Penguicon 2019 Report

This is the latest in my annual recollection of my experience of Penguicon. As always, I have to emphasize that this represents just my own experience of a massive event. We have 1,466 people attending, and over 400 different sessions, each of which lasted at least one hour.  I only could attend a handful of these sessions, and had a great time, but by way of example my friend 5150 was here, and at no time were we both in the same session. So if you were to come you would probably have a somewhat different experience.

Friday, May 3

As usual, I grabbed a dinner after work on Friday, then went to the Westin in Southfield, Michigan for the Con and picked up my badge. We’ve been at this hotel for 6 years now, and it is a fantastic venue for us. I usually purchase my badge a year in advance at the previous con, so I had bought this on the last day of Penguicon 2018, and it was waiting for me when I arrived.  I made a brief tour of the Maker Space, then it was off to the Opening Ceremonies. This is where you get an introduction to the various Guests of Honor as well as hear from the Convention Committee about what to expect over the course of the weekend. Among the guest of Honor were:

  • Saladin Ahmed – An award-winning author who has now gotten involved in writing for Marvel.
  • Mikey Mason – A stand-up comedian with appearances on, SyFy, and MTV Geek News.
  • Zed Shaw – A a programmer and artist who teaches programming and has a series of books (Learn Python The Hard Way, Learn Ruby The Hard Way, Learn JavaScript The Hard Way). He is most commonly known for creating the Mongrel web server for Ruby web applications
  • Daniel Hansen – Daniel Hansen created a business called Crafty Celts to sell his jewelry, and wound up creating jewelry for the TV show The Vikings. He is also active in re-enactment, and taught swordplay over the weekend.
  • Sophia Brueckner – A professor at the University of Michigan, she began as a developer at Google before becoming a designer.
  • Karen Corbeill – Karen is a maker who also loves to teach. After two years as a co-host on the Ben Heck show, she is now on YouTube as part of Element14’s The Learning Circuit

One thing you might notice is that a lot of these people do more than one interesting thing. This is not accidental, as I learned when I talked to the Con Chair, Jessica Roland. She was deliberately looking for people that could tick off different boxes, and I think she did a great job.

After the Opening Ceremonies, I went to an Anime panel on Anime Fantasy-Romance. There was a lot of Anime programming this weekend provided by Paul Kemner, Star Stramel, and A. Carina Spears. I did manage to catch a few in amongst everything else. After this, it was time to join the Ubuntu Release party, an annual event. Ubuntu’s x.04 releases usually are within a few days of Penguicon. At one time it was a place to go to pick up a CD, but no one does that any longer. So now it mostly a place to catch up with your friends. All the members of Sunday Morning Linux Review were there, and I met Jay Lacroix for the first time in person after hearing him on the podcast for a while now. I also thanked Tom Lawrence because his company, Lawrence Technology, sponsored Penguicon 2019. After this it was time to leave since it was the end of a week at work and I need to rest.

Saturday, May 4

Back to the Westin and breakfast from their breakfast buffet. The first event of my morning was Tony Bemus (Sunday Morning Linux Review) doing a presentation on DDOSs and what the average person can do about it. Tony recently changed jobs and is working for a local company on their Cloud team helping to mitigate DDOS attacks for their clients, so he definitely has the skills for a good talk, and he did not disappoint. Then it was off to Truths, Half-Truths, and Sweet, Sweet Lies a panel discussion by Ericka Kahler, Doug Johnson, and Mark Haynes about the pitfalls of being a consultant/contractor in the IT industry. I spent quite a few years doing that, so I wanted to see what they had to say. Then it was off to another anime panel, Supernatural Anime, by the same group of people I mentioned previously. Here the emphasis was more on creepy/scary types of anime. I next went to a screening of The Ghost in the Shell, which in the program was supposed to be the Anime film from 1995. But a mix-up resulted in the showing of the Scarlett Johansson film from 2017, so I left, and decided this was a good time for the Hallway track. I’ve been going to Penguicon for many years now, and I have a lot of friends I see there, so a little socializing is always good.

I decided to get a little “hands-on” next. A local makerspace from Ann Arbor called All Hands Active was on hand throughout the Con for people to drop in and do a little soldering. They offered a simple basic blinking LED badge for free, or you could purchase a more complex one that had a microcontroller and displayed LED text. Since electronics and soldering are not my strong suit, I went with the simple one this time, but I may try to step up next year. We’ll see. Then I went to a presentation by one of our Guests of Honor, Sophia Brueckner, called Critical Optimism, which I thought was fantastic. Sophia looked at how technology is powerful, but won’t necessarily solve all problems. She looks for a path between the extremes of technosolutionalism (technology will solve all of our problems) and a Luddite rejection of technology as evil. This was one of the better things I experienced this weekend. Following this, I was on a panel myself called Unconditional Basic Income, along with Matt Arnold and Zachary Blagg. We had a pretty decent turnout for this, and a lot of good discussion which continued out in the hallway. We may do something next year, and I suggested maybe healthcare would be a fruitful topic to get discussion going. We’ll see how that goes. I then went to the Con Suite to grab some food since it was early evening by this point, then came back for a panel on The Fediverse: Decentralized Social Networking, with Michael W. Lucas, Ed Platt, Matt Arnold, Craig Maloney, and Mark Felder. I was really interested in this one, because last year Ed Platt did a presentation that I thought was excellent, and I asked him if he might do something for Hacker Public Radio. He declined as he was busy, but told me I could use any of his material. So I am working on a series for HPR that will probably go up in Autumn of 2019 where I look at some of the alternative social media. What got me off of my butt on this was the closing of Google Plus, which told me it was time to look around. After this, it was time again to go home and rest up for the last day.

Sunday, May 5

Again, back to the hotel and breakfast, where I met up with Craig Maloney. Craig is the leader of the Ubuntu LoCo that put on the release party Friday night, and he is also active in the Fediverse, so I continued our discussion from last night and got some additional leads and information. And as he is a good friend I have someone I can go to with questions, which is a always helpful. After breakfast, it was time for E-learning Design: The Good, the Bad, and the Very,Very Ugly, by Ericka Kahler and Clif Flynt. Clif is old friend, and when I was teaching I actually had to do E-learning design, so I had a strong interest in the topic. There were many lessons learned here. From here, it was off to a presentation on Solar Panels by my friend Gibson Nichols. I had a strong interest here as well since my wife and I have been planning to get an RV and become “snow birds”, and solar power is very useful when you are mobile and don’t always have utility power available. My last panel of the day was Understanding USB: Why this cable works and that one doesn’t, by Henry Marshall. This was a great technical discussion of all of the different flavors of USB, and I think I learned a few things.

After this I had a few minutes free so I bought my badge for next year, as I always do. It is a little cheaper if you do this, but even if the price was the same I would do it just because I think it helps the Con to have a little working capital as they prepare for the next year. And then it was off to the Closing Ceremonies. At this point the Guests of Honor get to say a few words about their experience, and the staff gets to thank all of their helpers. Awards are given for the best room parties, and then everyone winds down. So I went home and collapsed in my chair because I was really tired.

I think this year’s event was wonderful and as always slightly different from any other year. Penguicon has a permanent Board of Directors, but they pick a new Con Chair every year, and that Con Chair really puts an individual stamp on the event. I am looking forward now to next year.

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

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