Penguicon 2018 Report

Friday, May 4, 2018

As I usually do, I went to work on Friday, then grabbed dinner before heading over to Penguicon. This year was going to be different because I was not responsible for running anything other than my two talks. Last year, after 4 years of running the Tech Track, I stepped down because a) I was tired; and b) you want to bring in new blood to keep things fresh. (Pro tip to event organizers out there.) I found the Registration table, got signed in, and picked up my materials for the two panels/presentation I would be on. Then I headed for the Opening Ceremonies. This is usually an introduction to all of the Guests of Honor and any other VIPs in attendance, and it helps me to get a sense of what the weekend is going to be like. I knew from previous emails that one of the Guests of Honor, Dr. Kristine Larsen, was going to be on my Isaac Arthur panel, but I had never met her. A Guest of Honor I had met and talked to previously was Mary Robinette Kowal and I like her, so that was good.

After the Opening Ceremonies I went to join my friend Craig Maloney for the Ubuntu Release Party. Since Penguicon always happens in late April/early May it pretty much comes on the heels of the April Ubuntu release each year, so we have a get together. I mostly run the Kubuntu flavor and tend to stick to LTS releases, so I expect I will be upgrading as soon as they release to the LTS crowd. Technically it is released as a *.0 release, but they don’t offer it to LTS users until it hits a *.1 level, which will be later this summer I expect. I spent some time various friends there such as Murph who made it up from New Jersey as well as the various Michigan users.

Then I went to see Bob Trembley, Jeff Macleod and Curtis Potterveld demonstrate and discuss various space simulators. They showed several NASA programs that are free and simulate the solar system dynamics. You can use them to see what would happen if the Sun suddenly disappeared (the planets immediately move in straight lines tangent to the previous orbit), or you can look at the collision that they think created the moon when a Mars-size body crashed into the early Earth. Then we ran Kerbal Space Program, which is a pretty accurate simulation of orbital mechanics. Of course, in the best tradition of Mythbusters we made one go “boom” by flying a rocket into the Vehicle Assembly Building. And now, after three hours on top of a full day at work, it was time to go home. I knew I had an early morning ahead of me.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Saturday morning I had a 9 am panel on Isaac Arthur, where I was joined by Jeff MacLeod and Dr. Kristine Larsen. Isaac Arthur is a very interesting fellow who has a YouTube channel called Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur. His channel looks at extrapolations of what can happen in the future given what we know about science. Some of it can get pretty far out, but never violates any known laws, so you won’t see warp drives or faster-then-light travel. That still leaves plenty of scope for thinking big, and I enjoy the channel. Give it a look and you might find you like it too.

From there I moved on to the DIY IoT talk by Dave Putz and Connie Sieh. Connie I knew from last year when I asked her to present a panel on Scientific Linux, which she helped to create. This time the presentation was on IoT using things like Raspberry Pi and Arduino to control the cameras and sensors. I think this is the kind of topic that would appeal to Hacker Public Radio listeners, and is a good reason to plan a visit if you can here when Penguicon is on. There are great presentations every year, and Daniel Dugan did a great job of programming the Tech Track this time around. And the following presentation by Karen Burnham was called Turning Materials Science Fiction into Science Fact, and I was pretty sure it would be great. Karen had worked for NASA and for Aerospace companies, but moved to Michigan to work in electric car engineering for Ford Motor Company. I have learned that any talk she gives is going to be interesting, and this did not disappoint.

Noon brought me to Michael W. Lucas‘ talk Large Scale SSH: Keys and Certificates. Michael is a successful author, and his book on ssh was one my principle resources when I did some shows on ssh for Hacker Public Radio. And listeners to the popular Sunday Morning Linux Review will know that he is also the author of numerous books on BSD. He is not only a good author but a good speaker, and I always try to catch one of his talks at Penguicon. I can’t catch all of them because he is glutton for punishment and does way too many talks.

After that I went to a talk called Feminism and Comics, which traced the history of the comics and how the way women were portrayed in them changed over time. Then it was on Gender and Artificial Intelligence. Of course AIs don’t really have any gender, but they are portrayed as having gender. For example, the voices of devices like the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant tend to be female, though you can change that if you wish. But it is worth some consideration as to why female is the default in this case, what that tells us about our own perceptions.

From there I went to Ask an Astronomer, a panel with Dr, Kristine Larsen, Bob Trembley, Curtis Potterveld, and Jeff Macleod. I have mentioned all of them in previous panels, but Dr. Larsen is an astronomer on the faculty of Central Connecticut State University, and very much a nerd. She has written on the astronomy of Middle-Earth, and a Harry Potter starfinder. Bob Trembley actually works for the Vatican Observatory, which is extremely cool. And both are Solar System Ambassadors for NASA.

Then I went to Tom Lawrence’s talk on Open Source Video Editing Workflow on Linux. Tom is of course well known from being one of the hosts of Sunday Morning Linux Review, and he also has a YouTube channel for his business, Lawrence Systems, which is worth checking out. As a YouTuber he does a lot of video production, and he does does it using Open Source software. So this talk was well-worth catching, particularly in light of my ongoing quest to figure out why kdenlive doesn’t like me.

Following Tom’s talk was my second talk, Diffie-Hellman-Merkle Key Exchange. I already covered this material in a show for Hacker Public Radio so download that if you are curious as to what I covered. It is the same stuff. I believe in using a talk as many times as I can after I put in the effort to write it. In any case, this was well-received by the people there.

By now it had been a long day, from my panel at 9am to my talk that went until 7pm, so I grabbed dinner and went home. That meant missing Michael W. Lucas on a panel called Making a Living as a Midlist Writer, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The last day is always a little more laid back because everyone is tired. After breakfast I stopped by the Sunday Morning Linux Review, which was just packing up their gear having finished the show. Then I went to a presentation that seemed promising, called All Energy is Perpetual. Well, it may have seemed promising, but it ended up being pseudo-scientific nonsense. My friend Craig Maloney was getting progressively more annoyed with the speaker, and another audience member got up, said loudly “I’m sticking with science”, and stalked out of the room. It was sad, and unfortunate, but I found the head of Programming, Bagel Garrison, and told her that this was a mistake and don’t bring this person back again. I then went to a talk by my friend Jer Lance, but he never actually made it (I think he was in a meeting than ran long). So all of us in the room talked to each other for the hour. I now had a hole in my schedule, which meant it was time to hit the Dealer’s Room and view the goods on offer. I wasn’t really intending to buy anything (and didn’t) because right now my wife and I are more intent on getting rid of stuff than in acquiring more of it. But a little window-shopping never hurt anyone.

Then it was on to a panel Clamp Studio: Anime Deep Dive. I do enjoy anime, and these kinds of panels are often interesting. Clamp Studio is perhaps best known for Cardcaptor Sakura, and we got a taste of that, but they seem to have a number of interesting titles which we sampled. I followed this with a panel about dysfunctional communication on the Internet, and then finally the Closing Ceremonies. I thought the Closing Ceremonies ran about a half-hour longer than they should have, and was relieved when it ended. But I already have my registration for next year and I am sure it will be well worthy my while. As I was leaving the room I was hailed by Fifty One-Fifty, whom I had somehow not connected with at all. I was really too tired to do much more than exchange greetings with him this time, but I think we will have a little more time together at Ohio LinuxFest.