BarCampMilwaukee, Part One: The Saturday Sessions

Yesterday, I said BarCampMilwaukee was “an experience like no other.” Today, I’ll begin a series of (possibly lengthy) posts that will try to pass that experience on to those of you who missed it. I’m seeing this as a 4-part post, covering the “formal” part of the unconference, some relevant stories, some of the people I met, and some lessons learned.

Based on this weekend, I heartily recommend the BarCamp experience. If there’s one happening in your neighborhood next weekend, GO! It’ll be fun! … and so, on with the Show!

The Sessions

At first, we all gathered in the big main warehouse room and introduced ourselves. There were too many of us for everyone to hear what each of us had to say, as the only microphone we had was plugged into the video camera. But it was a useful exercise, anyway. We got our marching orders from the core organizers (Pete P, Bob D, James & Tegan, and perhaps some others I’m forgetting), and then had lunch.  There was some awesome chili, a great tuna salad and mounds of other great stuff. I brought some store-bought deli taco dip and a 12-pack of Water Joe caffeinated water, which the campers drank right up. Then we started in earnest.

You can find a list of all the sessions here. I will just tell you about the ones I saw.

Ruby on Rails

This was a great presentation, with a trio of developers discussing the still-hot, but not-so-new-anymore web development framework. One pair of guys showed the basic RoR model, and explained the ease of install via RubyGems, a CPAN-like repository of all things Ruby. Another guy outlined the process involved in creating his AJAX-based dictionary-lookup tool created in Rails the night before. Way cool!

Intro to Drupal

Blake from Madison works for the nonprofit org that puts on the Badger State Games, and has become deeply into the Drupal content management system. I can clearly see why! This really is an awesome thing, that I’ve been meaning to play with — and now I’m really ready to.

Blake said that while the install was not especially intuitive, the power of Drupal is worth it for many reasons. WIth a GUI installer and assorted other usability features planned for v5.0 (due for release in a few months), it will almost become a no-brainer for folks to adopt the system. Unfortunately, the advanced Drupal session conflicted with my own, so I couldn’t go. But you’ll see more about Drupal as I experiment with it down the road.

Flat World

This session started out with stories from the presenters on the telework lifestyle, and moved quickly into a more theoretical discussion of the “flat world” idea related to the global digital divide. It was interesting as far as it went, but no conclusions were drawn.

A Brief History of Desktop Linux

I was deeply grateful that my session was scheduled early. It allowed me to be not quite so obsessive and nervous. It also meant I was reasonably well-rested at that point! We had maybe 10 people in attendance, and while it was readily apparent that the presenter was not a professional speaker, he wasn’t entirely worthless. We (as a group) even persuaded one person to install Linux on his laptop! That’s a story to be saved for later, however (tease, tease).

Linux Multimedia Studio

If you’re following along with the wiki schedule, you’ll find an error. History was at 4, and Multimedia at 5 — in the same room. And if I’d known that Eric was going to follow me with his GNOME desktop projected on the screen, it would have been better (but enough kvetching). Eric Howland works with DaneNet, another non-profit working on the Digital Divide in Madison. One of the things they’re trying to do is get musical tools into the hands of folks who think they’re out of luck when it comes to the music business. If you think you need ProTools to make samples and loops, and since ProTools isn’t exactly affordable for minimum-wage workers, you might think it’s a hopeless dream. But open-source tools can help to bridge the gap, as Eric demonstrated.

I got a good look (and listen) at LMMS, a relatively new GNOME-based clone of the Windows “Fruity Loops” package. What an amazing thing! We built songs, added instruments, messed with all sorts of levels and buttons. Eric also demonstrated the Linux drum machine, Hydrogen. Much fun!

After a fine pizza dinner, there were still more sessions!

Our Sci-Fi Like Future

This session began as a discussion of the recent Pew Internet survey, the Future of the Internet II. Some interesting stuff, here. But, as so often happens in the more theoretical/speculative venues, people decided they wanted to talk about the possibilities and potentials for “virtual government” existing alongside “geographic government” and having power over the networked world. This was discussed further on Sunday, but I missed it.

The study is interesting in and of itself, though. It’s definitely fodder for a future post.

NonProfits and Technology

A great session, if slightly disorganized. This began inauspiciously, as two sets of people started having conversations while “waiting for the session to begin.” Suddenly one group realized the other had already “begun the session,” and moved over. By the time introductions were complete, the allotted hour was done too. So most, if not quite all, of us moved to the second floor to a big light table to continue the discussion. We outlined and diagrammed ideas for promoting technology to our clientele and/or bridging the Digital Divide (sensing a theme yet?). Some great ideas, and I hope we can pull the group together again at some later date to explore this further.

And that’s BarCamp Saturday. There’s much more to tell, starting with the Mini-Mashup and concluding with The One Session That Had Nothing To Do With Anything Else. Stay tuned….

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Yet Another (mostly) Successful Install

Well, friends, we are now running SUSE Linux 10.1 on the production (that is, the writing) machine. As always, it took a little longer than expected, and things aren’t perfect yet (more on that later), but overall it wasn’t a bad experience.

As you may recall from the last post, it was looking like a big indoor weekend. I had nearly forgotten, though, that the aging Chevy (a ’97 Cavalier) had to pass its emissions test by the end of the month, or we were all going to be in trouble. So we did that on Saturday morning (passed with flying colors), and caught a bit of the Fox Baseball Game of the Week (White Sox coming from 4 runs behind to beat the Astros). The 10.2 alpha was almost completely downloaded by then, so I held off on the install till Sunday.

The install (well, I opted for the upgrade for simplicity’s sake) was surprisingly uneventful. With a few interruptions, it just took a couple hours. Fairly straightforward, with just one hiccup: I had made the sixth non-OSS (Java, RealPlayer, etc.) CD and told YaST to include it in the install. Semi-surprisingly, after finishing installing packages from the first CD, it asked for CD 6.  No problem, of course, but when it finished installing those packages, it asked again for CD 1 — and failed to recognize it! After several Retries, I told YaST to Skip it, and the machine rebooted. This was not entirely unexpected, but made me a little nervous as I hoped/prayed it would recognize the install CD again. It did! Yay!

The only other problem I had with the install itself is one I’ve gotten used to: As has been consistent ever since I got DSL, YaST never seems to recognize the Net connection in the install, but never missed a beat when, upon logging in as plain-ol-user, the browsers checked in normally.  I can live with this.

Two problems persist that are not livable, however. One is well-known (the new ZenUpdater based on Ximian Red Carpet), the other unbelievably annoying, but more specific to my system. Now enshrined as Bug 16603, we’re hoping for a quicker resolution. You see, since SUSE 10.0, this box has been silent — not a sound out of it. Sound is located on my Asus K8V 64-bit motherboard.  Never had a problem with 9.3, nor on the Dark Side of the Box. Progress was made diagnostically in 10.1 when YaST recognized, but didn’t configure the card. A manual configuration attempt reported that the kernel module couldn’t be loaded. A couple of suggestions have been made, no positive results yet, in part because Zen wants to — but can’t — update the ALSA packages. And isn’t that a cute segue into my Zen report?

I have very high hopes for ZenUpdater, because this is the first SUSE tool that attempts to keep my whole system current. I’ve always loved that YaST pushed security updates down to us users in short order. But for a long time when I first used SUSE, I thought it was updating EVERYTHING. This illusion stemmed from having apt in my first distro (Corel — now Xandros — Linux). So I really hope it works, but it clearly isn’t there yet.

Once I got the system updated, I tried getting ZenUpdater 1.1 installed, as recommended at OpenSUSE. I got a server selected, but had no updates. Then I reviewed some of the chatter on the mailing lists; somebody recommended trying to get another server. That worked, and I got the new version of ZenUpdater. Joy! Last night, I got a bunch of stuff installed, and thought we maybe got lucky. Until this morning, when Zen told me it had 24 updates waiting — and wouldn’t install them! The progress bar would get up to 48% and die. It would then reassemble the list of updates, and tell me either “package X was already installed” or “the updater was already running.” No joy.

So we’ll see what tomorrow brings. Perhaps ALSA really should be updated, maybe not. And we continue to anticipate the Eclipse Callisto release on Friday — maybe that’s why it’s not in a YaST repository yet!

Meanwhile, I gotta tell you I really enjoyed the Rick Wakeman gig Saturday night. Milwaukee was the last gig on his “Piano Tour” (postponed, actually, from April) Wakeman performed with just a grand piano and a microphone, as he told genuinely funny stories (that he did not seem tired of telling, BTW) about his career. Some great songs were served up (including “Morning Has Broken” — did you know that was him tickling the ivories on the Cat Stevens hit? I sure didn’t!), and it was just entertaining. Now I can fully anticipate seeing Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint Thursday night — that will be something!

Big Weekend Planned

Oh, what a geek I can be. It’s summer in Milwaukee, there’s a big Polish festival to warm up the lakefront park for Summerfest and a Summer Soulstice festival on the hip-n-trendy east side. So what have I got planned? I’m installing operating systems!

Despite all the hue and cry about the failures and weaknesses of the Zen-Updater system in SUSE 10.1, I’m feeling like I’m ready to put it on my production system now. I also promised a friend who loaned me his machine as an emergency test system last September that I would put SUSE on that system when I was done. I’m thinking it’s about time I do that.

Oh, and just to add some spice to the mix, I’m also going to try installing SUSE 10.2 Alpha 1 on my real test machine. But first, I have to download that. And what better way to test the new BitTorrent client in Opera 9.0? So that’s what I’m doing, right now, as I type. The torrent appears like any other Opera download, in a separate transfer window, except it has an upload speed along with a download speed. The Alpha install may have to wait, though. Right now, with just a few other folks connected, Opera tells me it might be a couple days before this puppy is all the way here.

This is not to say I’ll just be staring at my monitor all weekend. In between swapping CDs, I’ll catch some 2nd round World Cup action. And I get to see has-been rock star Rick Wakeman (from Yes), who’s in town Saturday to perform with local prog-rock guitar legend Daryl Stuermer. While I’m going mostly to humor The Love of My Life, I’ll probably manage to have some fun too.

Wish me luck on getting all this done. Full report upon completion.