It’s the one show I am most certain to make in a year’s time. The Texas Linux Fest (TLF). The only one I’ve missed was held in San Antonio, and being in the worst part of both chemo and radiation therapy, I wasn’t in the mood to travel across the street that year, not to mention to take a two hour drive each way.
But this year was okay as far as travel went. It was held in San Marcos Texas, the home of Texas State University. You can’t get more “in between” Austin and San Antonio than that. Personally, I think the miracle-working staff for TLF should think about making this their permanent home. Being between two of the four largest cities in Texas, people from each don’t think twice about making the drive, as opposed to those that would have to drive to Dallas or the Metroplex.
I think that fact was probably responsible for the larger than expected crowd. The registration guys were foot-shuffling apologetic about having run out of plastic cases for the badges. I just took mine and slapped the gummy end over my shirt pocket and carried on.
I didn’t make the first day, which fell on a Friday. Between two installations on that day and a fairly substantial hardware donation to pick up, Friday was booked solid. Besides, many of the friends I counted upon seeing were only going to do the second day anyway. Between the 160 mile round trip, my other planned activities and not wanting to leave Diane for two days in a row, making the Saturday show was pretty much sealed fate. The fact that I had a “speaking” engagement on Saturday morning might have had something to do with the decision.
But what seems to be good during practice, isn’t always good in application. I’m not going to spend much time talking about it here, but between some technical glitches, placement of the speakers in the speaking hall and some plain, flat bad luck, I’m not real happy about that speaking gig. It’s not the fault of anyone who worked in the speaker’s hall to set it up. I wasn’t prepared for the main speakers to be in front of where I was speaking. With my hearing loss due to chemo, it was almost impossible to hear the cues I had memorized to advance the slides. But the main thing I wanted to happen, did happen. Lots of my talk depended upon timing and impact. That just wasn’t possible this year.
Several software engineers and coders came forward to give me their contact information so they can get involved in writing the GUI for MaryTTS. That alone made all the slightly embarrassing things tolerable. Oh, and on the subject of embarrassing…
When I left the speaker’s hall in Room 2, I looked for a place that I could be alone and kick my own ass for screwing my talk up so badly. There was a number of people who had gathered at the podium with me after the talk, so I was anxious to find some place to regroup and make sense out of what had happened.
It wasn’t two minutes after I found my own little pouting corner, than a group of attendees rounded the corner into my hallway. I pretended to be immersed in my notebook, but the ruse didn’t work. When I looked up, there were over a dozen people grouped in front of me. I smiled sheepishly and keyed the buzzbox I sometime use to talk in public. I asked them if they were lost because I was the only thing in the hall and I wasn’t at all the most interesting thing there. The group chuckled and a demure young lady pushed herself to the front of the crowd.
“Mr. Starks, would you sign my schedule program?”
I engaged my new-found ability to raise one eyebrow and replied: “Excuse me?”
“Would you autograph my program?”
“Sure”, I said, not really sure why someone would want my autograph. I ended up signing somewhere around twenty programs that day. I signed three hats as well as five T-shirts. What a waste of a good T-shirt.
Here’s the deal folks. That sort of thing is extremely embarrassing for me. I mean, I appreciate it but I’m neither sure I understand why nor am I anyone who stands out in any crowd.
When I told Diane about it, she burst out in laughter. She knows the Ken Starks that scratches himself while watching TV. She knows the Ken Starks that refuses to turn off the lights in a room I am leaving or forgets to put the toilet seat down. Well, that last one is no longer in play. In this new place we live, we both have our own bathrooms. Crisis averted.
But really? Autographs? Yeah, that’s a bit much for me. But thank you. Thank you for letting me be who I am, and not someone you want to build.
Fifteen minutes later I had the hallway to myself again. I decided it was a good time to take my laptop and accumulated swag out to my car. When I returned, I began schmoozing with the folks in the exhibit hall. That’s my favorite part of any Linux Fest.
The first smiling face I ran into is Dr. Jim Simpson. Jim was volunteering to man the Free Software Foundation (FSF) exhibit. I was trying to get a clear shot of the FSF table and exhibit, but no matter when I came around again there was a large group around them. It was easily the most visited exhibit, at least in the four hours I was there. Jim Simpson is a close and treasured friend who has done some amazing things for Reglue, and personally, for Diane and I. While Jim was in the middle of writing his dissertation, he took time out to bring his family up from San Antonio to help us move. Yeah…you don’t find many friends like that during a lifetime. I count myself lucky to have Jim and his family among mine.
The usual suspects were in attendance this year, plus some I had never seen before. Conspicuously missing were my friends at ThinkPenguin. They were more than generous in giving us perks for our last fund raiser and I was a bit bummed I wouldn’t have a chance to see them in person again this year. The Ubuntu table was busy as always and the focus, at least for those visiting the exhibit, was the Ubuntu phone. No matter who I heard introducing themselves, the main topic or questions asked was about the Ubuntu phone. Many of us might have thought that the interest in the Ubuntu slabs was exaggerated or astroturfed, but from what I could tell the Ubuntu Phone most certainly is on the minds of many Ubuntu users.
And oh, about that HP exhibition. Looks like they just phoned this one in. Not sure what happened there.
But above all of that…above the presentations, the exhibits and the vendors; was the sense of community. I’ve said it before; I’ve even said it while being interviewed by opensource.com. There is no such thing as the “Linux Community.” “On our best day, we are a large number of warring factions, verbally slaughtering each other and leaving bloody trails as we run and gun across the Internet battlefield”.
Funny that. While in attendance at this year’s event, I didn’t see any warring factions. I didn’t notice any nasty trails of DNA being drug off to Where Everland. What I did see was old friends greeting each other again. I saw people meeting other people for the first time, and laughing about how wrong they were in first picturing the other in their minds. I lurked and took in the conversations, the opinions, the adamant arguments and the fist bumps between two vendors when a potential customer walked away.
Yeah, about that whole “warring faction” thing. I didn’t see any of that. I even checked out back where kitchen staff took a smoke break. I looked in the bathrooms, at least the men’s rooms. I figured if anything even coming close to warring factions was going on in the ladies room, we would have heard about it. I even checked in parts of the adjoining hotel as I tried to find a soft drink machine.
Nope. Zero. Zilch. Nada…
No warring factions here. What I did see was excitement and enthusiasm being traded like diamonds and gold. What I did see was professionals taking pride in their profession and sharing their enthusiasm with as many people that appeared before them. What I did nsee was, what I believe to be, a record crowd for a Texas Linux Fest. And regardless of how bad or good my presentation was, the people who bring TLF to Texas every year hit one out of the friggin’ park this year. They have a reason to be proud of what they accomplished in San Marcos Texas this year.
Touch ’em all you guys and girls…touch ’em all.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue