Report: Linuxfest Northwest 2009
Another year another Linuxfest Northwest. 2009 was the 10th anniversary and the organizers went out of their way to make the event even more special this year. This was my third year in attendance and my second year as a presenter. If you aren't familiar with LFNW, let me provide a brief overview that I'll mostly steal from the report from last year.
LFNW is an annual free, two-day event held at Bellingham Technical College in Bellingham, Washington on the last weekend in April. It has become a hub of Linux activity in the Northwest with several of the Washington area Linux Users Groups supporting it. Visitors seem to come from all over the country especially those places that don't have a Linux conference anywhere near them.
Warren Sanders, Andrew Niemantsverdriet (both from the BillingsLUG) and I (from the BozemanLUG) went to the show together. Warren was kind enough to provide his family minivan for the trip and he did all of the driving. The van was quite comfortable and I tortured Warren and Andrew (both devote Christians) with a few chapters of Bart Ehrman's latest audiobook, "Jesus, Interrupted".
We all three stayed in a single hotel room with two queen sized beds but Warren felt compelled to sleep on the floor. I snored loudly and was the source of a lot of curious smells. I appreciate Warren and Andrew putting up with me.
Andrew and I both had volunteered for presentations so we had a lot of computer gear with us due to the nature of our presentations.
Linuxfest Northwest is basically broken up into two areas:
- Exhibits Floor
- FOSS projects
Attendance this year was hard to gauge. By the activity on the exhibit floor I'd say attendance was way up... as it was almost always crowded... except perhaps for Sunday... which is always slower than Saturday. Many of the presentations I attended were overcrowded.
This year seemed a bit different than the past two... I think mainly because I was feeling a bit run down physically... so I was somewhat disappointed with the level I was able to participate. For example I didn't take any pictures this year. At the last minute I couldn't find my wife's digital camera. Warren took a camera but for some odd reason he didn't want to take any pictures. His digital camera is a little bulky so he didn't want to carry it around all day... and was somewhat embarrassed to take pictures... and I was toting around a video camera both days... recording presentations... so taking pictures myself would be a bit of extra work. I wish I had a big photo gallery to present you, but I've let you down. I hope I made up for it with the 7.75 presentation videos I shot and have posted.
As in past years, the schedule was insane (in a good way) with lots of presentations on a large variety of topics. See the schedule for yourself.
On Saturday there were 5 timeslots (not counting lunch) with 11 presentations going on all at the same time. At best one could see 1/11th of the content on Saturday. That isn't quite true because some things were repeated all five timeslots occupying the same room all day... like the Tutorium, the Fedora Activity Day, and the Drupal mini-camp.
I attended the following presentations:
- Sat 10:00-10:45 - Fedora First: An introduction by Larry Cafiero
- Sat 11:00-11:45 - SoGO: A Real and Free Exchange Killer by Jakob Perry
- Sat 1:30-2:15 - OpenVZ Project Update by me
- Sat 2:30-3:15 - Using Proxmox to Virtualize Infrastructure by Andrew Niemantsverdriet
- Sat 3:30-4:15 - 3D Open Source Game Art Primer Using Blender by Wayne Tedder
- Sun 10:00-10:45 - Fedora 11: Sneak Peek by Jesse Keating
- Sun 11:00-11:45 - Fedora Remix by Clint Savage
- Sun 1:30-2:15 - Getting Started with IPv6 by Tom Eastep
- Sun 2:30-3:15 - None... started the drive back home early
This year there were less official recordings than last year but here is what is available:
- Why Desktop Linux Sucks and What Can Be Done to Fix It by Bryan Lunduke
- Sky Server: Computation and Data Centers in Orbit by Keith Lofstrom
- Ask Monty and Black Vodka by Monty Widenius
- Get a server up and running in less than 10 minutes using AWS Management Console by Satyen Choudhury
- How Free and Open Source Software will have World Domination by Jon "maddog" Hall
This year the biggest problem seemed to be with new presenters who hadn't taken the time to try out their laptops with the projection systems in the various rooms. I don't really blame the show organizers because they did have an A/V training session for presenters and many rooms had volunteers to assist. There were one or two rooms that hadn't been checked out that were a little more difficult. I heard many people comment that almost every presentation they attended lost 5 to 10 minutes with laptop-to-projector fumbling... which didn't make the presenters feel too good starting off. Having done it last year I made sure to test out my laptop setup in the room I was going to be presenting in and I was ready. I recommend all presenters do that next year. I really don't know what else the organizers could have done to improve the situation.
The Fedora Project was well represented this year. They had 5 presentations, an activity day, and a booth in the exhibit area. Me being a big Fedora / Red Hat / CentOS person, I attended as many of their presentations as I could.
There were a number of Drupal presentations on the first day so they decided to dedicate a room to them and on Sunday they had a different room for a series of mini-camps.
I'm not sure what the Tutorium was all about as I didn't get a chance to check it out.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the presentations I attended both in depth and variety especially given the fact that they were scaled back to 45 minutes this year to offer 15 minute breaks in-between.
Every time I went into the exhibit area it was crowded. In previous years I made an effort to stop by each booth to check them out, take a picture, and grab some swag if it was available. This year I didn't stop by many booths and only picked up a little bit of swag. I did make an effort to stop by the Hackett and Bankwell booth to say hello but was in a hurry so it was very brief... but I did get some stickers!
I really like to get as many tee-shirts as possible, because I wear them to work, but this year didn't seem to have as many tee-shirts... but I really didn't look hard so I'm sure I missed a few. There were a number of booths that had tee-shirts for sale but I was trying to conserve money.
Speaking of money, it was pretty obvious to everyone that the number of commercial booths was down and perhaps even the vendors that were there had scaled back a little. Why? The economy of course. I would really like to say "thank you" to all of the commercial vendors... especially those who had a significant distance to travel and equipment to ship... as well as all of the sponsors of the event. It is really amazing that LFNW has remained a completely free-of-cost event for attendees 10 years in a row and I hope it continues.
I waited until late Sunday to stop by the Fedora Project booth so the selection of tee-shirts sizes was poor. I did get my 17 year old son a Fedora shirt... as well as a bunch of fancy optical media and sheets of stickers. I put a Fedora logo sticker on my workstation at work... it looks like a "powered-by" sticker and was just the right size.
Of course they had the world famous raffle again... on Saturday. It was so crowded in the exhibit floor that it got quite hot so I decided to skip out and sit outside.
The email garden was missing this year. I guess they decided it was unnecessary with so many attendees having laptops and free wireless available.
On Saturday night there was an after party at Whatcom Community College. The venue was a little hard to find for us non-natives and it wasn't too terribly far away from BTC. I had not previously attended any of the after show events so this was my first.
There was free beer (three kinds of fancy local brews), free pizza, and snacks. A three piece band (piano, base, and drums) played an hour or two of jazzy pieces at the side of a large stage area.
The crowd wasn't too happy with the fact that there was a large projection screen in the room and it was being driven by a Microsoft Windows laptop running a screensaver. Why it was even on I'm not sure... seemed like a big waste of energy. A number of people attempted to reboot the computer into Linux via LiveUSB/LiveCDs but the laptop didn't seem to have a Linux friendly video chipset. I went up there and was going to give my MontanaLinux remix of Fedora 10 a try but a few OpenSUSE users didn't seem to want to give up... so I did.
Eventually Jon "maddog" Hall was given an award on stage.
Then there was some "entertainment" in the form of four belly dancers in sexy belly dancer outfits. They seemed to be professionals with a series of routines... 3 together, then a solo, then 2 together, then a solo... and so on. The mostly male audience was hypnotized for the 30-ish minutes they performed.
After the belly dancers were done someone from the FreeBSD camp ran up on stage in their boxer shorts... yelling something about there being a need for entertainment for the ladies. I assume he was from one of the BSD camps because of the devil mascot he had on his shorts.
The dancers later reappeared dressed in civies to mingle with the audience. Some racy pictures were taken with their assistance.
I saw at least one guy filming the dancers, and there were lots of pictures taken... but I have yet to see any of them show up in the materials linked to on the LFNW2009 archive page. I'd love to get some comments to this article with links to the missing content.
Wisely, the LFNW organizers have always done a survey and this year was no different. I intentionally waited to write my report until after the survey results had been released so that I could compare to them to my own experience and offer some additional commentary. You can find the results here:
Some thought the presentations were too technical, others thought they weren't technical enough. Some liked the belly dancers, some didn't. Some thought there were too many presentations at the same time (I agree). The survey results are really all over the place and they basically support the idea that there is a lot of diversity among the attendees... and that there is no way to make everyone happy about everything. The vast majority of survey responders said that they did enjoy the show and plan on attending next year.
I think a lot about the organization of the show has to do with the facilities. Just because they have so many rooms, does that mean they have to have them all occupied at the same time? If there are less simultaneous presentations does that mean that there will be more overcrowding? Figuring out how many people might attend each presentation and scheduling just the right rooms is close to impossible unless they went to some sort of online registration model... where the schedule came out a lot earlier than it has in the past... and attendees are required to register online and declare what presentations they plan to attend... and they schedule the rooms accordingly. Given the fact that there isn't a lot of diversity in the seating capacity of the classrooms... I don't know how valuable such a system would be.
While some might be tempted to suggest that the LFNW change venues, I think the BTC is especially well suited for the event. It is cheap (free?) and it has all of the facilities needed. It is hard to imagine that other suitable venues would be available free of charge unless it was another educational facility. While the lack of size/seating diversity available in the classroom environment is somewhat of a drawback I definitely would not recommend moving the event to a convention center or hotel... that would just be too expensive and I would imagine doing so would eliminate the ability to keep the entry price at free.
I do recall attending two CLIQ (Colorado Linux Info Quest?) shows in Denver in 1999 and 2000. That's where I first saw Jon "maddog" Hall speak. Later I learned that the last show lost quite a bit of money. CLIQ was held at an expensive hotel and there was a fee to get in... but it didn't cover the costs... so they cancelled future shows.
There has already been some discussion on the LFNW mailinglist about the survey results and I'm sure it will continue. They do seem to pay quite a bit of attention to attendees opinions.
I really enjoyed the show. I wish I had some pictures to share. My presentation was well attended so I can't complain.
The last timeslot on Sunday only had a couple of presentations, nothing that we were really interested in... so we decided to leave early.
We stopped briefly in Spokane for some dinner at a Carl Junior's. We ended up stopping for the night in Wallace Idaho at the Wallace Inn.
I look forward to attending LFNW next year if I can. Thanks for a great show!