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Notes From Open Source Bridge 2011

The Open Source Bridge conference was last week in Portland. I went to the first annual conference back in 2009 and was very impressed. The 2011 edition did not disappoint. The organizers and volunteers went to great lengths to put on another amazing conference.

Growing Food With Open SourceThere was a diverse set of talks again this year. Not just diverse across many open source technologies, but across domains of knowledge as well. I went to talks ranging from body language to database theory and on to growing food with open source. And when not attending a talk, I could spend my time hacking away on a side project and discussing open source with other attendees in the Hacker Lounge.

Sarah Novotny gave a great talk about body language and public speaking. There were a multitude of great tips on how to handle yourself while speaking. She also gave us some advice on how to correct some of the more common bad behaviors like filler words and camping out behind the podium.

One of the better technical talks I attended was Qs on Queues. Eric Day did a great job explaining the why and what of setting up a queue. He set up the talk very well to compare ZeroMQ, RabbitMQ, ActiveMQ, Gearman, Beanstalkd, Redis and Kestrel. I left the session with a much better understanding of the message queuing landscape and how to choose the right tool for the right job.

I had recently been testing out Vagrant as a solution for our development environment problems. When I saw Les Orchard's talk Inviting Contributors to Open Source Webdev through Virtualization on the schedule, my interest was piqued. He laid out the issue that most developers face these days - building giant stacks of software. He drove home the point that we are not systems administrators, we are developers. Using automated virtualized builds of the development stack can let us get down to the development that we want to do without having to wade through an endless INSTALL.txt file.

UnconferenceThe last day of the conference was set up as an unconference. This is where the conference attendees create their own sessions and present them to the audience. All the sessions were organized into rooms and then another day of talks began. This led to some very interesting topics which wouldn't have been expected such as bicycle history and open source film editing.

The first open session I attended was to discuss the OpenHatch project. The project focuses on helping people get started with open source. They provide "missions" that guide you through the process of contributing to an open source project. They also have a set of tools to help new developers find a bug to work on so that they don't get overwhelmed with that first step.

During lunch an impromptu "editor war" session popped up on the schedule. As an avid Vim user, I couldn't resist. It turned out to be something very similar to VimGolf, where you have to show your editor prowess by completing a task in the fewest keystrokes, or in the shortest amount of time. I was hoping to see some other editors in action, but only Vim users showed up. This proved once again that Vim is the best editor around!

The last unconference session I attended was about the indie web. This is a movement which is focused on controlling your own data. In the current age of the cloud, it is sometimes difficult to find a way to make sure that the data you send can be retrieved later. Tantek Çelik led the discussion on the obstacles to setting up your own Facebook-like features such as "add as friend". He also discussed strategies for federating your status updates, blog posts and any other information you often post online. I've already started down the path and set up an OpenID for my personal domain. More information is available on the Indie Web Camp website.

Open Source Bridge 2011As mentioned previously, the organizers of the conference did an amazing job with this conference. Leading up to and during the conference, there was a steady stream of communication about what was coming up. During the conference they sent out an email each morning to give you an overview of what to expect during the day. It was the first time I'd seen a conference do that and it was very helpful. The conference badge was another nice touch. It had the attendee name on both sides, in case your badge got flipped over, and included the full schedule inside the badge.

If you are interested in open source and haven't been to the Open Source Bridge conference yet, you've been missing out. The conference brings together a wide variety of developers from the open source community. It was great to discuss so many different topics during the week. I met a lot of new people and had a lot of fun hanging out in the great city of Portland.

Registration is already open for 2012. I hope to see you there!

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