best DebConf ever
For me, DebConf13 in Switzerland was a perfect DebConf, and generally an great developer meeting and conference. I've attended several past DebConfs in Canada, Norway, Brazil, Finland, Mexico, Scotland, Spain, NYC, Bosnia, and Nicaragua. I have special memories of each. DebConf13 was ideal in every way.
Let's start with the camping. Only a minority of us did it, and my campsite was located in a small field behind a bar that was often noisy late into the night, when I was trying to rest and preserve my European jetlag remedy of inverted sleeping schedule. Still, I love sleeping cocooned in a tent, and going through the routines of camping and spending time alone there was a good counterpoint to DebConf. I generally find myself retreating for a day or two in the middle of a week-long conference, burnt out with social interactions. That didn't happen this time. I need to find way to camp at future DebConfs.
(Also special shout out to wonderful people who lent me a warmer sleeping bag, and bought me a pillow while on a trip to town! Upgraded my first backpacking in Europe experience's comfort level a lot!)
The next perfect thing for me were the talks I gave at DebConf. I always enjoy presenting at DebConf, and barely remember when I'd get nervous doing it. But I really felt comfortable giving these talks in a way I've not before. I'm pleased with how the Debian Cosmology talk turned out; I'd worried it would be a downer talk, or too light, or not well received, and none of those problems surfaced.
I was especially happy with my dh_busfactor session, which I prepared for all of 10 minutes and was structured entirely to benefit me by talking over my thoughts and getting feedback, and in which I probably drove the camerapeople crazy running my own mic into the audience. Despite all that, I think it succeeded being interesting for the participants as well as for me. Hope to follow up on it soon..
But beyond the two talks I submitted, there were a series of ad-hoc scheduled talks. It seemed that every day I spent at least an hour discussing something I'm deeply involved in. This started with the Ikiwiki bof, and then there was an epic series of (unrecorded) BoFs about git stuff, which basically turned into an unofficial git track at DebConf. Much, much discussion of git-annex and other things I'm involved in.
BTW, I really like that DebConf, as well as being a formal conference on
top, is really an un-conference underneath, with new BoFs and things
popping up on the schedule all week long. You can even have completely
unscheduled meetings that somehow get just the right mix of people
to make something awesome happen.
But it wasn't all about talks. Indeed, I only attended 2 or 3 sessions a day. The DebConf13 venue was controversial, but I found it excellent for getting things done. Rather than one or two massive rooms that get too noisy to think in, this venue had many little nooks and crannies suited for different types of work. There were so many I only discovered some while walking down the hill as I was leaving the venue! Anchoring it all was the excellent view, and I particularly enjoyed the "scenic hacklab".
I was particularly impressed with the flexability of the venue's management. Someone asked if we could have cheese for breakfast, and every breakfast thereafter had not one but often three excellent cheeses. One day we'd be complaining that there were not enough vegetables in the food, and the next we'd be eating an excellent vegetarian Swiss lunch. They even apparently relaxed stringent Swiss rules on not allowing tents in sightlines visible from people further up the hill. They were clearly happy to welcome our crazy gathering to Le Camp. They let a DD borrow and use a chain saw and build a bonfire!
The venue also encouraged getting out and exploring the surrounding countryside. Too often I end up spending the whole DebConf without seeing much of the area around. This time I at least got down the hill to see the castle in Vaumarcus a few times, and enjoyed many evening walks amoung the grape fields. The conference dinner (on a boat!) tied into this well too. And the daytrip to CERN was a great addition. We got to poke around the control center for a massive particle accellerator! My only regret is we didn't get a chance to actually go inside the LHC tunnels.
Back to DebConf, another thing I really liked about this one was that its location allowed several upstream authors of software in Debian (other than the usual suspects who are both upstreams and Debian Developers) to attend. I don't know if Lennart Poettering changed any minds about systemd with his talk, but I was happy for the opportunity to buy him a beer. I didn't get to Monty's talk, but it was excellent to see him attend as well.
Finally, I got to meet old friends I'd not seen in years, and new ones I've not met in real life before. We're still not sure where this whole DebConf thing is going -- will it be all about the cheese and wine party and greybeards in 20 years time? But one thing we know is we enjoy our little slice of the year where kilts and coding are equally unremarkable, where problems that seem intractable online somehow solve themselves in person, where we come away with ideas for an entire year and memories for a lifetime.