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12 Reasons to Attend This Year’s Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE 20x)

Here’s a dozen reasons, in the form of a dozen items that are on this year’s schedule, to go to this year’s SCALE, which starts Thursday in Pasadena, California.

SCaLE 20x banner
Vacuum tubes in the Linux machine. Source: SCALE

SCALE 20x is just around the corner. Maybe even closer than that, depending on where you think the corner is relative to now. Anyway, it starts Thursday and runs through late Sunday afternoon.

For those who’re going but thinking about leaving early instead of sticking around to the end of the day on Sunday, you might want to change your plans. The folks behind SCALE evidently know a thing or two about good showmanship and are leaving the best for last — but more about that further on.

If you’re scratching your head right now and asking, “What the heck is SCALE,” then you must be new to the whole Linux-and-open-source thing. SCALE, usually written as “SCaLE,” is only one of the premiere open-source events in North America, with some saying it’s the premiere event. The name is an acronym, standing for Southern California Linux Expo. It’s been happening on a annual basis for 21 years. The reason this year is SCALE 20x instead of 21x is something of a historical artifact: In 2020 there was no SCALE due to the pandemic that was just starting to sweep across the Los Angeles Basin.

For the first many years, the event took place in Los Angeles before it moved to nearby Pasadena, which is only 11 miles from LA’s city center, meaning it’s closer to downtown LA than many places within LA’s city limits.

Why Go to SCaLE?

There are plenty of good reasons to go to SCALE, starting with networking opportunities. Before you start yawning and thinking that all conferences offer networking opportunities, let me explain that at SCALE you’re going be able to shake hands and maybe engage in a conversation with people from all the different stripes of open source.

For example, if you’re the sort of person who prefers copyleft over permissive licenses, you’re going to find plenty of folks who feel the same at SCALE, where at the enterprise-focused Open Source Summit run by the Linux Foundation, you’ll be surrounded by people who think that copyleft licensing is open source’s biggest flaw. Never mind that Linux is copyleft licensed — sometimes things don’t have to make sense.

Another example: those who prefer permissive licenses will also find lots of people who agree with them at SCALE, where at Software Freedom Foundation’s LibrePlanet, if you mention that you like permissive licenses because you can use the code in your proprietary software, you’re likely to get run out of town on a rail.

The main reason to go to SCALE, however, is for the presentations.

That’s where I come in. I’m going to tell you about a dozen presentations that have caught my interest and which might interest you as well. Mostly, the presentations I’m mentioning here aren’t focused on specific technologies, because most of us will have no trouble deciding what hardcore tech-focused talks to attend. You know what I mean: if you work in databases you already plan to attent talks on databases, or if you’re part of a cloud-native DevOps team, you’re likely going to talks about Kubernetes, service mesh, and the like.

But open source isn’t just about the technology it supports. It’s also about community, history, culture, and a host of other things that bind us together as well. So I’m just going to point to a dozen talks that mostly, but not entirely, aren’t about the technology, but about other aspects of open-source.

My Dirty Dozen

Ken Thompson, inventor of Unix.
Ken Thompson from a National Inventors Hall of Fame video about him and Dennis Ritchie.
National Inventors Hall of Fame, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ken Thompson’s keynote address: I wasn’t going to include any keynote speakers on this list, because the way conferences are generally structured, it’s almost impossible to miss the keynotes (they’re all in the morning when nothing else is happening; yadda, yadda, yadda). This one’s different, however, and it’s the reason why you might want to change your plans it you’ve been thinking of sneaking out early on Sunday afternoon.

That’s because this keynote is scheduled at the end of the event, sort of the last chapter before you head to the airport for your return flight home. Take my word for it: Ken Thompson’s keynote is definitely one you won’t want to miss, and it isn’t happening until the SCALE tent’s about ready to be taken down — at 3 pm Sunday afternoon.

Some of you might be squinching your eyes in thought, wondering, “Who is this guy?” Oh, nobody really. Just the guy who, back in the 1960s, developed the original Unix operating system (you know, the operating system Linux is kinda, sorta based on), and invented the B programming language (the precursor to C) at the same time. He didn’t stop there. In the first decade of this century, for example, he co-developed Go for Google.

Take my word for it. This is a keynote that belongs on your “must see” list.

Jos Poortvliet from Nextcloud
Jos Poortvliet SOURCE: Nextcloud

The epic battle between Microsoft and privacy laws in Europe (Jos Poortvliet): For me, other than Thompson’s keynote, this one tops the list of all of the presentations on the schedule at this year’s SCALE.

At issue here is Microsoft’s moves to turn about everything they do into a SaaS service, which has opened up all sorts of privacy invading practices which not only includes the data it collects on users, but storage of the data that users generate while using Microsoft’s products.

I know Poortvliet, and I can attest to the fact that his position at Nextcloud puts him at ground zero in this struggle between Microsoft and the EU, so he definitely will know what he’ll be talking about. Nextcloud, if you don’t know, is the little David trying to compete with Microsoft and Amazon.

Since I can’t be a SCALE this year, I’m hoping against hope that this is one of the presentations that’ll be livestreamed. If you read his abstract on his presentation, you’ll probably want to attend this one as well.

Rylie Johnson, maintainer of Open States.
Rylie Johnson, maintainer at Open States. Source: SCALE

The Hellscape that is Scraping Legislative Data as an Open Source Project (Rylie Johnson): OK, this one might not be for everyone, but I’m reasonably sure that there are plenty of FOSS Force readers that will find this interesting.

Johnson is a software engineer with Plural, where she’s a maintainer of Open States, aims to improve civic engagement at the state and federal level by providing data and tools regarding those legislatures, which is something that’s right up this old “new left,” anti-establishment, armchair activist hippie’s alley.

Here’s part of the abstract:

Open States strives to improve civic engagement at the state and federal level by providing data and tools regarding state legislatures by aggregating legislative information from all 50 states, Congress, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This information is then standardized, cleaned, and published to the public for free. At the cost of our sanity.

This talk is recommended for folks interested in the process of scraping government data, contributing to open source civic tech projects, or for those that enjoy hearing about other people’s misery.

Where do I sign-up?

Joshua Loscar from Red Hat.
Joshua Loscar
Source: SCALE

Staying RHELevant In Your Home Lab (Joshua Loscar): Here’s an exception that proves the rule. I know that I said going in that we weren’t going to be looking at many purely technical presentations in this list, but here I am adding a title with the word “RHELevant” to the list.

Here’s the deal: I write about RHEL all the time, but I’ve never personally touched it (psst, don’t tell anybody — I have a reputation to protect). So, if I went to this one, I would at least get to watch someone “create an account, download, install, register subscription and get started with KVM virtualization on the desktop using cockpit.” Heck, I might even do it for myself, which might mean I’d need to do less research the next time Red Hat comes out with a new RHEL release, which I’ll undoubtedly have to cover.

ProAudio Keyboards from Scratch (Brian Monroe): I’m not a musician, but much of my career was in radio (you can still hear me for an hour each Sunday at 6 pm Eastern Time, doing The Sixties in 60 on The Barrel of Rock) and I’ll likely be starting a radio station in the not to distant future, so this one’s right up my alley. A lot of neat entry level audio stuff is included in the mix here. My only reservation here is that I’ll probably already know all of the information that pertinent to my needs, but even then I could pick up a few tricks.

Tarus Balog
Taurus Balog at the SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) in 2015. Source: FOSS Force

Revisiting Open Source Business Models (Tarus Balog): If I’m going to a conference and Tarus Balog is going to be speaking, I’m going to do my damnedest to be there. Why? Because not only is he insightful and knowledgeable, he’s always entertaining. From the top of he head to the bottom of his feet, he’s also through and through open source, as this opening paragraph from the abstract covering the talk he’ll be giving should make clear:

For nearly 20 years I was involved in an open source network monitoring project called OpenNMS. I built a commercial business around it and we explored pretty much every possible business model available to us at the time, starting with support and services and moving up to a subscription model similar to Red Hat. We were eager to both build a sustainable business while remaining 100% open source, and that closed off some options such as “open core” where part of the project was published under a proprietary license.

Be at this one if you can. Take my word for it, you will be entertained, and even if you think you know a lot about open source business models, you’ll end up learning something you didn’t know.

Everyone Should Own Their Data (Sam Hanna): This is a beginners course for setting up your own server so that you can host your own data and not have to depend on cloud-based sites that are outside of your control. Since you’re reading FOSS Force, you probably already know this and have your data protected one way or another. But if you’re taking somebody to the conference with you who’s new to the concept of software freedom, this might be a good presentation to recommend.

Meta's Michel Salim
Michel Salim, Production Engineer
Meta Platforms. Source: SCALE

Upstream First: Meta’s Linux Userspace, meet Linux Distributions (Michel Salim): So far, all I’ve done is read the abstract for this session, and I’ve already learned quite a few things I didn’t know. For example, did you know that Facebook Meta runs CentOS Stream on its servers? Wouldn’t be my choice. Or that it evidently runs Fedora on its desktops and laptops. Really? I had them figured for Windows types for desktops.

What’s most disturbing here (to me, at least) is that it’s “playing an active role in the development of some key Linux distributions.” Please tell me that nobody taking orders from Zuck is contributing code to the distro I’m using.


This one does look interesting though, especially when you get to the last several paragraphs in the description:

There are pros and cons to packaging for RPM-based and Debian-based distributions. This talk will discuss the rationale, our experiences working in two very different ecosystems, and lessons learned.

Between the two of them, RPM-based and Debian-based distros account for a significant percentage of the Linux install base, but the major community-oriented distributions, Fedora (which feeds into CentOS Stream and thus RHEL) and Debian (which feeds into Ubuntu and many derivatives) have significant differences in philosophies and working practices.

This talk will discuss our experiences working in these two ecosystems, and some lessons we learned.

If I could be there, I’d check this one out. Another one I’m hoping will be available for livestreaming.

Learning From the Big Failures To Improve FOSS Advocacy and Adoption (Bradley Kuhn): Kuhn (like many others) has made absolutely the same observation I’ve been making about how open source has completely won in enterprise data centers, but not in areas where early Linux and free software advocates expected and wanted it to win.

While corporate adoption by for-profit companies has led to a boon and integration of FOSS into most corporate practices, the true promise of software rights and freedoms — the ability of individual hobbyist and consumers to participate on equal footing with the largest software producers in the world — mostly eludes our community.

Alas, yup. Queue the teardrops.

Kuhn goes on to say:

This talk examines the wins, losses and challenges that FOSS advocacy has faced in the last 30 years. We’ll explore how failures to foresee both web application deployment and the advent of advertising-based app-oriented software deployment led to serious strategic errors in advocacy and focus of attention. Many of these problems remain difficult to address, and only frank discussion among activists will reveal new approaches to continue a vibrant FOSS community into the next generation.

Needless to say, this is another one I’m hoping will be livestreamed or otherwise made available to those of us who won’t be making the trip to Pasadena.

A brief introduction to Mastodon and the Fediverse (Bob Murphy): If you haven’t tried Mastodon yet, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. If you signed up several years back and found it to be a place with empty halls, you might want to check in again. The place is crowded now, populated by people who are mostly friendly and community spirited. I think it’s a gas, and it’s where I’m spending almost all of my social networking time (follow me at

You’ve probably heard scare stories about how different it is from other social platforms and that it’s hard to learn. Pay them no mind. The biggest learning curve is about wrapping your head around the concept of instances (also called servers), which presents a roadblock of sorts during the sign-up process. Other than that, it’s so close to using Twitter that I don’t see how you could have any problems.

I’d be surprised if Murphy doesn’t explain all that in this presentation.

Workshop: Getting Started with FreeBSD (Roller Angel): Actually, I wouldn’t take this one because it’s like a seven-hour workshop, but I would like to think I would. After all the years of working and playing with Linux, I’ve never even looked at any of the BSDs, although it’s long been on my to-do list. Maybe this year… Don’t bet on it.

But if you’ve been hankering to get some dirt under your fingernails and some grease on your knuckles by going under the hood on a BSD install, here’s your chance.

Logan Garrison
Fifth-grader Logan Garrison has been making videos ever since he was able to hold a camera.

Creating YouTube Videos (Logan Garrison): Logan Farrison is a 5th grader who’s been creating animations, stop motion, and live videos ever since he could use a camera. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to see that?

In the presentation, the young man will show his process for coming up with ideas, thinking of what shots he needs, and what equipment and software he uses. He’ll explain some of the benefits of using different software and what tools you might use for animation, stop motion, video game captures, and live videos.


Even though the show opens on Thursday, it doesn’t start in earnest until Friday — meaning you still have time to get there. If you can make it, you should go. Register here.

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