PenguiCon 4.0

Day 0

As planned, I woke up around 4 am and Kyle (along with Steve and Peter) were at my house around 6 am to pick me up. Journey started on scheduled and it was after a long time that I was sitting in the backseat. This (I mean sitting in the backseat) has its own advantages – one, I don’t have to wear seat-belt; two, I don’t have to drive; third (very important), I can keep napping 😀 We stopped at several different places and somewhere on I-75/US-23 I learnt about booting a Mac in Target mode. What this does is to show one Mac’s hard drive as an external storage in another machine. This technique was used to transfer very important data from Kyle’s Mac to mine. We reached Livonia around 4 pm or so, and this is only the second conference/meeting where I my name-tag had just my name.

To start things off on a lighter note, I attended Got Filk? and then moved on to serious things, Writing Techniques and such. After the opening ceremony, I happened to talk to Chris DiBona (Google!’s Open Source Director) for quite a while and then attended How’s Linux Doing? – a panel discussion chaired by Chris DiBona and Kathy Raymond. Amongst things that surfaced during my discussion with Chris was Google! AdSense issue. Chris has asked me to write to him and he would look into it. Hopefully, I will get to hear something positive this time around…

So far, I have been having fun at this conference – I see geeky nerds (or nerdy geeks – whatever you want to call them) and people dressed up in scientifically fictitious costume in every direction. Organizers have put in enormous efforts in making elaborate arrangements and what has impressed me the most is the continuous supply of food (bread, cheese, fruits, coke, coffee, …). What more can any geek/nerd ask? Upon browsing through the schedule a bit more carefully, I realized that this is a 24/7 conference! Though Holiday Inn (or Wayport, to be precise. I overheard the news that Wayport demanded $30,000 – thirty thousand dollars – per day to make it free for all!) should have provided free WiFi access, it would be hard to manage 1000+ hackers over a three-day period!! On a sleepy note, please note that this is one conference/meeting where you never want to seen (by anybody) working on Windows. Three such people were hung (to death) in the Holiday Inn lobby earlier in the night and it wasn’t funny at all 🙁 Just kidding – though the treatment one receives for working on Windows is nothing short of being hung to death. Guess I have written a bit too much for the day; need to get some sleep now – I have some very interesting talks to attend tomorrow (or later in the day).

Day 1

As I didn’t have any talks early in the morning, (give them a break – it’s a geek conference. Nothing starts till about 10 – mostly because many people went to sleep around 8 am!) I had just enough time to transfer my pictures to my computer. I discussed certain issues with Aaron (ConChair for the event) – like for example having PlanMyCon type of thing. Let me explain what this means. Since the schedule is prepared and finalized at least a month in advance, it can be made online (it’s done) with a facility to select the talks/presentations that someone likes to attend, and the system would then produce a page with just those events. This is what’s popularly known as the Shopping Cart approach and has been used to great effect in APS March Meetings.

Coffee Ritual was probably the best way to start the day off. Like the name goes, it’s a ritual, something that’s done at every PenguiCon at least once – to honor the significance of Coffee in geeks’/nerds’ lives. The ritual started with a nice song, about Cappuccino, sung in a melodious tune by Andrea Dale, and that was followed by the actual ritual. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to explain how hilarious the proceedings were. Let me give you some hints: it was a church-sermon like ceremony with people walking in with their pillows, coffee-making procedure was explained in a sermon-like tone, coffee prepared earlier was distributed to the audience (coffee by one and sugar+cream by another), then everybody raises, faces east, sips the Holiest of the Holies and yells in unison, God, I needed this.

The next mentionable event I attended was about Technical (or Technological Writing). I had known much of the presentation material but I did learn some tricks – especially about making end-users read the manual (popularly known as the RTFM approach, which will reduce the SysAdmin’s Popularity Quotient, PQ, drastically) and README files, reverse debugging mechanism and making some $$$ on technical material I have written so far. I am not quite sure how easily I can adopt the last one, owing to VISA related issues, but it’s still an idea worth keeping in mind.

While volunteering at the registration desk close to three hours, I met few interesting people – an elderly gentleman well acquainted with the UP, as well as the 2002 computing facility at Tech was one of them. It’s a much smaller world than one imagines… Next session that I attended was about Physics – Racing Light: Real Physics. The talk dealt with methods (fair and unfair alike) to beat light (photons) in a race. I thought it was a very well structured presentation and surprisingly, well attended too, by well-informed audience. If only music from the adjacent room was at lower volume, people would have enjoyed this talk lot better. After this one, I roamed around in the convention center for a while, bought few geeky/nerdy T-Shirts and started searching for a food court in the vicinity when hunger reminded its presence. Not being able to find any familiar food courts only added to my despair and it wasn’t long before my eyes caught a not-so-familiar (but always wanted-to-eat-at) place – Panera Bread. There is one more reason I like this shop now – apart from the very tasty veggie soup and sandwiches, they also provide free WiFi access 😀 What more can I ask?

I guess I have got more than I hoped for by attending this convention – lot of new people, most of them very interesting, learned new & efficient tricks and tips for solving problems, and experienced first-hand the interaction of science and technology – all while having plenty of fun. Though we are starting our return journey early tomorrow morning (owing to the remoteness of Houghton), I would definitely plan on attending subsequent versions of PenguiCon 🙂

Day 2

Thanks to Ars geeks (and Kyle), I found WiFi in Holiday Inn and Kyle helped me fix a WebDAV related issue. Let me explain what this is and what this does: some of you might have accidentally/intentionally ran into this page. Until recently (as recent as 40 hours ago), I used to manually enter events (and edit if need be) in all the ICS (Internet Calendaring & Scheduling) files. Trust me, this is a very boring and tedious job. Kyle had explained that iCal in Mac can automatically update such a calendar and the best part of it was using GUI. So, over the last 40 hours, I managed to sneak in sometime and entered most events in iCal compatible way. But, I hadn’t done all the necessary configuration so that my Mac would talk to my webserver. Aping Kyle’s conf-files, I edited some parts of $SERVER_ROOT/conf/httpd.conf and upon entering the proper URL in iCal, it started working like a charm.

Soon after this was done, we (LUGgers) started our journey back to remoteness. First stop, as planned, was at Tim’s (parents’) place in Montrose. Driving directions to this place are probably the easiest ones somebody will ever find – 1. Last house in Montrose on this street. I loved the interiors as well as the backyard and it goes without saying that I loved the coffee, strawberries, banana and pancakes Tim’s mom prepared. Chong (a.k.a. Tim) had just returned from Japan (after the Study Abroad program) and looked lot like a Japanese. Amidst lot of catching up (with some almost-succeeded attempts to kidnap the chongPOD) and some jovial fighting, I shot a video that can be used as ransom to get certain things done from Chong. (BTW, if Chong’s mom is reading this, your son didn’t do anything bad). After having made sure that the house was intact, we started again towards remoteness. Driving in rain, mist and haze on much of I-75 and parts of US-41 felt like flying an air-craft, only at very low altitude and with slightly less turbulence. We all made it back to Houghton in one (individual) piece around 8.30 pm.

Adding to the goodness of the day, Pistons won game #1 of the play-offs. I don’t think I have enough energy left in me to do anything more tonight and like I had hoped before, the week ahead will be much better than the last one 🙂

2 Replies to “PenguiCon 4.0”

  1. @Vathsa,

    Agreed dude, I have come to realize that there are four types of my-blog-readers. 1 – who don’t read if there is any technical stuff, 2 – who don’t read if there is no technical stuff, 3 – who read just about anything and 4 – who just don’t read at all 😀

    I spent some time in re-classifying most of my previous entries to meet the above audience and I can confidently say that I have succeeded, atleast in part. Will definitely try to keep *everybody* satisfied with my subsequent entries…

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