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Fri, 03 Feb 2006:

Bright sunlight pours through the heavy curtains into my room at Unicol. I woke up thinking "Oh, shit ... I'm late ", scrambled over to the desk to check the time. The time on the clock says 06:20 AM. After the usual morning struggles, I get down to the cafeteria by 07:30 to meet Rhys and Ian. Since the embedded miniconf has been postponed to Tuesday, we decide to head into the debain miniconf and see what's cooking in there. Debian has always interested as a social experiment rather than the actual technical results of the project as such. Of course they're a fun bunch of guys as I soon found out. Since the speakers were a little tardy in getting to the conference halls, Jon Oxer started on some parallel activities :D

Debian miniconf, hour 1

After making it possible for someone to literally do apt-get install klue, Jon handed over the proceedings to the various speakers. One of the interesting things that came up was about Computer Angels, during Cameron Patrick's talk about building your own custom distro. I'll say that the problem with linux advocacy is follow up work, which these guys seem to have found a way to achieve. It is easy to get someone to install it, the hard part is going back to fix what they need months after the first install.

in short, we learnt very little

After the whole thing settled down, we were supposed to head towards Skwashd's house for dinner and dessert. I made the mistake of taking an afternoon nap and ended up missing most of the dinner. Dave picked me up from Castle road and I did get to eat the rest of the sour cream, ice cream mixed with oreos.

Then after a while of chit chat and discussions about religions, skwashd's previous car crash (including photographs of a car on its roof on the other lane) and dotgnu in general, we all headed back to the hotel on foot.

The next day dawned a lot slower on me. I was a bit more sane post breakfast and headed into the embedded miniconf. There were quite some interesting discussions about what kind of robots to build to host your own embedded linux. Here are a couple of excellent suggestions that got the popular vote.

Since the whole embedded dance around lasted only half a day, I headed back into the debian one to listen to Keith Packard talking about the Fastest Debian machine in the world. This one clocks in at a whopping Mach 3 and sits on a solid propellant rocket. There were a few digressions into patch antennas and accuracy of commercial GPS systems on high accelerations. Also the obligatory jokes about the sock monkey that survived a crash that drove the rocket 80 centimetres into the middle of a sage brush (it always lands on one, in the middle of one). And then there was the tracking antennas. Later on there was Bdale talking about the debian project.

At around five, we assembled at the Uni Link to meet up with the guys organizing the cricket match. We didn't have a big turn out in particular, but we got to a decent mat pitch in the university ground nearby. The match turned out to be Kiwis vs Rest of the World, though we had to supplement the kiwis with a couple of aussies to balance out. In hindsight, that wasn't one of our brightest ideas. Rest of the world lost by 4 runs to the kiwis.

Heading back into Unicol, we ran into some interesting things in the lobby. For starters, it was Christmas and there was a pizza from Hell. I headed back up into my room for a shower and freshening up before we all went out to dinner together.

We went to Terrace in the Octagon and I had trouble finding veg food. It is not that I don't like vegetables, but I like them to be not green - I love potatoes, tomatoes, beet roots and carrots, not lettuce or parsley. I was sitting with my back to bar and I caught this line from Kirby which I promptly misunderstood - Hey, how much for that barmaid ?. Of course the Barmaid turned out to be this glass pipe of beer with a tap at the bottom.

Wednesday was when the conference began in earnest and we all headed out to St David to listen to the first keynote. There was some hilarity about the way Russell had reacted to the network downtime, by hitting the registration page with random kiwi insults. Then the slides said not to mention any names and had a photo of him. He hadn't attended the keynote and was quite surprised to see everyone look at him and just smile while on the way to the halls. But the network story has a lot more twists and turns to I came to know later.

The fibre for the network was lit only on friday evening. That happened because the NZNOG guys knew the admins all around the place and managed to perform some miracles for this cable from Wellington (that's the other island). Then the cable couldn't laid in the university premises and had to be terminated at a building outside the uni. They setup a Trango wireless hookup and somehow managed to get the connection pushed into the patchboards by proxy. It is quite amazing that they managed to get something like this working over a weekend - kudos.

And then I headed into Skwashd's talk about CalDav, other calendaring and groupware formats. His laptop failed to work on the projector and here we see him sweating out trying to copy files onto Ian's laptop using my USB hard disk. After all that I headed out to visit the Otago Museum which was just across the road - but that deserves a complete blog entry. The only mistake I made was trying to enter the hackfest without a laptop. I didn't have internet access and Rusty lent me his laptop to search for stuff on.

Thursday was a little bit more hectic, because I hadn't slept all night - kept awake by the nagging disappointment of the hackfest. I took a quite long walk into the gardens nearby, which I'll go into in another post. I ended up listening to Dave Miller whose dressing style can be a bit disconcerting. As Rusty introduced - we had this service guy come look at the projectors and suddenly start talking about linux on sparc64 (at usenix). He made a few points which I'd like all youngsters moving into FOSS to actually note down and follow religiously.

And then he went on to explain this funny anecdote about Linus and software interrupts. And how Linus rejected a patch that had used softints to handle console input more efficently. But after realizing that there is no better way to do it, the patch was obfuscated by changing the names to basehandler instead of softint. Linus accepted the patch - therefore Names Matter.

After that I sat down and listened to Rusty Russell talk about talloc with some pretty visualizations. Look at rusty's bleeding edge for more info.

Dave Miller, Rusty Russell and a portable RMS

Since RMS couldn't make it there in person, we had make other arrangements to get his opinions on the future of Open Source. Back at unicol that night we found the hidden pool balls and finally managed to clear the whole channel inside the table with Tom's long hands. And we still didn't have a 15 in the motely collection.

Friday dawned beautifully and I ended up walking toward the railway station at around 5 AM in the morning. I headed back into Unicol at 7:30 to have breakfast and prepare for Damien Conway's mindblowing keynote about Sex: technical sessions - at least that was what I was interested in :).

Damien was playing to the gallery and using all his presentation skills. The slides were awesomely funny and dealt with the coincidences of Larry Wall's birth and how perl was asymptotically converging on features (with the obvious suggestion that the asymptote is lisp). What I really took away from the whole keynote was these few words "People will make fun of you whatever you do, so don't give up". Some other people have taken away a few slides I didn't dare take pics of - like michaelcarden.

After that I listened to Maddog talk about Open Sores. Quite interesting and insightful comments about what to tell what kind of person. In fact tailor your message depending on the target audience. Like companies prefer to hear the word control a lot more than freedom.

I then went to talk to Pia about Women (or the lack thereof) in FOSS contributors. Gender equality is one of the interesting social problems I see in FOSS. I am trying to understand the problem rather than try to actually solve it. Essentially the conversation moved in the direction that FOSS environments are a lot mot diverse than an average office and you are less likely to be discriminated for being different (as in you just a little girl patronizing included). Pia brought up the topic of children and Keith Packard jumped in with I have kids too. Let us just say that it turned into a discussion of unicycle hocky versus unicycle polo and how there are people who will unicycle down hills. We are amazing at holding down conversations, especially before dinner. Went to the PHP BoF and then proceeded to trickle down to the Dunedin town hall for dinner.

The food sucked badly - veggies just get salads and orange juice. But the presentations really rocked and then there was Bob. We had a free seat at our table which got served two course because we ate what was served there as well. But Bob didn't get any dessert. And then there was Miguel on a stick with which we had a bit of fun. Rasmus won the beer drinking competition and Rusty ran the auction for two hours.

The John Lions book was being auctioned - signed by some very famous names. The money would go towards establishing the John Lions chair. The book has a dark past. Jeff Waugh offered to shave his head if the bidding went up to 7,500 AUD (when the going was 2,900). Aaron Seiga jumped up and offered to fix any bug in KDE if someone puts up the money. Rusty's moustache, Dave Miller and Groggy's beard was also added to the mix for 10,000 AUD. Finally the cartel of alumni from UNSW paid up the amount. Also I met someone.

I tried to find my way back to Unicol and ended up going to the octagon with a bunch of guys. We ended up coming back to the unicol at sometime nearer to 2. And that's where I'll stop writing about.

Saturday was mostly dull, I'll probably classify that as the conference aftermath. Mainly because a lot of the crowd had disappeared by then. More about that when I get around to describing Rusty minus a moustache.

A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students.

posted at: 15:44 | path: /conferences | permalink | Tags: , ,