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Linux Fest Northwest makes its mark

May 1, 2012 1 comment

Those of us who have been to Linux shows, or especially have worked Linux shows, in the past know the drill. It’s something out of “Field of Dreams.” If you build it — the “it” here being a Linux event — they will come, and they will all seem to come right at Saturday morning at 9 sharp when the show officially starts.

They did just that at Linux Fest Northwest. Past its first decade of operation, LFNW has established itself as the premiere Linux event in the region and, as I’ve mentioned before, next to the Southern California Linux Expo, it’s the best show on the West Coast. For two days, geeks in the Northwest get to listen to top-notch presenters — as well as people like me — and visit exhibits from distros, software and hardware makers.

The Bellingham Linux Users Group and volunteers from other open source user groups in the area never fail to put on a great expo, and I think I speak for many attendees when I say that I’m deeply grateful for their efforts. About 1,200 people attended LFNW on the campus of Bellingham Technical College over the weekend. Thanks, LFNW folks.

Here’s a look at the weekend:

Not another distro . . .: Bill Smith and his wife Portia staffed the CrunchBang booth with me, and again my thanks go out to them for the help. Visitors to the booth ranged from those who knew what CrunchBang was to those who whined, “Not another distro . . .” To which I replied far too often, “Yes, another distro. This one is Debian with the OpenBox window manager,” before explaining the advantages of CrunchBang. “There’s a digital Darwinism at play here, with the good distros gathering a strong community and thriving, and others . . . not so much.” There were about 150 pieces of media burned — CDs and DVDs — all of which went out the door with prospective users. I, of course, will sit in the corner with the pointy hat because, truth be told, I forgot the banner and the “success kid” stickers made up for LFNW, but we’ll use ‘em next year.

Hello, I’m Greg DeKoenigsberg: The printed program had it right, as did the Web site. But the large poster on the wall on the Haskell classroom building on Saturday morning had Greg’s presentation on the schedule where I was giving the Intro to CrunchBang talk. With LFNW’s permission, Greg and I had switched presentation times more than a week prior to the event, since he was getting in late. But the poster outside the wall had the old schedule. Try as I might — which, of course, was not very hard — I could not convince the folks that I was the Eucalyptus VP. After an announcement that if you were there for Greg’s talk, it would be tomorrow, only a couple of people bailed out. As for my talk, it went as well as my talks usually go — no one was injured and law enforcement officials were nowhere to be found — and Scott Dowdle videotaped it, so as soon as that gets posted, I’ll let you know.

The (two) big thing(s): The big thing at Linux Fest Northwest — not including OpenSUSE rep Bryen Yunashko’s hat — was the Pogo Linux’s booth, which featured a full-fledged, sit-behind-the-wheel racing game with three large-screen monitors, where drivers navigated a course and prizes were given for the fastest laps. No, my racing days are far behind me, but from what I was told by someone who raced cars and turned the second fastest lap on Saturday, it was very realistic. Another big thing — bigger to the Android crowd, apparently, and arguably just as fast as the racing game — was the ZaReason tablet, which many folks tried out at our booth (ZaReason shared the CrunchBang booth at LFNW). Keep an eye on that, since this full-fledged Android tablet will be coming out very soon.

Hands across the water: It was a grand experiment, though operator error by yours truly may have kept it from being a huge success. But during the CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup on Sunday morning, we used a Google+ Hangout to raise CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough. Sort of. Despite getting dropped a couple of times — once because I hit the wrong key — we got to talk about the show, about what’s coming up for CrunchBang and things along those lines, and it was very informative for those in attendance. Thanks, Philip, and Rebecca Newborough as well, who in her capacity as the CrunchBang Community Leader also participated from the Lincoln side of things.

Bon mots: I’m still apologizing to Deb Nicholson for forgetting her surname in introducing her to Philip Newborough at the BoF on Sunday morning. You know you work with someone in FOSS circles for years and something like this happens . . . . A shout-out goes to Eric Craw, a new CrunchBang user from Washington who converted at Linux Fest Northwest. Not only did he start using CrunchBang, but he already started contributing code back to the project, showing that this is what FOSS is all about . . . . David Whitman of Hacker Public Radio gave me a few minutes of interview time at the end of Linux Fest Northwest, so all that thumping and loading in the background may or may not be audible once the interview is broadcast . . . . I drove 962 miles each way to attend LFNW, but this show is so great that I would have walked 962 miles to get to Bellingham. Again, kudos to the LFNW crew.

Start rumors: In my capacity as publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo, I finally got to sit down with my good friends Warren Sanders and Scott Dowdle, and two folks from the Big Sky Country that I hadn’t met — Rocky Mountain College’s Andrew Niemantsverdreit and Gary Bummer, who is Scott’s colleague at Montana State University — and the five of us discussed bringing an event to their area. So be on the lookout for Montana Linux Fest, or something like it, in 2013.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Notes on Linux Fest Northwest

April 30, 2012 10 comments

I’m currently on the road in Oregon, heading back to the cozy confines of the redwoods of Felton, but I wanted to get a couple of notes down before posting a more comprehensive blog item at home about Linux Fest Northwest which was, in a word, outstanding.

First things first: I would venture to guess that there were more than 1,000 folks who showed up to the event, and I’ll try to dig up a more accurate number later. In fact, we had folks checking out the CrunchBang table before we had even set up around 9ish on Saturday morning. While the show, of course, had its Saturday morning tsunami of humanity followed by a more reasonable and slow-paced Sunday, it was never lacking the electricity that Linux expos usually transmit during the course of the weekend. Carl Symons and the rest of the crew at LFNW put on a great show, period.

The CrunchBang table: Bill Smith and his wife Portia did outstanding work staffing the booth, and my thanks go out to them for the help. It should be noted that Bill’s attire — a Tux vest — was great, and Portia had #! painted onto her nails. Needless to say, they were ready for the show. Many visitors to the table already knew what CrunchBang is, and some were, “What’s CrunchBang?” We gave away about 100 pieces of media and displayed on my old ThinkPad T30 and a newer ZaReason Alto 3880 how CrunchBang works across a wide range of computer hardware.

The ZaReason tablet: A last-minute request by computer-maker ZaReason had me splitting the table between CrunchBang and ZaReason, and one of the things that drew attention and cause some buzz is the tablet that ZaReason will be coming out with soon. We had one of them in the booth, and many folks thought it was pretty cool, though one person said it looked too much like an iPad (and I don’t believe that was a compliment).

Friends old and new: Seeing old friends and making new ones is one of the great things about the shows. Great as always to see Rikki Endsley, Robyn Bergeron, Deb Nicholson, Jeff Sandys, Greg DeKoenigsberg and others whose names I’ll remember between Springfield and Felton and try not to kick myself for forgetting while driving. A special shout out goes to Eric Craw, a new CrunchBang user who installed it after hearing my presentation on Saturday and immediately did some programming to submit to the distro.

I’ll get into more of the nuts-and-bolts of the show in the next blog item when I return home, like getting to start my presentation on Saturday morning with “Hello, I’m Greg DeKoenigsberg” (in my best Johnny Cash) and more details on my talk and the hands-across-the-water CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup. But it’s about time to get back on Interstate 5 and head south.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Ready for Linux Fest Northwest

April 24, 2012 Comments off

The disks are burned, the stickers are being printed up, and the presentation still needs tweaking, but for all intents and purposes I’m ready for Linux Fest Northwest, which takes place this weekend at Bellingham Technical College.

Next to the Southern California Linux Expo — which will turn it up to 11 at SCALE 11X in February 2013* — Linux Fest Northwest is the best show on the West Coast. Collectively and in choral harmony, I can hear all of you saying, “What about OSCON?” True, OSCON is the biggest of the West Coast shows, bringing out all the big guns, both in FOSS personalities as well as in software and hardware. There are many excellent presentations offered every year at OSCON, however with the show growing to the commercial entity that it has become, there’s a slickness to it that has a tendency to leave many visitors adrift in a vast sea of marketing.

Not so Linux Fest Northwest: It’s in its 11th year in Bellingham, Washington — essentially Microsoft’s backyard — and from the ground up it an all-community affair, completely run with a volunteer staff that puts on an outstanding show on what seems to be the Pacific Northwest’s best weekend of weather. The classrooms at Bellingham Technical College are ideal for presentations and the expo floor is big enough to be interesting but small enough not to be too overwhelming.

I’ll be presenting on Saturday morning — Greg DeKoenigsberg and I switched times so he could give his presentation on Sunday — on “An Intro to CrunchBang” in Haskell 103. Be there or be square. Also there’s a CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup on Sunday morning as well. The CrunchBang booth — which will also feature some ZaReason hardware — will be in the center of the room diagonally across from where the raffle will take place.

So if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you should head over to Linux Fest Northwest. You can sign up at the LFNW link above (it’s free, but you have to sign up for a badge), and head over to the show.

See you there.

*Truth in advertising: I have a vested interest in SCALE since I’m the publicity chair. But even if I wasn’t, I’d still think SCALE is the best show on the West Coast. Frankly, I think it’s the best show in the hemisphere and I’m beyond proud to be a part of it.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions  in the small business and home office environment.)

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A tale of two fests

April 3, 2012 3 comments

There seems to be a lot of traffic on social media around some of the Linux events later in the year. Clearly, there’s no harm in getting a head start on things, but it’s probably a good idea to keep our eyes on what’s immediately in front of us.

There’s one coming up next weekend: Indiana LinuxFest in Indianapolis next weekend (meaning April 13-15, for those of you keeping score at home). ILF is in its second year, and this year it staged what I thought is a coup that they got Debian founder Ian Murdock to be one of the keynoters; the other, of course, is no slouch either: Amber Graner of Linaro. Add that to the usual suspects — exhibitors, a wide range of talks at various levels and some certification exams — and you have the recipe for a growing Linux show in the Hoosier state.

If you’re within a day’s ground travel (let alone a day’s air travel), ILF is a good show to attend.

Later this month, Linux Fest Northwest — next to SCALE, my favorite expo in North America — takes place in Bellingham, Wash., literally in Microsoft’s backyard. LFNW is part of the West Coast’s “triple crown” in Linux events, the others being the Southern California Linux Expo at the beginning of the year and OSCON in the summer, and now in its 11th year, it has been a testament to how community-based FOSS events can flourish. Plus, the Pacific Northwest is fantastic in April.

Get to either, or both, if you can.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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What I do

February 23, 2012 3 comments

Yesterday started out in uncharacteristically annoying fashion and, to be honest, I was counting on it to make a thrilling comeback to become a typically normal day sometime before mid-afternoon.

No such luck.

One of the several things that made it a day to shake one’s head at and try to forget as soon as it’s over is a form letter I got from the Linux Foundation rejecting my request to attend the Collaboration Summit. “If you would like us to reconsider our decision, please email us at and provide more specific details about your job function and why you would like to attend.”

Email? Oh, I’ll do one better, Linux Foundation.

In reality, Linux Foundation, if you think that there are others more worthy than me to attend the Collaboration Summit, I’m completely OK with that. Additionally, not going to the Collaboration Summit — as much as I’d like to attend — allows me to rearrange time that I can put toward attending another Linux event elsewhere in the country.

But here’s why I think I should be allowed to attend the Collaboration Summit, and I’d be grateful if you’d keep this in mind for future applications for other Linux Foundation events.

I started using Linux in 2006 — the PowerPC version of Debian on an Indigo iMac G3 — while campaigning for Insurance Commissioner in California as the Green Party candidate. You can blame Cameron Spitzer, then the Greens’ IT guy, for showing me Linux and the Free/Open Source Software paradigm.

Since the end of that campaign where I just missed being elected by a paltry 47 percent of the electorate, I have been an advocate for Linux and FOSS. I formed the Cabrillo College GNU/Linux Users Group in 2007 while attending school there. In 2008, I organized an event called Lindependence in Felton, California, where the town had three opportunities in July of that year to try out Linux. We gave away 300 live CDs of various distros in the course of the month and we estimate that we could have converted between 30-40 people to the ranks of the Linux users.

The offshoot of Lindependence — the Felton Linux Users Group — thrives in our area, and is a regular attendee at farmers markets in the Santa Cruz County area, providing “organic software” free of proprietary additives and preservatives.

In 2009, I formed a partnership that became Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy providing Linux and FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. Our client roster is small — an asbestos abatement company, two restaurants, an electrical contractor and a grocery store — so we don’t pull in Gatesian or Jobsian numbers on our ledger. But we do OK.

There are other things I do on behalf of Linux: I’m the publicity co-chair for the Southern California Linux Expo, the largest community-run Linux show in the country. I held what others (not me) describe as a “leadership position” in the Fedora Project, including serving as an Ambassador mentor. These days, I primarily work with a distro called CrunchBang, a Debian derivative, which I find provides the best Linux experience for any user choosing to try it.

I also write this blog, “Larry the Free Software Guy,” and its distro-specific sibling, “Larry the CrunchBang Guy.” The former is commentary on FOSS issues of the day, written with what I hope is always a high degree of insight and humor.

That may not be enough, but that will have to do. I also have a family — my daughter, now 14, has been giving Linux presentations for two years as well — and a full-time job, so I make no apologies if this does not clear the proverbial high bar set for Collaboration Summit admission.

Again, I don’t mind if you want to give the pass to the summit to someone you think is more deserving — and there are thousands of folks out there in the FOSS world who are more deserving than me. I get that, and I would completely agree. But you should know that I’m not your standard-issue casual Linux user, either.

Oh, and one more thing, Linux Foundation: Thanks for all the great work you do.

[EPILOGUE: The address events@linuxfoundation.org -- which is included in the email sent with the rejection as a link at which to appeal the Linux Foundation's decision -- does not work, and I have the bounced e-mails to prove it. Is it events@linuxfoundation.COM maybe? Maybe.]

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Not a normal week

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Last week up to today, which is still Tuesday in most parts of the world, had not been the most normal of weeks. First, I was busier than I have been in the past with a lot of different things, both digital and non. This is not a complaint — certainly in the face of having two ZaReason laptops to review, and putting new, fast hardware through its paces when you’re at your busiest is something that is a plus.

I’ll get to the reviews — yeah, I swore them off after the last one I did for ZaReason, but these will be the last . . . honest — a little later this week. There will be two by both me and my daughter Mimi, for a grand total of four. Watch this space.

This past week had some pretty interesting developments, like

Robyn Bergeron, trivia question: So here’s the question that will come up in various conversations way in the future — “Who was the first female lead of a major Linux distribution?” That, of course, would be Robyn Bergeron, who was given the nod to replace Jared Smith as the Fedora Project Leader. Not only does Fedora make history, but the project puts itself in incredibly capable hands with the new leader. Congratulations, Robyn.

Rumors of Kubuntu’s death . . . : OK, here’s the story. Listen closely: Canonical dropped funding for Kubuntu a few days ago, but that does not mean, as some bloggers have wrongfully stated, that the distro is dead. On the contrary; apparently it’s going to be treated in the same way as Xubuntu, Lubuntu and the other official ‘buntus. I understand that Kubuntu developers are going to meet and discuss this at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Oakland in May. If you’re a Kubuntu user or have thought about contributing back to the project, now would be a good time to do so.

Coming tomorrow
: LibreOffice 3.5 gets its official release tomorrow, Feb. 8. The latest release candidate is already available from the Document Foundation — go get it, either today while it’s still hot from the oven, or tomorrow when it’s ready.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Hello, I must be going

February 1, 2012 1 comment

It’s a very busy week among with redwoods in Felton, not the least of which had a Monday visit from the UPS delivery guy with two — count ‘em, two — ZaReason laptops to test. Sadly, that’s not the biggest reason that I’m busy — a new refrigerator comes today and we’ve had to carve a path from the door to the kitchen to get it in the house (though, interestingly, the refrigerator is by a window we can take out . . . hmmm), adjusting furniture to make a clear path. Oh, and I’m starting the media machine going for Linux Fest Northwest — you’ll be hearing a lot more about that as time goes on.

Therefore, in the words sung by the immortal Groucho Marx, “Hello, I must be going . . . .”

But before I do — you didn’t think you’d get away that easy, did you? — a couple of things:

Open palm, insert face: I haven’t had a chance to weigh in on Canonical’s new HUD, the (ahem) Head-Up Display — head-up what, exactly, is something you’ll have to determine for yourself. Without going into detail, I don’t see it as progress or innovation if I have to type something in a field where previously I had to just click on an icon. Maybe Steve, er, Mark Shuttleworth does, but it wouldn’t be the first time he and I have disagreed (incidentally, I’d like someday to agree with something Mark does. Maybe someday). What’s next, the progress or innovation of using a green monochrome screen? I’ll try it — HUD, not the monochrome screen — but from the looks of it, it doesn’t deserve the “oohs” and “aahs” it’s been getting — maybe a disengaged “hmmm” at the most. But we’ll see.

All work and no play: As mentioned earlier, ZaReason sent me a pair of laptops — the Alto 3880 and the Strata 6880 — to put through their paces and give them a review. I was going to swear off reviews after the last one I did, but I reconsidered. They’re currently running Linux Mint with the MATE desktop — very interesting — and there’s a better than excellent chance we’ll have Fedora, CrunchBang and other distros on the HDs before the week is out. Plus, as a bonus, my daughter Mimi is also going to give a review of the laptops as well, since she’s using the one I’m not using, and when she’s done with it we’ll swap laptops. These reviews come sometime next week, probably around Wednesdayish.

Ruh roh: Time to bring a refrigerator up a flight of stairs.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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