I previously forgot to mention that I was planning to attend DebConf14, having missed DebConf13. This year the conference was held in Portland, OR. This is a city I’ve been to many times before, and enjoy, but I hadn’t spent any time wandering around its city centre as a pedestrian. I have to say I really prefer DebConfs that are held in middle of city. It always seems a bit of a shame to travel some distance to somewhere new and spend all the time there in a conference venue. Plus these days I have the added lure of going out and playing Ingress in a new location. DebConf14 didn’t disappoint in these respects; the location was super easy to get to from the airport via public transportation, all of the evening social events were within reasonable walking distance (I’ll tend to default to walking when possible) and the talk venue/accommodation were close to each other and various eating + drinking options. Throw in the fact at Portland managed to produce some excellent weather (modulo my Ingress session on the last Saturday morning, when rained on me) and it’s impossible to fault the physicalities of DebConf this year.
This year the conference format was a bit different; previous years have had a week long DebConf before the week of the conference itself. This year went for a 9 day talk schedule (Saturday -> Sunday) with various gaps of hacking time interspersed. I’ve found it hard to justify a full two weeks away in the past, so this setup worked a lot better from my viewpoint. Also I rarely go to DebConf with a predetermined list of things to do; the stuff I work on naturally falls out of talks I attend and informal discussions I have. Having hack time throughout the conference helped me avoid feeling I was having to trade off hacking vs talks.
Naturally enough a lot of my involvement at DebConf was around OpenPGP. Gunnar and I spent a fair bit of time getting Daniel up to speed with the keyring-maint team (Gunnar more than I, I’ll confess). We finally set a hard timeframe for freeing Debian of older 1024 bit keys. I was introduced to the Gnuk, which is a particularly interesting piece of open specification hardware with a completely Free software stack on top if it that implements the OpenPGP smartcard spec. Currently it’s limited to 2K keys but it’s hoped that 4K support can be added (and I ended up spending a couple of hours after the closing talk hacking on the source and seeing how much needs to change for 4K support, aided by the very patient Niibe). These are the sort of things that really benefit from the face time that DebConf offers to the Debian project. I’ve said it before, but I think it’s worth saying again: Debian is a bit like a huge telecommuting organization and it’s my opinion that any such organization should try and ensure its members actually spend some time together on a regular basis. It improves the ability to work remotely a hell of a lot if you can actually put a face to the entity you’re emailing / IRCing and have some sort of idea where they’re coming from because you’ve spent some time with them, whether that’s in talks or over dinner or just casual hallway chats.
For once I also found myself considering alternative employment while at DebConf and it was incredibly useful to be able to have various conversations with both old friends and people who were there with an eye on recruitment. Thanks to all those whose ears I bent about the subject (and more on the outcome in a future post). Thank you also to the many people involved with the organization of DebConf; I’ve been on the periphery a few times over the years and it’s given me a glimpse into the amount of hard work all of the volunteers (be they global team, local organizing team, video team or just random volunteers) put into making DebConf one of my must-attend yearly conferences. If you’re at all involved in Debian and haven’t attended I strongly urge you to do so - I’ll see you all next year at DebConf15 in Heidelberg!