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Fedora Corner:On location at FUDCon Boston, Part I

by Max Spevack

We held the third annual FUDCon Boston (Fedora Users and Developers Conference) from February 2nd – 4th at Boston University. In the spirit of Greg DeKoenigsberg’s FUDCon summary from last year, I offer you a pseudo-realtime commentary of the weekend.

Wednesday, January 31st

While FUDCon doesn’t start for another two days, Greg and I head up to Boston from Raleigh today, to attend to some of the last minute details.

Our plane flight is quite interesting. We’re on JetBlue, which includes satellite TV on all the planes. We flip back and forth between the World Series of Poker and CNN.

It just so happens that the lead story on CNN is about a potential terrorist attack in Boston. Or not, as the link will show you. Phear the Lite-Brite.

We meet up with two of our hosts from Boston University, Matt Miller and Paul Stauffer, at a very authentic-seeming New England watering hole. The clam chowder is great, and we chat with the BU guys about some of the last minute details. (Well, actually, Matt and Paul are incredibly reliable, so there aren’t really any issues that need to be solved. We do, however, have a “it’s a small world” moment, when it turns out that one of the other guys who came along with Matt and Paul to join us for dinner went to high school with Greg, and they haven’t seen each other since.)

Thursday, February 1st

Greg and I head over to Boston University and meet up with Matt, Paul, and Pam Andrews, who is our primary contact at BU and The Person Who Makes It All Happen™. FUDCon Boston wouldn’t have happened without her the last few years, so it’s great to see her again. We take a look at the various rooms that we’ll be using for sessions on Friday and put together a general plan in our heads of how it’s all going to happen.

We also get acquainted with their computer lab, and we make friends with the guy who runs it. Since we’re doing a two-day hackfest on Saturday and Sunday, we get permission to reinstall a bunch of their computers with Fedora, so that we can use the machines for building packages and playing with the test builds of Fedora 7.

Just for fun, it’s worth noting that Boston University’s custom version of Linux is based on CentOS. Which is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Which is based on Fedora. So we’re all part of the same family.

We wander back to the hotel in the early evening, where we start to meet up with a bunch of the other FUDCon attendees. One of those attendees is Jack Aboutboul.

You might remember Jack from last year’s FUDCon, when Jack and his Escalade SUV provided most of the day’s drama. No SUV this year, but Jack did convince our hotel to hook him up with a free bathrobe, a free breakfast, and free access to the internets. If I ever decide to give up on the Fedora gig and start a company selling snow-making machines to folks living in the Antarctic, my first hire will be Jack.

The next people who I have a chance to meet are Bob Jensen and Jonathan Steffan. These guys are part of the Fedora Unity project. They do a tremendous amount of work on things like re-spins of our ISOs that include updates, and Jon is working on a GUI frontend to the tool that we use to actually create ISOs. This is important work, because it simplifies the creation of custom Fedora distributions.

It’s always fun to match faces with names at FUDCon. Until the moment those two guys knocked on my door, I only existed to them as an IRC nickname and an email address. Now we all have a face to go along with those previous communications.

We head out to dinner. By the time we actually walk out of the lobby, there are 18 people following me. I have no idea where I am going, so the locals lead us. We end up at a Pizzeria Uno, and spend a couple of hours talking Fedora, Linux, and various geek topics. A great time for meeting new folks, and reuniting with other Fedora contributors who we only see once or twice a year.

When we arrive back to the hotel, FUDCon is about 10 hours away….

11:45 PM. Greg’s phone starts buzzing. But Greg is sleeping. We’re roommates this week; hotels in Boston are expensive and Fedora runs a tight ship. A groggy Greg answers his phone, and we learn that Toshio Kuratomi, of Fedora Extras and Fedora Infrastructure fame, has arrived at the hotel, but they have lost his reservation. Greg plays the role of Fedora Superhero and sorts it out.

Friday, February 2nd

6:30 AM. The phone rings. Our first wake up call. I pick it up, mumble into the phone, hang up, and go back to sleep.

6:45 AM. The phone rings, because I am clever enough to schedule two wake up calls the night before.

7:30 AM. We leave the hotel, with about 20 folks tagging along. In a previous life, Greg lived in Boston. So we all follow him. It snowed during the night, and the sidewalks are covered in ice. We contemplate the idea of a FUDCon Maui for 2008.

8:00 AM. We arrive at Boston University.

8:05 AM. Caterers arrive with donuts, bagels, and coffee. Ahhhhh.

8:10 AM. Paul, Matt, and Pam (our BU contingent) arrive, carrying some giant FUDCon banners that we hang up. Everyone is pitching in on the setup. In general, things are far more smooth and organized than last year (and last year went pretty well). We use blue painter’s tape to create a Giant Grid on the wall that has blocks for all of the
different session times and available rooms.

9:06 AM. Greg kicks things off, welcoming everyone to FUDCon, and explaining the BarCamp format. It’s a pretty ingenious concept, actually. The theory behind BarCamp is that at big conferences like LinuxWorld, people tend to say that the most interesting conversations are the ones that happen in between sessions, or that happen during lunch. The informal and improptu ones. BarCamp seeks to create a slightly more formalized way of promoting that kind of a collaborative environment for the entire day.

There’s no pre-planned schedule. Everyone stands up in front of the room for the first 30 or 45 minutes, and has 30 seconds to pitch the idea of his or her session. Then they write it down on a piece of paper and stick it on the Giant Grid. Once everyone is finished, people go up and make tick-marks on the sessions that they want to attend. Then, as
a group, people arrange the sessions into rooms based on popularity, and the schedule builds itself.

I know it sounds like barely-organized chaos. I have never seen it before, and I’m suspicious. But several folks have gone through this process in the past, and they reassure me: “Just watch, it will work. Trust us”. They are right.

10:00 AM. The first sessions begin. And that’s where the first part of my FUDCon log ends.

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