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Jun 16

Penguicon 2016 Report

As in previous posts on this topic, I want to emphasize that this is not a review of the entire range of Penguicon, but simply a report on what I did and the panels and presentations I attended. Since I was responsible for the Tech Track, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that most of what I did was tech-related, but with the variety of things on offer at Penguicon I managed to get into a few other things as well, including a panel I joined.

Day 1: Friday April 29, 2016

I work not too far from the Westin Hotel, so after leaving work and catching dinner, I got to the hotel and went through registration to pick up my badge and my participant materials. I was just in time for the Opening Ceremonies at 6pm. When you have been working with a group of people all year to put on an event like this, it feels great to see it all come together. All of the Guests of Honor (GOH) were introduced, and this year my friend Deb Nicholson was one of them.

Then I attended a keynote presentation by George Gage demonstrating the electrical activity of nerves using large cockroaches as experimental subjects. He removed a leg, and attached electrodes to it. Then he stimulated the leg and we could view the electrical activity of the nerves. BTW, the cockroaches can grow back a leg when they molt, so this was not quite as cruel as it may seem. From there I went to the new space we had this year in the Executive Meeting Center adjoining the hotel for a presentation on pandemics and and deliberately making diseases extinct. We focused on polio and Guinea Worm (a parasite). And I note that at last report there were only two cases of Guinea Worm in the entire world, so we are close to eliminating this pest, thanks to the Carter Foundation.

Then Pat Baker did a great presentation on the Dark Web Big Three: TOR, I2P, and freenet. I am always looking to schedule some good talks on ways people can protect themselves online, and Pat’s talk was definitely a good one. After this I went searching for the Ubuntu Release Party, but it was nowhere to be found. On Saturday I caught up with Craig Maloney who explained that the party was earlier in the evening, but the program booklet had the wrong time in it. So shortly after 10pm, and the end of a full week at work, I headed for home.

Day 2: Saturday April 30, 2016

I headed back to the hotel in the morning and took advantage of the breakfast buffet to fortify myself for a full day of con activities. To start things off, Jer Lance and Dawn Kuczwara discussed running a technical team and the difference between a manager and a leader. As a Project Manager that is something I have to do a certain amount of, and I really liked their discussion. Then it was off to the Fedora Roadmap. Tom Callaway of the Fedora project has become a regular at Penguicon (along with Ruth Suehle) and I had specifically requested he do this to expand on our Linux offerings. After all, we have Penguin in our name, and we should have a solid group of Linux presentations. Because we have at least 4 Canonical employees in Michigan (that I know of) Ubuntu has always been well covered, but I want to expand that. And I already have Tom working on a Red Hat challenge for next year. We will have some computers set up with deliberate errors in their configuration and see who can diagnose and fix them the fastest. It should be fun. We initially wanted to have this competition this year, but we got the idea too late to pull it together. BTW, Tom and Ruth also did their Raspberry Pi Hacks talk again this year.

Then I went to The Reality and Fiction of Artificial Intelligence, with Ann Leckie, Jason Mars, Lingjia Tang, and Jennifer Marsman. I know this has been in the news a lot, and frequently the focus is on whether it is a danger. these folks didn’t think we were anywhere near a “robot uprising”. Ann is the author of the Hugo Award-winning novel Ancillary Justice, Jason and Lingjia are computer scientists at the University of Michigan who are working in AI, and Jennifer Marsman is a Microsoft evangelist for the Azure Cloud who also did graduate work in AI at the University of Michigan, and helped us in finding the right people to contact there.

I then went to the Penguicon Board meeting. I am not a Board member, but the meeting was open and I wanted to see what was going on. The Board is the long-term continuing management over a number of years, and each year they pick a Con Chair to put the event together and give that person a budget. The Con Chair puts team together, and I am a part of that team. This year the Con Chair was a Scott Kennedy (great job!) and for 2017 it is Cylithria (Lithie) DuBois, who I am sure will also do a great job.

From here I went to a presentation on The Works of Miyazaki. Hayao Miyazaki is the legendary Japanese anime artist and my wife and I are big fans. This presentation focused on his earlier works, and was very nice. After this, Jennifer Marsman did a wonderful presentation Fun With Mind Reading. This combined EEG recording with Machine Learning in Azure to essentially do a kind of lie detection. The idea was to ask a series of questions to which the subject would give a truthful answer, and then the same questions, but this time lying. The Azure Machine Learning would learn the mental pattern of a truthful answer, and the pattern of a lie, and then for future questions it will offer a pretty accurate estimate of an answer to a new question.

At 4pm I went to How Will Technology Change Society? This panel had Deb Nicholson, our GOH from Open Invention Network, Jason Mars and Lingjia Tang from the University of Michigan, Tobias Buckell, a science fiction author, and Edward Platt, one of our Tech Track presenters. This panel got into a number of topics, such as personal freedom in an age of surveillance, and wound up in the area of automation taking away jobs. This was a natural lead-in to our panel the next day called Post-Capitalism so I made sure to invite everyone to come to that.

After this it was time for a break to grab something to eat and to peruse the dealer tables. Everyone who is registered gets access to the Con Suite, where there is food and drink available. That is part of what your registration money buys, and it includes beer for those who want something more adult. And the dealer tables deserve a look since you never know what you are going to find there. Books, jewelry and costumes are always there, but then there are the interestingly different items, which this year included a variety of soaps.

Then it was time for Krunal Desai to do a presentation called The Tech Behind Asteroid Mining. Krunal ran the tech track back when I was a presenter, then went to work as a senior avionics engineer for Planetary Resources, so his presentation was definitely from the front lines. We also paired him with Bob Trembley the astronomy guy on the Science track for a joint panel on asteroid science. And after that I went to Webcomics 101: Logistics, with Erika Wagner and Laura Cascos. I enjoy Webcomics, and I found it interesting to look at the issues involved in producing a comic. They are the people behind Sidekick Girl, which I recommend. I had considered following this with Night Sky Observing with Bob Trembley, but the weather was not accommodating so I decided it was time to call it a day.

Day 3: May 1, 2016

After another Breakfast buffet at the hotel, I started my last day of Penguicon with Michael Rometty, who did a A Look At LibreOffice Base. Michael has a YouTube channel under the name The Frugal Computer Guy, which has his videos from several series that I recommend highly. He is focused on Linux and LibreOffice and does a great job of introducing these things to new user. I was watching his videos on YouTube for a while and then last year discovered that he lives in this area, so of course I wanted a talk from him, and will ask him back next year.

I then went to the planning meeting for next year. We have a number of new faces on the committee as people drop off and get replaced by others, and it does take a lot of work to put together, so while this year’s committee is winding down, next year’s is gearing up.

Following this, Susan Sons did Security Principles for System Administrators. Susan is one of those gems that comes here year after year and gives great presentations. She is a security professional, and her talks are all security-related, and always worth attending. she is one of those people I always make a point to contact when I am planning the Tech Track.

Then came the panel I was on, Post-Capitalism. Matt Arnold and Ed Platt joined me for this, and we looked at how economies evolve and what may come next. A particular focus was on the job market since more and more stuff is getting automated.

After a break for lunch, I attended Ed Platt’s presentation on Free/Open Democracy. He looked at some of the tools available, such as Loomio, Liquid Feedback, and Intertwinkles. These tools help you to create an environment where decisions can be consensus-based and democratic.

And finally, it was time for the Closing Ceremonies. Usually everyone is fairly tired by this point, but there is also a kind of manic energy. Prizes are awarded for room parties and for costumes, volunteers are thanked, and GOHs say a few final words about their experience. Penguicon 2016 was certainly a great event. We had great guests and a record attendance that went over 1600 (we don’t know how much over since Registration stopped mid-day on Sunday and some people were still coming in. We had for the first time a computer lab at Penguicon, and the computers have been stored away for use next year. We could probably make better use of them, particularly in the Tech Track, and I will try to follow up on that for next year. But everyone I talked to had a great time and will be here next year.