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SCaLE 7 Speed-through

By Kat Tanaka Okopnik

Now in its seventh year, it's hard to believe the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE) started off as a grouping of Southern California LUGfests. Regular readers of LG may remember that Ben and I first attended two years ago, mentioned in a series of writeups, in issue 136. Our now 18-month old son, Michael, attended for the second time as well, while his sibling-to-come upheld family tradition by attending his or her first Linux convention in utero. Some of the big names in Open Source attend this convention, and the organizers have really applied every lesson they've learned along the way to make this a smoothly-run success.

In contrast to the long lines reported at SCaLE 5, the organizers switched to self-check-in, which cut delays substantially. The check-in printout included a raffle ticket for the Saturday evening reception and a personalized Web address for speaker surveys. The convention schedule was well-designed and easy to read. Signs made what could have been "hard to find" rooms merely a long walk.

There were signs of economic slowdown everywhere. Freebies were barely in evidence, and most of those were inexpensive - distro CDs, pens, and stickers. Some of the very few memorable ones were the ubiquitous flashing FreeBSD felt devil horns on a headband, O'Reilly's selection of buttons, and the ZenOSS squishy zebra. Michael's favorite was the collapsible frisbee in a pouch from Bytware; his Mommy and Daddy really appreciated that, too, as one of the best child-safe and attention-holding gimmes ever! The convention itself gave away eco-friendly lightweight canvas totes instead of T-shirts - a smart move away from the usual plastic or paper bags.

The free WiFi available in many parts of the convention was maddeningly slow. (Another unfortunate victim of budgetary constraints - truly adequate bandwidth would have been prohibitively expensive, and efforts at more creative solutions were stymied by lack of line-of-sight to appropriate relay stations). The Westin itself is a T-mobile hotspot, so anyone inclined to pay was probably well-served.

Friday started the weekend off with a full schedule:

What was once the "medical track" at SCaLE has become its own one-day conference (Demonstrating Open-Source Healthcare Solutions - DOHCS). Ben and I didn't sit in on any seminars, but it looked like it was well-attended and well-regarded by the professionals it was designed for.

Fedora and ZenOSS had free-form tracks on Friday, respectively as "Activity Day" and "Community Day", while Subversion opted for a series of organized panels for their Community Day track. Sun had Solaris workstations set up in the room that became the "Try It Lab" for the rest of the weekend; this was a hands-on area with multiple workstations and a facilitator for trying out everything from Ruby to Moodle to OpenOffice - a very nice opportunity for anyone who wanted to get a little actual experience.

I stopped by one of the last panels in the Women in Open Source track on Friday, after ignoring the room with the mysterious label "WIOS". I wish they had opted for the complete expanded title instead. The OSSIE (Open Source in Education) track was also very well attended - they managed to fill an auditorium. This is the track that Ben regrets missing the most, since education has always been near and dear to his heart; perhaps we'll catch it in a future SCaLE.

Other multi-slot programming included BSD certification exams, the Ubuntu Bug Jam, and the League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA) running four half-day classes for sysadmins as SCaLE University. The convention had its usual excellent spread of classes for all experience levels from utter beginner to pro, with some big name speakers at all levels. Ben and I didn't get to as many panels as we'd have liked, but we had a great time over all. We did a lot of tag-team babyminding, and some fellow attendees (and some staffers) entertained Michael as well. Many of the presenters shared their information at the SCaLE Web site, and I will definitely be following up on the ones I wish I'd seen. I wish I'd gotten to participate in "Growing up Free", and hope that SCaLE expands that concept along with the ubiquitous OLPC machines to a parent/child track (especially if they incorporated childcare or child-friendly panels).

The "Weakest Geek Theatre" (actually, a panel-style game show with contestants voting each other off for bad answers) was a lot of fun. Topics ranged from the obvious to the obscure, and Randal Schwartz was on hand to act as arbiter for the Perl questions. Contestants started to use "Al Gore!" (who, as we all know, didn't invent the Internet), as their favorite way of saying, "bleeped if I know the answer to that!", and I'm highly tempted take that on, myself. Midway through, someone announced the availability of FREE! beer in the back. Cue stampede for free beer.

As far as the venue itself, the Westin LAX's elevators were horribly slow, but that, of course, is out of SCaLE's control - and there were signs promising faster service (after renovation) coming soon. The front desk staff was extremely gracious and helpful.

We met some LG alums - sorry to say I don't remember your names, having been slightly distracted by the energetic explorations of Michael throughout the weekend. Please do remind me! We learned about some great open source software - a few games we had overlooked until now, and some projects we hope to showcase in the coming issues.

For anyone at any level of Linux expertise, SCaLE is a great "bang for your buck" gathering and one we look forward to attending again.

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Bio picture

Kat likes to tell people she's one of the youngest people to have learned to program using punchcards on a mainframe (back in '83); but the truth is that since then, despite many hours in front of various computer screens, she's a computer user rather than a computer programmer.

Her transition away from other OSes started with the design of a massively multilingual wedding invitation.

When away from the keyboard, her hands have been found wielding of knitting needles, various pens, henna, red-hot welding tools, upholsterer's shears, and a pneumatic scaler. More often these days, she's occupied with managing her latest project.

Copyright © 2009, Kat Tanaka Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 160 of Linux Gazette, March 2009