A Truly Small Conference


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Mar 29, 2011 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


On Saturday, April 2nd I will be attending a small conference at Worcester State University in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States, the Northeast GNU/Linux Fest.


The conference will be a single day, lasting from 10:30 in the morning until 3 P.M. in the afternoon. It will have a single track, four speakers and be oriented toward a student audience (although anyone is invited). The entry fee is “free”, but for thirty dollars a person can “support” the conference and get a “free” T-shirt. If you want to be an exhibitor, 30 dollars will get you a table and electricity, if needed.


I did not even know about this conference until a couple of months ago, but while assisting with another conference I saw the “Northeast Linux Fest” pop up on my screen. Wondering who was behind this conference, I tracked down the person who was putting the conference together.


It turns out that the producer of the conference is a student at Worcester State University named Jonathan Nadeau who decided that the Northeast was lacking a “fest” for Free Software. Jonathan is an older student, who besides being married and having three children, runs a business called “Frostbite Systems” which installs various distributions of GNU/Linux onto hardware and sells them. Jonathan has a special interest in accessibility needs for the systems. He also runs Frostbitemedia.org, which does interviews and podcasts (supporting both mp3 and ogg) about Free Software in general and several distributions in specific. Of course all of his podcasts are licensed under Creative Commons licenses.


It turns out that Jonathan had been planning this conference a long time. He made calls out to various groups, both local and distant, offering them visibility through his conference. I had somehow missed these messages.


Jonathan had also secured some sponsorship through Red Hat. The sponsorship was made easier due to the relatively small amount of money that Jonathan needed.


After talking with Jonathan I registered as a supporter (yes, I paid the 30 dollars), and called him a few times to give advice on advertising and suggest some potential speakers. He settled on one that I recommended, Jarod Wilson, an employee of Red Hat and contributor to the Myth TV project. There will, of course, be other speakers.


This is the first conference that Jonathan has produced. He hopes to grow the conference year after year, but he was smart in the fact that he kept it low cost and focused. He understands that many Free Software people do not need a fancy conference center, and can bring their own coffee and donuts. Hopefully at this conference people will have so much fun and enjoyment that he will be able to build a larger team of people to help him with the next conference.


Having a small, one-day conference like this helps to make Free Software visible to the general population. These conferences fill a position between “Software Freedom Day” and the larger conferences. They allow people who might not want to make the investment of travel and hundreds of dollars to see Free Software in a local setting.


I feel it is up to all of us to “evangelize” Free Software, to reach out and tell our friends and neighbors why they should be using Free Software. If each Free Software user brought two users of non-free software to the Free Software community every year, in a short time we would have “world domination”. This is why I often close my talks with the statement “If you want to see the most important person in Free Software, when you get up in the morning, look in the mirror.”


In Jonathan's case, as much as I believe is is one of those important people, he will never be able to take my advice. At the age of fourteen he was in an accident that left him blind.


Please come out to the conference and help to make it a success.


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