Part 2 of linux.conf.au, in which I at least mention most of the talks I went to, occasionally link out; contains a brain dump of my thoughts on the conference, its organization, the social engineering of arduino hacking, and the unicorns of dooom!
Slides are going up on all the talks on the linux.conf.au wiki, if you want to look at what the talks were like. Every talk I went to was good and worth it. Also, by looking at the slides, you’ll get an idea of what you might like to propose for a talk next year and whether you’d fit into this conference. (Yes.)
There was a lot more to the Haecksen mini-conference: The radical geek artists from Eclectic Tech Carnival and feminist hardware DIY party people, Genderchangers; Elizabeth Garbee’s talk on being a teenage user of & evangelist for FOSS; and Karen Lisenfeld’s talk on email authentication. It was a cheerful overview of the situation, with major email hosts using authentication methods with various problems — but somehow it wasn’t the “DOOOOM” talk it could have been. The positive note of hope and the future were DNSSEC and STARTTLS. It wasn’t quite an antidote to Joh’s wry nihilism in her talk on the Sky Falling.
My ambition is to write up all these talks in detail, since I took notes and really learned stuff. It’ll have to wait! First, a brain dump!
On Tuesday I think I stayed in bed all day in my hotel, gently weeping about the pain in my knees, whining into my journal, and avoiding the task of fixing up my next set of slides. The jet lag, driving around for hours all over the island, wheeling uphill in the cold rain at the wildlife park and hitchhiking back to the hotel, the late nights, and the stress — even though I’m super extroverted — of meeting about 200 new people in two days caught up to me. After a really great nap, refreshed in spirit, I met Joh and Adam, went around the waterfront, saw baby ducks being rescued by a guy in rubber overalls, and then to the Speakers’ Dinner at Te Papa Museum.
This was fantastic! We stared at the weird “void” art and read about pounamu and greenstone. I’m afraid I had a nerd bitch moment as I out-trivia-ed someone about geological details. Greenstone is metamorphosed sediment from the sea floor usually from around subduction zones at the edge of tectonic plates. No one may contradict me when I’m in encyclopedia mode!!! I JUST KNOW. Don’t make me whip out the word “ultramafic”.
At dinner I ate lamb for the first time ever. The food was all really good. There were amazing performances of Maori haka and songs by a group whose name I didn’t catch. It felt slightly weird and colonial to be part of rather white crowd watching this performance not to mention possible improper gender crossing of doing the haka they were teaching, and pondering cultural appropriation, but I got the idea that everybody in NZ grows up learning a bunch of Maori culture, and performances are basically part of welcoming visitors. The concept of koha or gifting was also explained to me at some point by Kelly and Daniel – it sounds a bit like potlatch – but different. I learned at some point to say “The Treaty is a fraud” in Maori, an ironic commentary about the ongoing interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi. But it’s nice to think that treaties might mean something somewhere, unlike in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the whole conference went by without anyone being really annoying, condescending, or hostile about access or disability. I never got sort of left behind awkwardly, which, not the end of the universe but a it’s a yucky feeling. People came with me en masse into freight elevators and moved chairs around in restaurants. So, everyone was nice and non-faily, and things were well organized and accessible. There was a RAMP to the stage where I was going to talk. That *never* happens. Weird! Linux people are SMART.
Wednesday I went to Denise and Mark’s talk about Dreamwidth’s developer community. They outlined a lot of ways that it’s been a success at bringing in people from diverse backgrounds. Yay! They do rock and it’s a pleasure to work with their hosted dev env (Dreamhacks) and the wiki that very clearly explains what to do to start contributing to the project!
Selena Deckelmann gave a talk that was a great overview of open source database projects. I didn’t realize there were so many – there are over 50 active free/open source database platforms. I liked her ways to organize thinking about what kinds of databases there are – how can we classify them and their features? What are they good for? So it wasn’t just “a list of some software” but taught me ways to think about databases and what they do. Useful and exciting.
Onwards to Claudine Chioh’s talk on open source humanities collaboration. She showed us stuff like Old Bailey Online, Valley of the Shadow, Perseus Digital Library, Index Thomisticus from 1946 that analyzed and processed text, and her own project built in Drupal, Founders and Survivors. After that, a keysigning, and the inspiring “Teaching FOSS at Universities” talk by Bob Edwards and Andrew Tridgell. It was great to think this will become more common over the next few years. At some point I thought, “Huh. Not only could I ace such a graduate course, I could make a curriculum for it and teach it quite well.” It would be a blast.
At some point as we talked about arguing on the Internet, braille input and screen readers, and Bob Brandon’s inferentialist theory of meaning, Jason sent me the David Sternlight FAQ, good for a laugh!
Angie Byron’s tutorial on Drupal had 30 or 40 people all guiltily and eagerly installing Drupal 7 alpha. It was easy to install on a Mac with MAMP – give it a try! The menus and the posting interface are much cleaner. We went through the steps to build a module to take input from users and turn it into pirate speak. Yarrr matey! P.S. We will replace you with CCK and Views. Also? Don’t. Hack. Core!!!!!!
Jon Cruz talked about Adaptive UIs. I upset a lot of people on Twitter by linking to the vi version of Clippy. From “what is adaptive ui anyway” we went pretty fast into specific ideas about coding architecture, datamodels, event driven asynchronous approaches to interfaces. I liked the bit about naming stuff after what it’s doing, not on what triggered it, and thought about that for a while, missing the rest of the talk.
Oh also! Geek Girl Dinner! OMG! It was nice! This and Haecksen meant that I never felt lonely at the conference. The hive vagina is mighty! Oh, how many gentle beardy men we mildly horrified and amused by using the phrase “hive vagina”! The lulz!
The best bit was getting to meet up with the tail end of the night of Arduino hacking. People who had gone to the Arduino miniconference on Monday were finishing up their Aiko/Pebble/Arduino kits at the U-Stay hostel (which I didn’t stay at because it was up a giant hill). There were no kits left but a wild haired dude sat next to me and threw out little bits of information which I flailed around to keep up with. It was a clever bit of social engineering on his part, so that just as a batch of people finished up their soldering, I was there to say “And here is how you install the stuff to tell it to turn on a blinky light.” Armed with this crucial knowledge and spreading it around, I felt wise and popular instead of out of place and like I had to quickly prove right away that I know how to solder, which I totally do so anyone who makes assumptions can suck it. What? A chip on my shoulder?
Arjen and I then figured out further how to flash the Aiko software into his Arduino and blink its lights, a moment which might sound trivial but when it works, you will LOVE THE WORLD.
The mad-haired dude turned out to be Andy from geekscape who wrote Aiko and brought all the Arduino kits. We had crazy conversations about the Internet of Things, overlays of information over everything, and the weird possibilities of embedded systems. Give me data or give me… um… privacy! Oh, never mind, just give me data!
(Andy is going to send me a kit! And I spent some time this week playing with Processing for practice. Supposedly grand language for Artists or something. Is actually just Java on a fake Commodore 64.)
I did my talk on Hack Ability, FOSS and the world of horribly proprietary physical objects, gadgets, mobility and accessibility devices. I gave similiar talks at Etech and Ignite OSCON, but this pushed further. The talk had a really nice writeup in LWN by Jonathan Corbett, (may be subscriber-only) which did the most amazing job ever of summing up the bones of what I said. I felt really honored that anyone would write it up in such detail, nicely linked. It was eerie to read the bare thoughts without the speaker-tricks and charm points, jokes and asides and audience reactions. It gets across that I have a fair amount of density of good ideas in talks. My other strong point is reframing and recontextualizing details into frameworks of big ideas. In short, my goal is to make your head explode immediately and then pack in more and more explodiness so that you go away thinking something new and sticky.
The Penguin Dinner on Friday had great food and wine and company. And more hakas! Nic Steenhout wrote up some thoughts on the crowd of people trying out our wheelchairs and geeking out over manual wheelchair hardware. I agree with him completely and always try to cultivate and encourage that hackery, curious, geek-out spirit of approach to wheelchairs and other accessibility/mobility stuff.
A last thought:
Please enjoy this video of the poetic beauty of blinky lights. The 8×8 LED opens up a universe of possibilities and will free your mind into a sort of dreamy state of hypnotic embedded empowerment.
Did you watch it? Go back and watch it. Trust me. I’m a poet.
Next up: DrupalSouth and hacks on a plane!