Gran Canaria wrap-up 3: Day 1

3:03 pm gnome, guadec

Saturday morning, dragged my sorry ass out of bed to get to the conference hall for 9am. Shared a taxi with Stormy & Behdad, got my badge, met the keynotes (except Richard, who I was told would be arriving later), briefed them on how the morning was going to go down. I had some hastily written introductions for each of the keynotes I wrote around 2.30 the night before, after Stormy told me that it looked like I was going to be introducing people.

The opening got underway at 10:00, and kept good time. The local politicians who wanted to show their support and excitement without getting in the way did a fine job. Thank you very much to the Cabildo, the high school and the university for having us.

I introduced and attended all the keynote sessions, I was particularly impressed with Robert Lefkowitz‘s (better known as r0ml) presentation, although I would have liked to hear the end of his argument (I got a chance to get the main details later, and I like it). As I said in his introduction, Robert never tires of teaching us that the ideas which we consider radical and revolutionary now were also radical and revolutionary centuries ago. In this case, Robert was arguing that software development was more liberal art than production, and thus as a liberal art, it is something which people should learn merely for the enjoyment of the pursuit. In his words, liberal software is software which a gentleman would use. The continuation of the argument is thus that liberal software is more like reading and writing than brain surgery, and thus in time, everyone should learn the basics of programming, since it will be just another way of expressing oneself. He also mentioned an aside that since liberal, unlike “free” or “open” is a gradient rather than an absolute, it is possible for software to be more or less liberal than other software, with some unusual conclusions.

The second keynote, Walter Bender, former president of One Laptop per Child, and current executive director of Sugar Labs, presented his vision for educational software, which was the really revolutionary part of the OLPC project, and his continued pursuit of that vision through Sugar Labs. A cause worthy of our support.

Half way through Walter’s presentation, I was getting a little worried that I had not yet seen Richard. So I got up, and asked around, I was informed that he was here, in the building somewhere, and would be in the auditorium 5 minutes before it was time for him to start. The problem is that I didn’t know where he was, and hadn’t yet met him.

Later in the presentation,Walter was coming to the end of his planned slides rather earlier than had been planned, so I asked a local organiser to find Richard and get him to the auditorium ASAP. In the end, Walter demonstrated some of the Squeak tools on the Sugar system, and even ran a little over time. Not knowing what to do, I thanked him for his presentation, and told the masses that Richard was around somewhere, and that we would get him ASAP. Unfortunately, a significant number of people took this to mean that there was a break, and started leaving the auditorium, around the same time that Richard entered, from stage right, apparently unaware that I had been frantically trying to get him to the hall.

Anyway, after introductions, Richard Stallman started his presentation, with people still coming back into the hall. After an overview of the four tenets of free software, he gave a history lesson of the origins of GNOME, and a warning about the dangers of Mono, before his Saint Ignucius segment which has garnered so much attention, and the auctioning of a gnu (benefits to the Free Software Foundation) for €150 if memory serves, and some rather heated Q&A.

After that, Richard went for a press conference, and I went to lunch with our other invited guests to a very nice tapas place near the beach.

In the afternoon, Quim Gil of Nokia presented the future of the Maemo project, a future closely coupled to GNOME technology, but whose face will be QT from Maemo 6 onwards.

I was in the press room for some press conferences and interviews for the rest of the afternoon, but before leaving I had a funny story at the start of the lightning talks where my laptop, which Quim had borrowed for his presentation, and which I left there for the lightning talks, didn’t appear to be working any more, and in spite of frantic xrandr manipulations, we could not get the screensaver off the big screen.

The organisers finally realised what was going on, and turned off the screensaver, which was in the projector. This is particularly funny because, after the first lightning talk finished, the technician once again put the screensaver up, and the person running the lightning talks (sorry Mr. “Buried in the Sand” Mexican, I can’t remember your name) wasn’t aware of what had gone before,  causing him to think my laptop was broken. More xrandr/frantic hand-waving/laptop changing followed, before the technician once again removed the screensaver. I believe we got to the 3rd presentation before he realised that we didn’t want the screensaver between 5 minute presentations. It’s moments like those that make you realise the importance of talking to the A/V technicians beforehand so that hand signals and instructions are known to all concerned.

One person remarked that this kind of story is typical of free software hackers – while other people arriving to give presentations go talk to the organisers and say “here, I am in your hands, instruct me”, we want to use our own laptops, record our own video, and in general master and change our environment.

Anyway, after the conference, I headed out to dinner with Karen Sandler, Walter, r0ml and some other people we met on the way to look for a very nice place I had eaten in with Vincent, Claudia, Will and Sebas when scouting the place in December. Unfortunately, my well placed intentions were not matched by a sense of direction and good memory, but we ended up in a very nice grill place where we had also eaten in December. Nice wine & food was had, interspersed with funny and tragic stories (sometimes both at the same time), capped off by some very nice rum, offered by the establishment.

Beers near the beach, followed by some later beers with Matt Garrett and others (what happens in Gran Canaria stays in Gran Canaria) crowned off a choc-a-block day that ended around 2am.

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