LugRadio Live 2008 reviewed

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LugRadio Live 2008 pictures

Last Saturday I went to what was billed as the last ever LugRadio performance. LugRadio is (or rather was) a podcast produced by the Wolverhampton Linux Users’ Group, and since 2005 they have been putting on a live show every year. I have been to all of them except last year’s. Of course, they make a conference out of it, inviting various speakers over the years who have included Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Ubuntu), Bill Thompson from the BBC, Jeremy Allison (originator of Samba, which allows Windows file shares to be used from Linux) and representatives of Sony and even Microsoft. This year I decided to go as it was the last ever; I only went to the first day, as I didn’t think I could afford a room for the night (even if I could get one at short notice).

I got there just after midday, so I missed the first hour, and turned up ten minutes late at Emma Jane Hogbin’s talk “Form an Orderly Queue, Ladies” (she gave a similar talk at the LugRadio event in San Francisco a few months ago, and there’s a video of it here), which was all about making Linux and open source generally appeal to women. When I got there she was going through the “HOWTO encourage female participation”, which she summarised as “don’t be a dick, do encourage participation”. She went on to describe her HICKteck conference (a rural technology conference in Canada) in which she managed to get women as half, or almost half, of the speakers, and suggested that the culture should move towards attracting older people and those with craft interests (the latter especially tend to be female). All very interesting stuff, but there was an assumption that male behaviour was what pushed women away, or even a perception of it as unfeminine, rather than simple lack of interest in technology, other than as end users, among women and particularly females of school and college age. The elephant in the room, of course, was that there were no other female speakers on the bill that day, which means none actually giving a talk about a topic other then including women in open source; I found the repeated use of the word “vagina” to mean “woman” off-putting. It is derogatory to refer to people as sexual organs, male or female.

Next I went to hear Jeremy Allison give an hour-long talk on Samba, which described the origins of the software back in the early 1990s and the various battles with Microsoft and the chancers who tried to sell their code, even though it was open and free, to a big Unix vendor in California, through to the more recent patent issues. Very informative, no surprises. Next I saw Robert Collins who spoke on Bazaar, the distributed source code management system, which was of great interest to me as I’ve recently started using a similar program to manage some software I develop. He showed us how easy it was to import and commit code to a Bazaar-based repository (not very well, as he chose Mozilla, which has a huge number of files, rather than a smaller one which might have been more suitable for the demonstration). The first two questions involved comparisons with other distributed source code management systems, namely Git and Mercurial, which I use. On the latter, he said that at a recent conference he had come across many people whose projects used Git and Bazaar but only two using Mercurial, which is surprising since Mozilla, Java, NetBeans, ALSA (the Linux sound system) and Dovecot (the web server) use Mercurial. He also brought up the issue of the manner of encoding filenames in Mercurial repositories making it clash with a filename size limit in Windows, but since the problem involves the encoding of capital letters as two characters, there is a good chance that most projects will not run up against it unless they really have long filenames with lots of capital letters in them, and most do not. Admittedly it’s a problem and should be fixed, and probably will be before long, but for most projects it is not a show-stopper.

Finally, there was the live show. This is my third LugRadio; I saw the shows in 2005 and 2006 but not last year, and I reviewed both the shows I saw (2005, 2006), and this show was one of the good ones - good natured, a lot of on-topic content, a bit more mature than the 2005 show (well, the guys are older after all, and one or two of the original presenters have gone). There was a discussion of what might give open source a big break, and of the finest moments in the history of LugRadio, and awards (fluffy penguins) for the people who had come furthest (I think someone from New Zealand got it in the end) and for people who had helped make the show possible. The only thing which spoiled it was that the sound did not reach the back of the audience very well, and behind them were exhibitors clearing up, and talking, so anyone with less than perfect hearing could not hear what the presenters were saying very well because of the echoes and background noise. I suggested having another Live even if the monthly podcasts were to end, which went down very well with the audience. Perhaps, if there’s a next time, they could have speaker units further back as well as right at the front; perhaps they could also have the exhbitors clear up about twenty minutes after the Live show finishes, so people can do some last minute book buying before heading home.

Finally, I must say something about the venue, which was in something called the Lighthouse, which is an exhibition hall with a couple of small cinemas (which doubled as lecture theatres for this event). The Atrium, where the live show, some of the talks and the exhibitions were, is marvellous - a cobble-floored, glass-roofted building which is very well-lit (on a good day at least) and a well-used bit of fine Victorian industrial architecture. All in all, I very much enjoyed my day and I’m glad I went; despite the criticisms I’ve made of LugRadio in the past, there is nothing really to match it, which does not mean nobody could, just that nobody has. Linux Outlaws, who had a stall at this event, got a very positive write-up in a group survey in Linux Format last autumn, so perhaps they will pick up the baton, and maybe next year we’ll have a live event from them instead. Given their theme, I suggest calling it the “Open Rodeo”.

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