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Inside FOSDEM

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This weekend, finally, came FOSDEM. In the shape of a tornado, sweeping us up from friday at noon to deposit us, dazed and exhausted, at the end of the week-end.

On friday afternoon, build-up. You go from A (the trash-littered rooms of the university) to B (reasonably clean set of conference rooms with the makings of a decent network).

I had fun laying reams of ethernet cables (total1,6km) under the expert direction of Gerry, the networking specialist of our team. The idea was to provide most of the rooms with good wifi, and the approach was different from other years – partly because we had the loan of some nice Cisco equipment.

I left with Jan for the Beer event, hoping for a beer and a chat before going home with Philippe, who was couchsurfing at mine’s. No such luck: the beer event was flooded with what looked like 5001000 geeks at least, crowding the bar and overflowing into 2 adjacent streets. Staff was needed to implement the Beer algorithm v3.0 (© Philippe Paeps).

On saturday morning, start at 5 o’clock in the morning to finish setting things up. Go around the devrooms to provide some audiovisual equipment (beamers and adapter cables), make sure everyone is set up. Noted in passage that Peter Saint-Andre (XMPP) has nice blue eyes and is quite friendly.

Philippe did his opening talk, and I learned about the FOSDEM dance (slight WTF) which we performed right after.

The actual conference started, and then we ran around to put out some last-minute fires. For some reason, I didn’t have a spare minute on saturday, though I would be hard-pressed to tell you what i did, exactly.

We had help from some Cisco specialists for the network, and it took some struggling (from config to broken cables) to get everything up and running. By saturday night we had good wifi in most of the rooms – people were surprised at the quality of the network.

On saturday night we (the organizing team) had dinner with the main track speakers. I sat next to Peter Anvin – developer of syslinux (I was a bit awed – every time you use a boot disk, you see his name, and here i sat next to the actual person), Alasdair Kergon from RedHat, and Matteo Meucci from OWASP. One of those times when I wished intelligence and dedication transferred through diffusion/osmosis. Apart from that, we had a nice dinner with an interesting conversation ranging over all kinds of subjects.

Sunday there was a bit of running at the start, but after that it was a bit less hectic, fortunately. I even succeeded in attending snippets of talk here and there, about embedded debian, puppet, Debian Lenny.

I must say Neil McGovern looked fetching in a kilt. The placing of the debian devroom at the top of stairs (people can walk under) might have been unfortunate, especially if the debianists in full attire go ‘true scots’ (i didn’t stay to check).

Sunday night, predictably, we had to return the campus to a state A’ (slightly cleaner than when we arrived, ready for the courses on monday). This took some cleaning (people, please don’t spill drinks, please don’t leave half-full cans of whatever lying around), some trash collection, some transporting to and fro and a lot of cable-rolling.

We were lucky to have a good number of enthousiastic volunteers to help us make this event a success. They were great. Special respect to the people who stayed from friday to sunday night – we couldn’t have done it without you.

I skipped what’s termed ‘the night of the living dead’ dinner of sunday night for a shower and bed. Sleep came instantly.

I’ve been a visitor for many years, and it was great to be part of the organizing team – to realize that with a relatively small number of people you can get such a ball rolling. The atmosphere is FOSDEM is also quite unique: people are happy to be there. There’s a spirit of conviviality which is quite unlike any commercial conference i ever attended.

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