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Going Gonzo at ‘All Things Open’

“Footballs in a basketball state,” I said wryly, looking down on a guy who was sitting across the table, absently playing with some small swag footballs imprinted with a company logo.

He didn’t catch my drift.


“This is a basketball state,” I explained.

“You’re right!” He seemed as if this had just dawned on him.

“We used to be a football state,” I added.

“That was a long time ago,” the man said.

“I’ve got a long memory,” I answered.

I was at yesterday’s opening for All Things Open, the corporate open source conference, surrounded by mostly youngish dudes wearing t-shirts, which are the grey flannel suits of 21st century corporate tech. The women were dressed in a wider variety of styles, but they still mostly oozed corporate conformity.

This old free-spirited hippie was slightly out-of-place. Not as drastically as Raoul Duke tripping his mind off through a conference of district attorneys, but that’s mainly because I didn’t have the arsenal of psychogenics available to Duke, and t-shirt clad career coders don’t have the power or inclination to arrest. Also, times have changed.

The guy with the footballs was Jeff Jones, a Michigander who now lives in Raleigh. He was maintaining a vendor booth for EASi, a project management and development company out of Michigan, which is definitely a football state. He was working with Megan Dent, who’s with Aerotek, EASi’s parent corporation.

When I mentioned that North Carolina might again become a football state if the Panthers keep playing the way they’ve been playing, he shrugged and said he doesn’t care for the NFL.

“I do,” Dent chimed in. “But, sorry, not the Panthers. I’m from Conneticut. The Patriots.”

I pointed out that the Patriots are cheaters, but that didn’t phase her. You know how fans are.

I was killing time, which I do a lot of when I’m at a conference. As usual, I’d arrived late and had missed Jim Whitehurst’s keynote address, which I had penciled in as the high point of my day. Evidently, I didn’t miss much. From what I hear, he mostly rehashed stuff from his book, and the fact that Red Hat might be on its way to becoming a $2 billion company was only mentioned in passing.

The folks at registration had run out of both swag bags and printed schedules by the time I arrived, which was disappointing since it’s impossible to accumulate freebies without a goody bag in which to carry them. I have a roommate who will murder me if I don’t come home with some free t-shirts.

The woman who scanned me in attempted to console me. “You don’t really need a schedule, because we’ve got a great app,” she told me. I didn’t bother to tell her that I don’t generally do apps, afraid that might make my misfit status that much more obvious.

Not long afterwards, I ran across Todd Lewis, who’s the master of ceremonies for All Things Open, and an all around good guy.

“You’re going to be here for tomorrow morning’s keynote?” he asked.

“I’m planning on it.”

“You want to be there,” he said. “Microsoft’s going to be making some kind of big announcement. I don’t know what it is, but I think you want to be there.”

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Since there were no workshops I wanted to attend until after lunch, I made a pest of myself with the vendors, who don’t mind being bothered when the crowds are away attending workshops. At the booth for OSSCube, an open source consulting company, Brian Schultz asked me what I thought about the whole “free” vs “libre” thing when he found out that I write for a FOSS site.

“I’m the journalist,” I said. “That means I’m the one who asks the questions. What do you think of the whole ‘free’ vs ‘libre’ thing?”

“I hate semantic battles,” he replied. “I think it’s stupid.”

“Good answer,” I said. “And about the ‘FLOSS’ vs ‘FOSS’ thing: saying it’s free twice doesn’t make it any freer.”

Tiffany Lambis, who was working the booth with Schultz, thought that was funny and laughed.

Next up was Howie Bagley and Stacey Potter, who were working a booth for Palamida, a company that has tools for scanning software, source or binary, looking for open source code. While the company’s service is primarily used by companies to determine exactly what’s in the code that’s running on their own hardware, for licensing purposes and the like, it can also be used to find open source code hiding in proprietary software. I couldn’t help but wonder if they ever spent time scanning Microsoft’s products, but didn’t ask.

These days, Bagley calls Boston home, but he said he once lived in Greensboro, a city about seventy miles west of Raleigh. Since that happens to be my hometown, I asked him why he left.

“I don’t know,” he answered.”I should have stayed. I think a girl was involved.”

Potter’s originally from Houston, but has called Baghdad-by-the-Bay (that would be San Francisco) home since 2002. After spending a few minutes talking about my old haunts in the foggy city, I asked her what she thought of North Carolina.

“So far I really love it,” she said. “I love the weather so far.”

“Come back in the summer,” I told her. “You’ll change your mind.”

Sometimes I have a better time just hanging out at conferences than I do attending the workshops and presentations. It’s fun. Corporate geeks aren’t all bad, you know. And I might as well be a misfit here as anywhere else.

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