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>> Best speakers I've seen

Sat, Dec 6th 4:16pm 2008 >> Conferences

The reason I started doing conference talks was that I was really bad at it and wanted to become slightly less bad. I've spent a lot of time studying the best speakers I could find: how (or if) they do slides, how they interact with the audience, the structure of their talks, their intonation and the language they use, their timing, everything. Sitting in Tridge's keynote at OSDC in Sydney yesterday morning half my attention was on the subject of his talk and half was on the way in which he was delivering it, and I started thinking about the great speakers I've seen over the years.

Some speakers are so good that it doesn't matter in the slightest if I'm interested in their topic or not, I'll go and see them just to enjoy the experience.

So, applying the "would I go to watch them talk about random subject $foo that I'm not interested in" criteria, and in no particular order, some of my favorite speakers of all time are:

Andrew Tridgell
Eben Moglen
Anthony Baxter
Paul Fenwick
Rusty Russell
Damian Conway
Bruce Schneier
Dick Hardt

I'm sure I've forgotten a couple.

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>> Free at last!

Fri, Jul 27th 5:54am 2007 >> Conferences

Doing presentations at a conference is a huge mental/emotional drain, and no matter how much I resolve that I'm going to be prepared well in advance I don't think I've ever in my life done a talk where the slides didn't have tweaks within the 2 hours or so prior to the talk itself. Most of the time the final tweaks are in the 5 minutes prior: after connecting the laptop to the projector, but before actually starting. So the moment at a conference where my last talk is finished is a huge relief. It signifies the time I can look at the conf program and actually figure out what sessions I want to see, instead of being stuck in a corner fretting. And now I'm finished. In Mark's famous words, I'm freeeeeeeeee! Lots of cool peeps here that I haven't seen for a while. Even Quinn turned up to do her body-modding talk - it wasn't on the original program, it seems she was pulled in to fill a slot.

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>> Feeling spaced-out at OSCON

Tue, Jul 24th 12:26pm 2007 >> Conferences

Well, I made it, and just in time. I turned up at the airport for my flight and got as far as checking in my luggage and being issued a boarding pass, only to find that the flight was cancelled because Melbourne was totally fogged in. The plane that was meant to be used for my flight had come down from Sydney and couldn't land so it turned around and headed back to Sydney again - I bet those passengers weren't happy campers! So the best United could do was tell me to go home and they'd let me know when they could arrange a seat on another flight. Next day they had a seat for me so off I went again, and about 26 hours of travelling later I made it to Portland just in time to check in, grab some sleep, and get up early to deliver my tutorial feeling like death warmed up: my tutorial started at 8:30am local time which put it at 3:30am Melbourne time. I think I was only lucid for about half of it but the participants were great and I think it still worked out OK in the end. I'm really hoping that the tutorial will just be the start of it for a bunch of people and we'll be able to get lots of code submissions, ideas, project descriptions and stuff up on the Real World / Second Life Integration site. I've already bumped into quite a few familiar faces and caught up with people I haven't seen for ages, but the nausea and universe-is-out-of-kilter feeling got the better of me so I popped off to the hotel again for a nap in the afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be sailing on an even keel.

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>> Hi ho, hi ho, it's home from foo we go

Wed, Feb 7th 9:58am 2007 >> Conferences

I got back from Kiwi Foo on Monday night with a head overflowing with crazy and cool ideas. For the record: if you ever get a chance to attend [Foo|Baa|Bar] camp, do it. It'll probably come close to the top of the list of most amazing experiences of your life. Just go in with an open mind and a willingness to talk to lots of random people about a wide variety of topics that may not normally be in your care-zone, because you never know where an apparently irrelevant session or line of conversation may lead. Something I've noticed out of LCA this year and Baa camp though is that I blog the least at exactly the times that the most interesting things are going on. Blogs are quick and easy to update but when you're in a pressure-cooker environment and ideas are flying around it's just too much of a pain to fire up a machine, find some net and spend ten minutes writing things up. Maybe we need to go even more fine-grained: some mechanism to get simple thoughts down really quickly, maybe only 1 or 2 sentences, without having to open a browser and find webtone. I'm sure it's been done before, but maybe blogging by SMS would be worth a look.

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>> Post LCA recovery

Thu, Jan 25th 2:30pm 2007 >> Conferences
Post LCA recovery
LCA totally zonked me out this year. It was a fantastic conf and I had a lot of fun, but so much happens in such a short space of time that it really saps the energy out of you. And since it's such a great opportunity to actually talk face-to-face with people who normally only exist at the other end of an email that I ended up going to bed pretty late most nights.

This year I very deliberately didn't check email for the entire time I was away so firing up Evo after I got back was a bit of a shock too. It took me about 3 days to work through the most immediate backlog of messages but I'm just about caught up now. Only a couple of hundred left unread, which is pretty good for me!

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>> Speakers for Debian Miniconf 6?

Sat, Jan 13th 2:57pm 2007 >> Conferences
Speakers for Debian Miniconf 6?
Just before LCA2005 I had a nightmare. In the nightmare I got up at the start of the Debian Miniconf, thanked everybody for coming, and then realised I'd forgotten to arrange any speakers. 100 expectant faces, 2 days with a totally empty program, and wanting the floor to swallow me up. I've managed to avoid that fate for every Debian Miniconf so far, but with Miniconf 6 just a couple of days away I still have big holes in the second day of the program. I've asked, begged, cajoled, and threatened, but it looks like I may have to do about 4 hours of talks myself. Not that I'm averse to that sort of thing but it'd be more interesting if there was some variety! Actually, I've just realised the problem. Every year previously I've used the standard threat of doing a talk about making truffles and building picket fences if I didn't get enough speakers, but this year I'm actually including a picket fence in my talk in the main conference (really!) so I didn't roll out that threat. Doh! Maybe we should use the spare time for a mini Debcamp? Or just wing it and see if people are inspired at the last minute? The Mini Distro Summit thingie could create a lot of spin-off topics, that's for sure. In any case it'll be a rocking miniconf so come along and see what mystery speakers will be appearing! Of course offers of talks will be read with a great deal of interest ;-)

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>> AUUG conf: Google Maps

Thu, Oct 12th 5:42pm 2006 >> Conferences

The opening keynote by Lars Rasmussen (head of the Google Maps team) was very interesting. He answered a couple of questions that have been bugging me for a while.

For example, how they manage to get square tiles out of the surface of a sphere, and no matter how far you move the tiles are still perfectly square.

Imagine you're looking down at a square km of the Earth's surface, then you move your view in 1km square steps for 1000km to the East. Each adjacent tile still has 1km edges, and if you then went another 1000km North, then 1000km West, then 1000km South, you'd end up back at your point of origin. But when you're in the North-East corner of your trip the Earth has theoretically curved away from you, right? Unless the plane of the tile was changing each time, but then the edges wouldn't be perfectly square. So the tile should be suffering severe distortion after 1000km displacement.

Hmm, how to get around the problem?

Easy, approximate the shape of the Earth as a cube!

Well, it's not actually that simple of course but that's the starting point. Then bisect each face of the cube vertically and horizontally in a sort of double binary chop. Then bisect those, and so and. After about 20 iterations you can approximate any point on the planet down to about 1cm resolution.

Pretty obvious when it's pointed out, but I've always wondered how they did it.

Another point Lars made was the difficulty of datasource conflation. They obtain feature data from a bunch of different sources: for example, one company may provide data on lakes in a certain area, while another provides data on road locations. In some cases multiple data sources may even describe the same feature, so a decision has to be made about how to reconcile potentially contradictory data such as when the same feature is shown in different locations or when one feature (road) intersects another (lake)... (splash).

Datasource conflation can be a remarkably hard problem. I've been butting my head against it a bit recently in the very early stages of a still-secret project that will require multiple sources to be referenced for the same data. (hint: it involves modelling a complex system and generating projections based on changing input values, principally CO2).

Overall a very interesting talk. They've come up against interesting problems and solved them in equally interesting ways, which is always fun.

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>> AUUG 2006 hardware hacking talk

Wed, Oct 11th 8:12pm 2006 >> Conferences

I did the "Making Things Move: Finding Inappropriate Uses For Scripting Languages" talk at the AUUG 2006 annual conference today. The slides are up now at

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