Issue #18 April 2006

FUDCon Friday

Greg DeKoenigsberg, Community Development Manager for Red Hat, spent Friday, April 7th at FUDCon Boston 2006. Here's how his day went.

6:15 a.m. Wake up time.

6:15 a.m. is not a time that exists for most engineers--and when it does, it usually comes at the end of the day, not the beginning. But today is FUDCon Friday, and registration begins at 8 a.m., so it's time to get up. Max Spevack, the new head of the Fedora Project, heads into the bathroom to do the morning wake-up thing while I try to steal a few extra minutes of snooze. Max and I are sharing a room at the Lenox Hotel in Back Bay, Boston. Why? Because hotel rooms in Boston are expensive, and we (Max, myself, Fedora, Red Hat) are cheap. Simple economics. Fortunately, Max doesn't snore, and usually I don't either.

By 7 a.m. we're packed up and ready for the day's festivities. I grab a suitcase full of Fedora T-shirts and we head downstairs for a quick breakfast. By 7:20 we're in a cab for Boston University.

7:30 a.m. Arrivals and Introductions.

The cab lets us off at the front door of BU's School of Management. The first floor lobby is packed with excited young people.

They're not excited about our arrival, though. Seems that BU is holding a new student orientation of some kind in the management building today. It's a big building, and we've only got 4 rooms reserved, but it's a little nervewracking to be upstaged so early in the day. They've got lots of snacks, though. I briefly consider swiping a couple of doughnuts before thinking better of it. The saying isn't "free as in doughnuts," after all.

As we stand around considering the setup tasks at hand, Jack Aboutboul arrives, right on cue. Jack is the Fedora Ambassador Emeritus, the guy who represented Fedora at trade shows even before Red Hat represented Fedora at tradeshows, and his entrance is grand. He pulls the Escalade right up on to the sidewalk--a New Yorker in Boston and proud of it. That's how he rolls. As usual, he's got shirts and hats and flyers and banners and posters and all kinds of stuff.

Around the same time, other FUDCon attendees start to arrive. As is often the case at such events, we all find ourselves matching faces with IRC nicknames. The Fedora Ambassadors are well represented from the very beginning of the day; with Alex Maier and Robert Whetsel joining me, we've got three members of the steering committee present and ready to work. Seems like a good start.

We all empty the Escalade and carry the gear upstairs, where Pam Andrews, our gracious hostess at BU, unlocks the grad student lounge and provides us with coffee and bagels and donuts--and much-needed wireless access. This room will be our staging area for the whole event, and we set up camp immediately. Alex and Robert drag some tables into the hall to set up our registration area. Pam and I head to all of the rooms to put up posters and check AV equipment. Warren Togami arrives and sits down to put the finishing touches on his introductory presentation. Max does the meet and greet as more and more faces appear from the Fedora community. Karsten Wade. Lucy Ringland. Thomas Chung. Paul Frields. Faces and names are starting to match up.

By 8 a.m., all systems are go: we're ready to have a FUDCon. Now all we need is... people.

8:30 a.m. Horror and disaster.

Jack is slumped in a chair in the corner of the lounge, cell phone to his ear, staring straight ahead, shellshocked. Five minutes ago he was backing up his Escalade to park it, and some guy who was allegedly "guiding" him waved him right into a telephone pole. Now his rear windshield is smashed in. He's calling all over town, trying to find someone who can fix it. It's the beginning of a long day for Jack.

Meanwhile, I'm hiding in a back hallway, on a phone call with UPS. I'm following up on a shipment of Fedora Core 5 DVDs. These are offerings for the faithful; giving away FC5 DVDs is the least we can do for the nice people who came all this way to meet us. The DVDs are allegedly being redirected from LinuxWorld to Boston University--not a problem, I was told yesterday--but this morning UPS is telling me a different story. Not only are the DVDs not being redirected, but as it turns out, they were never headed to the right convention center in the first place.

Well, great.

The dispatcher promises that she'll try to contact the truck driver, but she can't guarantee anything, and in her opinion it's likely that our DVDs will be riding around Boston in a truck all day. I ask her to do all she can, thank her for her efforts, and hang up in a funk.

And that's not even the worst part. The worst part? No one is here. I walk back to the registration booth at 8:45, and there's no one. Almost a hundred people are registered, and dozens of others promised to come--and still no one's bothered to show up, because everyone hates us and we're all miserable failures. I wonder idly if the Red Sox could use a 36 year old ball boy.

9:30 a.m. The cavalry.

Okay, so maybe we're not miserable failures. Maybe we've just got a show full of geeks who don't wake up super early to attend introductory sessions. Midway through Warren's opening session, his room is mostly full. At 9:30 we've got about 75 people in attendance, with more coming in every few minutes. The gnawing fear in the pit of my stomach is subsiding a bit.

Just then, my phone rings. It's the truck driver from UPS--he's found the DVDs and taken them off the truck! He gives me an address to a UPS distribution facility in Watertown, a mere 15 minute drive from BU. Arlinton Bourne and I make our way down there, and soon we're back with tons of DVDs for everyone.

Back on track.

10:30 a.m. FUDCon hits its stride.

The sessions are now in full swing. We've got a day full of breakout sessions, and people continue to register just in time to see their favorites.

In one of the most important presentations of the morning, Jeremy Katz gives the Fedora Core 6 pep-talk to a very attentive audience. Jeremy is one of the people who decides what does and doesn't go into Fedora, and he's here on a mission: to communicate all of the great things that we might be able to do in FC6, and to get audience feedback.

The Fedora feature process is still a mystery in many ways. Certainly, Red Hat knows what big features they want to incorporate into each release, and for Fedora Core 6, the big ticket item will be More and Better Virtualization. But Fedora Core is built from two directions: the company direction and the community direction. It's good to have direct community feedback, early in the process, about the importance of various features in FC6. Some efforts have been made here before, but everyone wants to make the community input process smoother. This meeting is a start.

Thomas Chung is a wonder. As the creater of fedoranews.org and semi-official chronicler of all things Fedora, it's only natural that he'd be the guy to bring the video camera--and he's recording every session he can, along with a few candid moments here and there.

(See Thomas Chung's FUDCon videos now.)

2 p.m. The Board meets.

In an little out-of-the-way classroom on the third floor, a milestone is achieved: the Fedora Project Board gathers for the first time ever.

Rahul Sundaram is on the phone from Pune, India, but otherwise, all of the official members of the Fedora Project Board are live and in person, all in the same room. And they've got a ton of work to do.

The community leaders are the stars of this meeting. For the very first time, people outside of Red Hat are working officially at the highest levels of decision-making in the project. It's an event that's been a long time coming. Paul W. Frields joins from the Fedora Docs project. Seth Vidal comes from the Extras project. He's the guy who makes yum tick. Rex Dieter has maintained KDE packages for Fedora since the first day Fedora existed. Now they're all here, trying to figure out what their actual jobs will be.

But that's Max's problem to solve. While he figures out the first order of business--how the board gets things done, and how they explain that process to the rest of us--I'm handing out T-shirts, chasing down speakers, and cleaning up rooms for upcoming presentations. I'd forgotten what a colossal mess college students are capable of making.

3:15 p.m. Open content for an open world.

The scheduled speaker for the 3 p.m. session is Anne Margulies, the executive director of MIT's OpenCourseWare project. She arrives at around 2:30. We make our introductions, and I take her to the room where she'll be presenting.

Scheduling issues have forced us to split our event between two buildings: 595 Comm Ave, the School of Management, and 565 Comm Ave, the Kenmore Classroom Building. The downside: walking outside in the rain. The upside: the room in the KCB is much bigger, so we've got plenty of people to hear Anne talk. By the time she begins at 3:15, she's got a sizable crowd.

A lot of the people in the crowd aren't exactly familiar with OpenCourseWare, and they're not sure how the talk fits in at FUDCon--but the more she talks, the more heads start to nod. The story of open content runs in parallel with the story of open source, and OpenCourseWare is becoming one of the most important successes in the open content world.

It's not a new idea to us, of course. It's all bits to us. It also seems like this kind of open knowledge initiative is an obvious idea for universities all around the world to champion. After all, educational institutions, particularly public ones, are chartered to spread knowledge, right?

But Anne tells us stories about educators that still don't get it. Some universities are too concerned about "giving something away". Someone in the audience relates a story about their own university, where lecturers are politely reminded by the administration not to share any of their materials with one another.

Still, the open content model is as irresistable as the open source model, particularly in the developing world. Since all of the OCW materials are licensed under Creative Commons licenses, universities worldwide can localize courses and adapt them for their own needs. MIT OCW materials have been translated into at least 10 languages so far--a number that is sure to increase over time.

Anne finishes up. Now, it's Max's turn.

4:15 p.m. The State of the Union.

It's time for the State of the Union address. Max is addressing the faithful for the first time as the Fedora Project leader. I'm riding shotgun for any necessary comic relief.

One of the first orders of business is to put the late, lamented Fedora Foundation to rest. A well-intentioned idea, but ultimately, for reasons that we described at length, the Foundation was in many ways an impediment to progress. Max makes this point again, but judging from the reaction, he seems to be preaching to the converted.

He then moves on to introduce the members of the Fedora Project Board and takes questions.

5 p.m. Cleanup.

The show's over. Some people have already taken off; a lot of people are headed for the FUDPub a few blocks away; the rest of us are left to clean up what's left. It's time to toss stuff into boxes and carry them to the cars of whomever will take them away. The drizzle has turned into a driving downpour. Max and I load some boxes into Tim Burke's sporty little convertible; Tim even puts the top down in the pouring rain to make it easier to pack the boxes into the back. True dedication to the cause.

When all the boxes are packed up and the place is cleared out, Max and I take a quick cab ride back to the hotel; my shoes and socks are soaked through, and the last thing I want to do is get drunk in wet socks.

6 p.m. FUDPub.

This may be the most important part of FUDCon. It's certainly a welcome end to a long day.

We've taken over the two front rooms of An Tua Nua, a popular BU hangout and the home of FUDPub for the last two years now. Our host for the evening's festivities is Paul Stauffer, who runs the CS Research Labs for BU.

The beer is great, but the talk is better. Max and I end up at a table with Paul and Matt Miller, and we talk about the future of FUDCon. Paul and Matt want FUDCon to be bigger next year. So do we. We also want to make it more interactive; to get so many smart people together in one place and not use the opportunity to create something seems like an opportunity missed.

So we've got lots of ideas to discuss. Sometime soon, the planning for another FUDCon will start in earnest, probably on the Fedora marketing mailing list. We'll discuss lots of ideas about how to make FUDCons into the bustling and productive events that we expect them to be--and anyone can join in.

Days later.

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Sometimes you don't get the chance to thank people properly in person. In the hubbub of getting a hundred-plus of your closest friends together, it's inevitable that a few people slip away from the party before you get the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to them.

So thank you. Thanks to everyone who attended FUDCon Boston this year, and to everyone who helped with the planning, the presentations, and the picking up afterwards. Thanks to everyone at Boston University for being such great hosts for the second straight year--especially to the guys, whose names I never learned, who held up signs in the rain to direct people to the right building.

And Jack--if you need us to take up a special collection for your Escalade, you just let us know.