely allow to Reagan National Airport. I took a short flight to Columbus, Ohio, where this weekend the Ohio Linux Fest 2011 was set to go. I got into the hotel around diner time and fortunately I was able to hook up with a variety of folks including Ruth Suehle from opensource.com, Jared Smith, Red Hat mega-architect and superstar Thomas Cameron, and Fedora Docs hackers John McDonough and Zach Oglesby for dinner at Bucca di Beppo. Yum!

Friday was sort of an “early penguin” day, with fewer sessions organized into a couple tracks such as medical/open source crossover and a catchall track for other FOSS related talks. I got up at about 7:00am and took care of a few emails, which turned out to be a good idea since the rest of the day would be devoid of connectivity; any plans I had for productivity were killed by the complete lack of 3G and wifi at the convention center. There was a good amount of docs hacking that was rumored to take place back in the hotel, though.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my time meeting up with various acquaintances from around the FOSS world and attending early talks. I saw a good presentation on representing open source in economic models, for instance, and also caught Ruth’s talk in the medical track about tech advancements in open source and how they reflect the collaborative nature of health science. I didn’t catch much of the cloud talk but I understand there were some last minute changes. Hopefully people who attended that track still found plenty of worthwhile material.

A bunch of Fedora folks started appearing in a flood by afternoon, including my roomie Clint Savage. After dinner with Ruth and some new friends at BD’s Mongolian Grill, I met up with him, Christer Edwards, and Aaron Toponce and we headed to Barley’s for brews with Robyn Bergeron, Jeremy Sands, and a couple other folks. I helped Aaron get some printouts done for the GPG key-signing event at the Drury Inn’s complimentary business center, so he wouldn’t get robbed by the Hyatt’s ludicrous money-grubbers, while Robyn, Clint, John Mark, Zach and I played a game of poker in the lobby. We couldn’t actually finish before people were too tired to continue (but too competitive to throw in the towel). So we called it, and of course Robyn was in the lead, so she gets the pride and kudos this time. Clint and I finally hit lights-out around 2:00am.

Saturday was the full-on conference experience, and talks started with a 9:00am keynote. I attended talks in just about every track, including Klaatu‘s talk on the new Novacut project which was very interesting, a session on building job experience through work in the open source community (complete with testimonials from actual hiring managers), and one on password theory and encrypted file systems.

I also gave my own talk on PyGObject for beginners, which had a very robust and responsive audience. It was great to have so many people interested in a subject I enjoy talking about, and to get such great feedback and questions. Hopefully Ohio Linux Fest will have audio from this talk available in the future, since I understand it was recorded. I was happy with my performance although it was quite a lot of material to fit into a 50 minute period. If you attended and have feedback, feel free to comment here of course. The presentation is licensed CC BY 3.0, and it’s available on my fedorapeople.org space.

After Maddog’s final keynote, I went with a large group of friends (many of the above plus Eric ‘sparks’ Christensen, David Nalley and wife Pam, and several others) to the Spaghetti Warehouse. It was a fair walk from the hotel but it helped us all feel better about a pasta dinner, I think. We came back to the conference after-party but it wasn’t quite our taste, so we went back to Barley’s.

On Sunday, since my plane wasn’t scheduled to depart until almost 7:00pm, I got up in the morning and joined the Docs guys in a meeting room downstairs that was graciously donated by the Ohio Linux Fest organizers. What we did is already being reported and discussed on the Docs mailing list, so I won’t reiterate it all here. I definitely noticed there — and this is indeed not new, but rather a constant challenge — the importance of keeping a group session on track by focusing on specifics.

This is a characteristic of good sessions that I’ve many times seen Greg DeKoenigsberg or Max Spevack manage extremely well, and from which I’ve tried to learn. Sessions tend to produce lots of results by focusing on specifics, such as “We need to fix the following two things about our licensing statements, and here’s why.” It’s a lot harder when the problem you try to solve isn’t well articulated already, such as “We need to make contributors’ lives better.” When one doesn’t focus on those specifics, and driving to action as efficiently as possible, it’s easy for discussions to veer off into many different kinds of weeds, to the extent that you forget what problem you originally were trying to solve.

In any case, the Docs session went fairly well by focusing on specifics, and it was good to see friends from the team that I hadn’t met, or hadn’t seen in a while. Clint gave me, Zach, and Robyn a ride to the airport, where we proceeded to cool our heels for several hours (myself longer than most, I think, since my plane was delayed by local thunderstorms). I arrived home a little before 11:00pm, and basically dumped my suitcase out and went to bed so I could get up at 6:00 the next morning and start my workweek!

All in all Ohio Linux Fest was better for me this year as a speaker than as an attendee. In terms of the value I got from them personally, the quality of talks was not quite as good as what I’ve seen in recent years, but there were a few I definitely enjoyed and learned from. And of course it was fantastic was to see many Fedora contributors there, and collaborate and catch up with colleagues and friends. In closing, the organizers did a tremendous job with conference logistics and they definitely deserve a nice rest after all their efforts. Good work, folks!