UKUUG Spring Conference 2008

April 4, 2008

I recently attended the UKUUG Spring Conference 2008 in Birmingham. Primarily this was to give a presentation titled "System Configuration: An end to hacky scripts?". I think the attendance to my talk was pretty good, I reckoned somewhere about 50 to 60 people in the room. This year I had tried to come up with a mildly provocative title and I think it produced good results. I strongly believe that a good presentation involves a degree of showmanship, many a good talk is let down by the presenter being dull. Although clearly we always want to get the main message across, a little bit of humour (particularly at the beginning to grab the attention of the audience) and some effort put into the standard of the slides and delivery makes a huge difference. Whenever I am in the audience for a good talk, particularly anything on a subject in which I was not already strongly interested, I try to remember what it was that particularly made me sit up and pay attention, hopefully that will help me get better at giving these talks.

I think a good indicator that the talk went quite well was that we generated enough interest to hold a BOF in the afternoon on System Configuration and LCFG. Along with Paul, Simon and myself we had a further 10 people who were interested in sharing their experiences with different systems and finding out more about LCFG. It went on for nearly 2 hours so there was clearly lots to discuss. There was interest from a couple of people in getting the core of LCFG packaged for Debian and I am hoping that leads somewhere. Being a Debian Developer myself I’ve always hoped that one day we could get LCFG into the Debian archive. From the BOF and other discussions I had with people, something that is now apparent to me is that we really need to work on having a “How to Get Started with LCFG” page on the LCFG website. I think this could be based almost entirely on the LCFG workshop we held in June 2007.

For me the “scripting languages” theme for this year was not that exciting and as such I didn’t attend as many talks as normal. One of the most interesting ones was "Feeding the BBC Homepage" where they talked about the use of the Catalyst web framework for Perl in the BBC and a bit about their software development process. I already knew that the BBC was a big Perl user but I was unaware of their use of Catalyst, that gives me a lot more confidence in the capabilities of the framework. The other one that I enjoyed was "Today’s Software … Is It Really Bloated?", this was a perfect opener for the morning after the conference dinner and it is a shame they didn’t make it a plenary session. The results were not particularly scientific in most cases and, particularly with the examination of the kernel, rather out-of-date but it did give a general feeling of how things are changing for the better or worse. The timetabling was, in general, a little odd this year which didn’t help with attendance to talks in different streams and the almost complete lack of plenary sessions was surprising, over the last couple of years we have had good talks from google employees in that slot.

Location-wise I thought the venue was excellent, it was within easy walking distance of the railway station and it was surrounded by a range of suitably priced hotels to cater for all tastes. The main lecture room was fine but sadly the venue was really let down by one of the talk rooms being in a classroom, with a huge pillar in the middle, rather than a proper lecture room with tiered seating.