Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Wed 28th Jan, 2009

LCA flies by

In certain circumstances, bringing an airplane, the sun and some clouds into the proper relationship will show you an interesting phenomena - a ring of brighter cloud, centred on the shadow of the plane. This happens at the angle where the crystals in clouds perfectly reflect the incident light back to you, and I'd love some optics physicist to explain it to me one day. But it has the unusual property, if you are close enough to the clouds, of focussing that small band - every detail of that area stands out. Individual filaments of cloud are shown to you before you swiftly move on to the next. If you watch one bit it fades into dullness and its detail is lost, but if you keep your eye moving every part of the cloud has its own delicate, infinitely detailed beauty.

I found myself in just such a conjunction of plane, sun and cloud on my flight back from Hobart to Melbourne after Linux Conference Australia, still dazed by the early morning start to get to the six o'clock plane. In this contemplation-conducive state, I thought the image above was a good metaphor for the conference overall - each little bit brilliant but fading when compared to the next bit of brilliance, and the overall brilliance only capturable in the human mind, where the individual experiences can be overlaid rather than replaced and forgotten as in a movie.

I'll stop trying to wax lyrical, and while lyrical waxes someone else will note down some highlights the whole week of fun.

While it was a bit of a slog up the hill to the college from the Uni, it wasn't too hard and certainly got a few of us a bit fitter, myself included. The rooms were very nice, and despite being shunted out of my original room with other Canberrans I got to meet a bunch of new people which I always enjoy. Special thanks to Ian Beardslee for whiskey and perspective.

The venues were pretty good, but the fact that speakers had to hold radio mikes up to their faces led to a lot of pretty variable audio. Some people, like Tridge, Jeff Waugh, and Rusty already know how to project well - others were a bit shyer and/or uncertain how to speak to a microphone. The trick is to have it up near your chin - close enough to pick up every sound, but out of the direct breath path so that your 'P' sounds don't pop. The main point is that you are trying to get your spoken words across to everyone in the room and on the video, and that is much more important than feeling embarrassed. And never, ever blow into the microphone to test if it's on - tap it or scrape the mesh on the top instead. There's much less chance of damaging the pickup that way, or having an audio professional decapitate you with your own shirt for maltreating their equipment.

Being a speaker for the first time, I was really blown away with how well they treat speakers at LCA. You get picked up at the airport, you get your own (speakers) dinner and you get to go to the Professional Delegates Networking Session. So not only did I get to go to two very nice places to eat and see some of the attractions around Hobart, but I also got to pretend to be a professional. Being a part of the process that makes LCA great - the talks - is pretty awesome too. And having people talk to and email you afterward about the topic and ask more questions and have more discussion is even better. Still very happy with that.

However. In order to really rock as a speaker giving a "here's the coding project I've been working on" talk, I think you need one simple thing: results. There were a couple of talks - the High Def H.264 decoding in Intel GPU talk for example - that gave an overview one might give to technical management and showed us almost nothing in the way of actual code or working software. Compare this with the CELT talk, where Tim not only demonstrated why the code was so clever and why low latency was important, but demonstrated it right there. I don't really need a working demo, but I do need to see that the code is in use by real live people, not still on the drawing board. If drawing-board projects were the criterion for a good talk I would be occupying my own day at LCA. :-)

The conference dinner was very good - buffet style wins! The fund raising was also pretty awesome - although I'm not a big fan of the whole 'auction' thing when pretty quickly it has got out of the reach of any single person in the audience, I still think that it's an excellent example of why Open Source really does rule when we can raise over $40,000 for a charity from essentially a bunch of individuals with one tangible and a few intangible prizes (pictures in the kernel, people's integrity, etc.). If anything, the guy who spoke about the disease could have talked more about the research - most of the table I was sitting with was pretty bored through the 'here's some pictures of bad stuff' part but were riveted when it came to the 'and here's why it's a technically interesting problem' part.

The laptop case cover was well received but needs some work to straighten it out and stop it from cracking. It no longer attaches to the laptop - the tension on the outer surface simply pulls the catches back off again.

A judicious balance between coffee, V and water is what kept me going for most of the conference. I've found the 700ml Nudie bottles are light, easy to use, and contain enough water to keep you hydrated. It took me most of Monday to really feel like I was fully compos mentis.

I met lots of nice people in the LUG Comms meeting and more nice people in the LinuxChix lunch. I now owe Jon Corbet two beers, as part of a "I must buy you a drink for your excellent Linux Weekly News" plan gone horribly wrong, and Steve Walsh, Cafuego, James Purser and others need to be pinned down in a bar somewhere so I can buy them beers. Jon Oxer and Flame (who really should be called Black Flame) were excellent value, the keysigning was underpopulated but still worthwhile, and the sheer quantity of BOFs happening in spare rooms, in corridors, up trees and elsewhere were just too much for me.

The MythTV miniconference was a highlight - giving my talk at it was a lowlight because I should really have had much more technical detail; the lesson is "if you see someone suggesting a miniconference, only volunteer to talk on the subject if you have something that is at the generally high quality of Linux Conference talks". There were a few other MythTV talks that left me wanting a bit more detail, but there's no feeling quite like realising that all the technical people have left the room for your talk, and the only developer remaining is working on his presentation....

Overall, the quality of LCAs is still high, and I have no doubt that Wellington will pull out all the stops for a top-quality LCA too. If they can get their videos up a bit quicker than this year...

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