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May 10

Penguicon 2015 Report

Penguicon 2015 was a great success, and far more happened than I could have been part of. We had about 500 hours of programming, and even my track, the Tech Track, had 100 hours of content. So this report is my own diary of my particular experience of Penguicon 2015. Each person would have their own experience based on the events, panels, and talks they chose to attend. But with this much programming there was plenty for everyone to enjoy. And since most of the team that put this together is coming back for another year, and we have managed to add some more people, I think next year can be even better.

On Friday 4/24/15 I left my office in Dearborn, Michigan, grabbed dinner, then checked in at the event registration desk. I arrived in time for the official opening ceremony at 6pm. Of course, there were talks and events scheduled even earlier on Friday (with 500 hours of stuff to fit in, we used every possible slot), but I was happy to get going then. These opening ceremonies are about introducing the Guests of Honor, advertising events of the upcoming weekend, and so on. And right after the opening we had the first of our two keynotes, Aral Balkan. He is the designer and co-founder of ind.ie. He is very passionate about security and privacy, and his keynote focused on the dangers posed by companies like Google and Facebook who know everything about us. He is trying to create alternatives that really protect our privacy.

Aral was followed by our second keynoter, Bruce Schneier, the Security expert, who gave a talk that fit very well with Aral’s talk. Bruce just published a book called Data and Goliath which explores the problems of mammoth data collection which is happening every moment. Bruce referred to data as the pollution problem of the 21st century. This becomes an interesting problem  because as he noted (similarly to Aral) the biggest source of data collection is private companies, and stopping them might require government action. And the problem with that is that governments are generally happy to have companies do their data collection for them. Bruce thinks this can be resolved with the right legislation, but noted futurist and science fiction author David Brin disagrees, and says that the only thing that can work is radical openness where ordinary people can look at the government just as much as the government looks at us. I lean more to Dr. Brin’s view myself, but no matter which side you come down on this is a big deal for all of us. As part of having Bruce there we arranged to have copies of his book, which he kindly signed for anyone who wanted one. When our Con Chair said he had arranged to have 25 books on hand, I immediately told him to double the order, which was a good thing. We would have angered a bunch of people otherwise. We sold all but 6 copies.

While the book signing was going I was introduced to Fifty OneFifty, who came out from Kansas to see what Penguicon was all about. I was so focused on getting my book and getting it signed that I didn’t spend a lot of time with Fifty right then, but I had more opportunities over the weekend. He did try to get an interview with Bruce for Hacker Public Radio, but unfortunately Bruce could only be at Penguicon for Friday evening so there really wasn’t time.

After that I went to a panel on Welcome to Night Vale, a semi-monthly podcast that I love. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in an offbeat podcast about a fictional town that has been described as Stephen King meets Lake Wobegone. But by about half-way through I could tell I was running out of gas, so it was time to go home.

On Saturday morning I moderated a panel on Getting Involved in the Open Source Community. On the panel I had Ruth Suehle and Tom Callaway from Red Hat, Emily Gonyer from the Gnome Project, and William A. Rowe from the Apache project. It was fun to have all of these people sharing their experiences, and in particular to point out that most open source projects need a lot more help than just coders. So if anyone wants to contribute there are plenty of ways. For my part, I have done things like review documentation for the LibreOffice project, which really means taking a chapter and going through it with the software open in front of me and just verifying that each instruction works the way they say it does, and that the instructions make sense. That is something anyone can do, and lots of projects need people to do things as simple as that.

After this I had a nice hallway talk with Susan Sons, who does our Cryptoparty each year. She has lots of ideas of things we can do to improve, so I enjoy talking to her. One thing we discussed that I definitely want to bring in next year: She and Eric Raymond are looking at some of the base “plumbing” software that we all depend on but which is maintained by one or two aging developers (kind of like what happened to OpenSSL earlier), and they are working to develop good support models.

Then I went to a Maria DB talk by Colin Charles, a developer on the Maria DB team who flew in from Malaysia to tell us about what MariaDB is doing now. This project forked off from MySQL as a result of Oracle taking ownership and messing things up, and is now the default choice on most Linux distros. And by a happy coincidence, just about the time I heard about Colin joining us I read a post from my friend Jorge Castro of Canonical who talked about how MariaDB was now integrated into their JuJu cloud solution, so I signed up Jorge right away, and turned this session into a 2 hour presentation incorporating both MariaDB and JuJu. So a lot of awesome Cloud goodness here. But that was not all. I followed this with a talk from Jennifer Marsman from Microsoft. It was taking a little bit of a chance, but she knew this was an open source convention and therefore presented Azure and emphasized all of the open source software that was ready to run on that platform. Linux distros, Hadoop, Apache Ant, Drupal, and so on. So her talk was very well received and I plan to invite her again next year.

After this was my second panel, this time on Creative Destruction. Mark Haynes put this together, and when he asked me if I knew any economists I decided I should be one of the participants. I looked at the origin of the term as used by Joseph Schumpeter and some of the implications of it. There were others looking at ecology, biology, and other sciences on this panel as well. So I actually participated on something in the Science Track, which was a first for me. But after that I left the con get home since my wife and I had tickets for the Symphony, and I try not to let anything keep me away from that, particularly when Mahler is on the program. (Though to be fair, they do an excellent job on most things.)

On Sunday I got there on time for the recording of the Sunday Morning Linux Review. They always do a live recording at Penguicon, and this year Fifty OneFifty was a guest on the show. This went well as always, and I won bragging rights for the trivia quiz, which took the place of Mary’s usual Is It Alive feature. Then I went to the What’s New in KDE 5 talk, but unfortunately Ryan had to take his wife to hospital so we had some discussion among ourselves in the room for a while. I did check later and Emily seems to be doing fine. Then I decided to get some breakfast at the buffet in the hotel.

Next up was Mary Tomich’s talk Swimming with Dolphin, the KDE File Manager. I had been looking forward to this talk since both Mary and I are KDE users. And she did not disappoint, it was a great talk, and I learned a lot. As a result I made a commitment to try using Dolphin (up to now I was strictly using Krusader) and if I can do everything I need to do there I may switch.

Then I went to one of the Science Fiction panels called Science Fiction Is Now Science Reality. This panel had Karl Schroeder ( a previous GOH), Annalee Newitz of Gawker (2015 GOH), and Charlie Jane Anders of io9 (2015 GOH). We had a very interesting discussion of where science and technology are taking us, and even managed to bring in some optimism. Like many of us, I am no longer interested in reading about dystopias, and sometimes it seems like all current SF is nothing else. I read SF as a kid and it was all about how awesome the future would be, and that is what I want to read now. Karl and I had a very nice breakfast together on a Sunday morning at Penguicon a few years ago when was GOH, and I was happy to renew this slight acquaintance.

Then it was on to Firewalls with pfSense by Tom Lawrence. I just met Tom earlier this year and I am glad I was able to sign him up a presenter. His talk was really good, and I heard a lot of compliments from other attendees. When Tom’s talk was over, Tony Bemus grabbed me, and I joined the Sunday Morning Linux Review teak to do a wrap-up recording on what we saw at Penguicon 2015. And then it was on to the closing ceremonies, which were liberally punctuated by the firing of a T-shirt cannon. Prizes were also awarded for best room party, volunteers were recognized, and so on.

So, that was my personal experience of Pengucion 2015. I am already registered for next year, and have made the commitment to stay on as the Tech Track head, so I will try to do as good a job for next year. I don’t think we could handle any more content than we had, but there are some things I am working on to bring in some specific talks that I think will attract people with a tech interest.