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Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Apr 30, 2015 GMT
Bruce Byfield

I have fallen out of the habit of attending conferences. For years, I had a sick wife, and didn't want to be more than a couple of hours away. I am widowed now, but still haven't realized that I am more able to travel. Instead, I depend on emails and chat for professional contacts, and the occasional conference that comes to Vancouver, like the upcoming OpenStack Summit, which I am anticipating with unabashed enthusiasm.

My first free software was OSCON in 2000. I was there as a writer for Maximum Linux, a short-term companion magazine to Maximum PC. My editor apologized that the convention hotel was booked, and put us up at a Victorian bed and breakfast a few blocks away that I still mean to revisit someday. I wandered the conference so green that I thought a table at a party marked "Free as in beer" was witty. I didn't quite point and stare at Eric Raymond and other names made unexpected flesh, but I admit to joining a scrimmage for the t-shirts given out in celebration of Sun Microsystems' release of the OpenOffice.org code.

My next conferences were Linux Expos in New York and San Jose. The San Jose convention was memorable for a conversation with a pudgy man in a white t-shirt, whom I eventually realized was Linus Torvalds, as well as the efforts of Bruce Peren's short-lived Linux Capital to fund a second start up (The first was Progeny Linux Systems, where I was currently working).

Not long after that, I curtailed my travelling, going no further than the Calgary for COSSFEST, a couple of small conferences where I got to know Aaron Seigo. By the time LinuxCon was booked into Vancouver in 2011, I was overdue for professional contact. I spent a lot of time introducing myself to people I had only known at a distance, such as Eben Moglen, Jim Zemlin, Carla Schroder and Jonathan Corbet, and renewing my acquaintance with analyst Jay Lyman and his family and a couple of former Progeny employees, like Jeff Licquia. Working at home as I do, I had forgotten that I had a position among such people, and I went away feeling as though I had discovered a previously unknown peer group.

However, that was four years ago, and I feel the need to renew contacts at the OpenStack Summit. I've already signed up for most of the social events, including Ubuntu's at the Sun Yat Sen Gardens, the first authentic outdoor classical garden outside of China. I also hope to arrange a dinner party or two, and show off my home town a bit to out of towners.

I admit I hadn't fully realized the popularity of OpenStack until I saw the size of the schedule, and I look forward to pushing back the boundaries of my ignorance (which, like a cuticle, keeps growing back) while making new acquaintances. I'll probably set up a few interviews, but much of what I will be doing is making contacts for the long term and adding to my list of potential topics. With four days of talks and four or five tracks running from 9am to 6pm, on topics ranging from the technical to the communal, I expect to keep busy, to say the least.

To people who attend half a dozen or more conferences a year, my enthusiasm might sound naive. But I'm looking forward to the conference in my backyard all the same. And who knows? Maybe the experience will encourage me to start traveling further afield, although I doubt that I'll ever approach any conference with any nonchalance.

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