Penguicon 2012 – April 27-29, Dearborn, MI

I thought I would share my own impressions of Penguicon 2012, which was held at the Dearborn Hyatt in Dearborn, Michigan, USA, on April 27-29, 2012. This is a rather unusual event, combining as it does both a Science Fiction convention and a Linux Fest. There are many examples of each of these, of course, on their own, but this is the only one I know of that combines both in one event. I have been going to this event for a number of years, and I have been a speaker for the last 4 years. So this is an event that means something to me. In what follows, I will mention what I did at Penguicon, but of course no other person would have followed this precise path. Every time slot probably had a dozen alternatives for what you could do, but that is part of the charm of these big conventions and conferences; you know you are at a good one when you feel that you are constantly having to choose between two good alternatives. My own choices leaned more towards the Linux/Technology side of things, even though I am a Science Fiction fan (hence my domain name), but I did manage to take in a few SF panels as well. The Guests of Honor this year included John Scalzi, perhaps best known as the author of The Old Man’s War, who was the SF Author GOH, and Jim Gettys, famous for diagnosing the problem of buffer bloat, who was the Tech GOH.

The con starts on Friday afternoon, so I took off work early and got there in time to hear my friend Ryan Kather give a talk on JuJu Charms. I didn’t know a lot about this technology, other than seeing a lot of posts by Jorge Castro that mentioned his work, but it was nice to get a simple, clear overview. And what I learned was that they are basically scripts for installing and standing up software platforms in the cloud. since my new job involves some of that it may come in useful. Then I gave my own talk, on Linux Directory Structure. It was well-received, and the room was fairly full, so I felt good about that. And the thing I liked best was that by giving my talk right at the beginning I could then relax and enjoy the rest of the con. Following my talk I joined the Ubuntu Michigan LoCo Release Party for 12.04, which had just been released the day before. Then it was time for dinner, and  joined a group of people that included James Hice, Craig Maloney, JoDee Baker, and Rick Harding, among others. I had known the others before this but it was my first time meeting Rick Harding, who is a developer for Canonical and as I recall works on Launchpad. Rick and Craig also do a podcast together called the LoCoCast ( And that concluded my Friday at Penguicon.

Saturday was a full day of activity, and my day started with a talk by Bruce Schneier called Security and Trust. It was based on his latest book, Liars and Outliers, which I bought for my Nook but haven’t gotten to yet (I’m still working on Peter Diamandis’ book Abundance). Bruce talked about the balance between the trust we show every day in various social institutions and the way that trust can be abused. Bruce did a small amount of Game Theory in his analysis, but in short trust can only be abused if there is trust to begin with, and too much abuse and we all stop trusting. So there is a natural balance. After his talk I got my copy of Schneier on Security signed. Then I hit the Dealer’s Room and picked up a few Steampunk books. This gave way to a session on the Beagle Board, led by Jason Kridner. The Beagle Board is a great platform for hobbyists to experiment with, and runs Linux. Then I went to a panel on Libraries and Librarians in the Information Age, with Janea Schimmel and Jeff Beeler. I then attended the Heinlein panel, led by Eric Raymond and Jim Gettys, which ended up being an hour of geeks talking tech all over the place, with occasional nods back to Heinlein.

I then attend JoDee Baker’s talk on Citizen Science, which talked about some of the ways each of us can contribute to science even if we are not trained scientists. Of course, JoDee teaches Physics, so she in fact is a trained scientist, and I would guess from her talk a pretty good teacher ass well. I know I enjoyed her presentation. Then Craig Maloney did a presentation on the recently released Ubuntu 12.04 that focused on the changes that had occurred and where it was at the 12.04 mark. 12.04 being a Long-Term Support release, the focus was naturally on stability and performance, rather than introducing new features, and I decided during Craig’s talk that I would install it on one of my machines and give it a workout.

After all of this Saturday activity I needed sustenance, and Catherine Devlin and I went to the food court at the mall across the street and found some decent looking Middle Eastern food. For those who don’t live in this area, there is a very large Arabic and Middle Eastern community in Southeast Michigan, and the heart of it is in Dearborn, where the con was held. Catherine is well-known in the Python community, and is someone I run into at pretty much every Linux event I attend. She most recently ran a workshop at Indiana LinuxFest called Python for Women (and Their Friends) which I think I mentioned in my report from ILF. After dinner, I went back for a talk on IPv6 Software, by Michael Mol.  And by that time it had been a long day, so I went home.

Sunday began with a talk on Sustainable Engineering in Developing Economies by Kristy Currier. One of the key problems addressed was obtaining drinkable water, which is the key problem for many people in the world. The ideal technologies are ones that are inexpensive and can be maintained easily on the spot, and Kristy showed us some of that. Then I went to a panel called The Past Through Digital Audio, put on by members of the Science Fiction Oral History Association. We heard recorded talks and interviews with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester Del Rey, and others. SFOHA is doing two things it would appear, the first being to digitize audio recordings made on tape many years ago, and the second being to go to conventions currently and add to their wealth of material. This sounded exciting, so I have joined the group, and plan to do some digitizing since I have done some of that already and have it all set up right now anyway. I think this is something that SF fans should be helping.

I then joined a BOF session on Raspberry Pi, which was somewhat subdued because no one there actually had one yet. Then it was off to hear Ruth Suehle speak on The Pop Culture Guide to Open Source. Ruth made the point that open software and open culture are very related. I first heard Ruth speak at Ohio LinuxFest last September, so I knew she would give a good talk, and I was not disappointed. I got to chat briefly with her and Spot Callaway of the Fedora project. Then I went to hear Michael Mol one last time on IPv6 For the Home. For anyone who is interested, Michael pointed out that you can get IPv6 connections right now through Hurricane Electric (, but what may be even more interesting is that they offer training materials and free certification for being an IPv6 expert. Well worth checking out. I ended my Penguicon 2012 experience with the closing ceremonies, where I learned that my friend Chris Krieger seems to be getting more involved with Penguicon. He has run the LAN room the last few years, but it looks like he is stepping up even more. Chris is a talented Linux and Security guy who has presented at my LUG, the Washtenaw Linux Users Group, for the last couple of years and just gave us a proposal to do it again this coming September.

So, I hope some of you may have found this interesting. If you are in the area of Southeast Michigan this is an event well worth taking in. It happens each year around the end of April or beginning of May, and I am already looking forward to 2013

Listen to the audio version of this post on Hacker Public Radio!