Debconf9 photos and banter

A bit more than a week after Debconf9 ended here is a post summarising what I remember about it - for myself to look back to later, for others that were there for a good memory, for those that were not there for insight and for organisers of future Debconfs to improve.

Let's start with something most people know - I took photos, a lot of photos. The main photo naturally was the Debconf9 group photo (also and an annotated version). Please look for people that are missing their IRC nicknames. I have uploaded the best of my photos on Flickr and all good photos in full resolution on the Gallery site. All of these photos are licensed CC-BY 2.0 or 3.0 or GPL v2 or v3 (your choice).

Now about the organisation. The place reasonably easy to get to but not particularly fast or cheap - from airport to the venue it took 1 hour in metro, 3 hours in a bus or train and a half an hour walk (or 5 minutes in a taxi) for the sum of 22 € and 4.5 hours or 27€ and 4 hours one way. While we all accept the time waisted in airports, getting from the airport to the venue should be easier and cheaper than this.

While it was crazy hot outside (38-40 C) there was great air conditioning everywhere, so we did not feel the heat most of the time (except if you walked from bus/train to the venue or did the climb during the day trip). Having air conditioning in the room was a godsend - I do not think I would be able to sleep otherwise. Also free water from a drinking fountain where you could also refill your water bottle was a great touch. The rooms were great - two beds, air conditioning, bathroom, shower, desks and closets where one could unpack their things. And we did not have to move to other rooms in the middle, it allowed us to unpack and feel comfortable instead of living out of the suitcase the whole time. I'm not sure if it will be possible for future Debconfs to get rooms with only two beds, but I think that even with 4 people per room would have been fine, provided that there are enough bathrooms/showers, enough space to unpack everyone's clothes, enough sockets to charge some stuff overnight and enough WiFi coverage in rooms to get some late emails without going to the hacklab.

Which brings me to Internet and hacklabs. I must say that Internet was great this year - it was fast enough not be a major problem, it was almost everywhere (a bit more signal in the sleeping rooms would be better), it was up and running from day one of the Debcamp and it was stable through (I think there was one or two interruptions). It would be nice to see people write a blog entry about how exactly it was done. As far as I know it was very helpful to have several kilometres of CAT5 cable, several large switches and a huge amount of identical WiFi routers all flashed with OpenWRT (and then some more smaller routers also flashed with OpenWRT to plug some holes). I heard there were two Internet connections joined together and a complex firewall/transparent proxy/traffic shaper and also a local Debian mirror that was DNS-redirecting people to it from all the regular Debian mirrors people use at home. The hacklabs were also nice - when the Debcamp started the second hacklab was lacking most tables and chairs, but when those arrived there was plenty of space. Other common issues such as access to a free switch port for people without wireless and access to power sockets were also handled well and fast. It was very nice that organisers always had a few spare power strips or a spare patch cable at hand.

This year there was a siesta break in the proceedings. While it was in line with local traditions (take a several hour break during the hottest hours), it did not do much for the secondary stated reason - to get out and see the surrounding, because half of the attraction of getting out (shops and bars) were all closed during the same siesta time. IMHO we should have used the great aircon of the venue and continued the talks from mid day to 18:00 (when the siesta ends) and then make a break until dinner so that we could go out and enjoy shops and bars and historic places during a cooler time of day. If there is a break in proceedings, then it should be at the time when people are most likely to enjoy the surroundings. I doun't know the schedules in NY, but if the museums close at 18:00, then there should be a break during the day to allow people to get to those museums.

Food was there and it was there every day, but it was not particularly great. Aside from typical problems with vegetarians and vegans (even salads had pieces of meat in them), I did not find the food to be compelling most of the time. I do not like fish and there was a lot of fish. Mostly it was good fish and sometimes it was so well done that even I enjoyed eating it, but other times it was full of fish bones and/or tasteless. Too often the dinner consisted of a salad, a deep-fried piece of meat and spoonful of dry fries. It would not kill them to put more fries on the plate and have some kind of sauce for them. One thing that was great in food were the fruit deserts - apples, oranges, peaches and nectarines were fresh and juicy and then there were melons! I typically hate melons because the ones I can get in shops in Latvia are dry and bitter, but the melons here were bursting with sweet juice - heavenly stuff. In the future it would be nice if the food selection and amounts per portion could be checked and agreed upon with the caterer in advance. Also the timing should be adjusted - it is too early to end breakfast at 10:00, especially with dinner starting at 21:30 - there is way too little time to socialize with other people after dinner and then to get a decent sleep. Talks can start at 10:00, but breakfast should go up to 11! I did like the water bottles and wine jugs on the tables and the beer being served as part of the food - that was a nice touch that many people enjoyed.

The daytrip was a nice distraction in the middle of the conference - a trip to a swimming pool made from a river bed blocked by a damn with an optional hike up a mountain to a spectacular cascade of natural water pools and slides that a river has carved in the solid rock or the mountain valley. Most people did the hike - it was steep and hot and rocky, but the payout (the water fun) was there at the end, and it was great! Wonderful warm water and unexpectedly deep pools that both locals and us jumped into from rocks of differing heights. I am more of a climber than a jumper so instead of jumping off a cliff, I spidermanned up the cliff up from the water. I did not have any safety, but if I did fall I would have fallen into the water, so felt almost safe :) After the hike, the jumps and a hike back downhill we went into the buses and joined up with the people relaxing in the pool or in the bar right next to it. And after an hour or two later the day trip was over. While this was fun I would have preferred if after the hike we would have gone to some castle or other tourist attraction for more of a 'trip' experience than sitting by a pool chatting.

Formal dinner was another traditional thing that we did this year. We walked over to a restaurant overlooking the city, sat down at many different tables occupying most of the place and then the waiters brought us plates with bits of food. Each plate was basically a set of 4 snacks for 4 people - a plate of cheese, a plate of ham cuts, a plate of steamed vegetables and a plate of grilled meat. After that was coffee and desert. In my opinion the grilled meat was overcooked, the vegetables were passable, 1 of 5 cheeses was great (the local soft speciality) while other were ok and the ham cuts were ok. Desert was average. In all I was neither impressed by the food nor filled by it. There was also entertainment - a singer with two dancers. They ware way too loud, so loud in fact that police came and shut the performance down, I did get a few interesting photos but otherwise I did not like them. They came to our venue the next night to continue the performance, luckily it was in an isolated patio and did not disturb people sleeping.

Wine and cheese party on the other hand was simply great this year - there was a huge selection of wine and cheese as we were in the right part of the world for that. There were 7 tables full of cheese, wine and bread and also some extra stuff such as a barrel of peanuts and some great tea from Taiwan. People were walking around for hours eating cheese, cleaning the taste off with bread and wine, chatting and doing it all over again at another table. I left the patio at around 2am and there were still several dozen people around chatting, eating, drinking wine and tea. I'm not sure how to get an event of similar size in NY as it is not allowed for travellers to bring cheese into US, only commercial import with an appropriate licence is allowed.

I also have my praise for the video team, but I'll hold on to that and the feedback about the talks until I see the recordings of talks that I missed, so I can also recommend the must see recordings.

All in all it was a great event - meeting all the great Debian people again, coding some stuff, having fun and talking about the future of Debian in a more relaxed atmosphere than an IRC chat room. Debconf 9 was great, see you all next year at Debconf 10 in New York!