I went to Brussels last weekend for FOSDEM 2008, which was held at ULB Campus Solbosh. The free event was a good way to check in with the overall Open Source community and to see all of the interesting things people outside my normal circles are working on.
Friday Night Beer Event
Things got off to an memorable start on Friday night. I timed my arrival so that I could attend the Friday night “Pink Elephant” beer event held at the Delirium Cafe. I met up with a colleague, and we had a few good beers while chatting with other FOSDEM attendees. Lots of people had their gadgets out for others to play with. I got to play with a EeePC and a Nokia 810 while my iPhone was passed around. I even picked up the presence of a OLPC OX-1 over wifi, but was never actually able to find it.
After a few hours of drinking beer and talking about software, we met up with a few more friends to go to dinner at an underwhelming yet wistfully overpriced restaurant in the middle of the tourist trap. I had another beer or two over dinner, and so when we left the restaurant, I was a little toasted.
For some reason (playing with my phone?) I was straggling behind as we walked out when these two guys sidled up to me and started dancing,
singing yelling, and doing some weird line dance kick between my legs. In my drunken state, I was a bit confused but thought they were just drunk too and danced along. After a few moments of this silliness, they walked off. I luckily had a moment of clarity and thought it best to check my pockets. Wait, my wallet is missing. Yup, it really is still missing. The two guys hadn’t taken more than 20 steps down the street, so I ran up to the nearest one, forcefully grabbed his shoulder, and demanded, “Give me back my wallet.” He looked a bit surprised and immediately pointed to his accomplice. I turned to him and without a word, he reached into his coat pocket and handed over my wallet. I took it from his hands, and strangely enough, we just parted ways. The entire episode lasted probably 30 seconds or so, and my friends, who were only a few steps ahead, missed it all.
The next morning I was a bit slow getting up and got to FOSDEM about an hour late, missing the opening keynote (it didn’t help that I stayed up for a few more hours playing poker with the hotel staffer and his friends, but that’s another blog post). I pretty much spent Saturday in the Janson auditorium listening to the big talks - “How a large scale opensource project works” with Robert Watson, “Perl 6” with Patrick Michaud, and “Unicoding with PHP 6” with Andrei Zmievski. I also squeezed in some quick 15-minute “lightning” talks about smaller open source projects like Alfresco, OpenAFS, and Squeak.
I was even slower getting up on Sunday morning* and missed the Drupal opening talks by Dries. I did catch Kris Buytaert’s “Drupal and MySQL High Availability”, which was quite good. In addition, I took the opportunity to see a talk on CakePHP and Mozilla’s upcoming Prism.
My colleagues in attendance weren’t too enthusiastic about this year’s FOSDEM. Their main complaint was that it has become a little too commercialized with seemingly marketing-oriented talks, rather than more in-depth code talks. While I can understand this sentiment, I think the problem is mainly with their expectations of FOSDEM. FOSDEM should be a venue for projects to open up to people outside of their core community. A code-driven, detailed talk about the intricacies of the Form API in Drupal 6, for example, would only be digestible by experienced members of the Drupal community, most of whom would be familiar with the FAPI in the first place. Higher-level talks allow small projects, such as Squeak and CakePHP, to attract people like me who have a passing interest and may even be pulled in enough to try the stuff out.
Some of the speakers were certainly better than others. FOSDEM (and Open Source in general) is a pretty international affair, and because the conference was conducted in English, there were varying levels of English public speaking abilities. Overall, however, I thought the speakers were quite good and spoke to the subject matters well. My only complaint is that FOSDEM seems to be outgrowing its britches. There were lots in attendance, and at times, it was a little bit difficult walking through the masses to get to the talks in time. That probably speaks to the growing popularity of OSS, which is always a good thing.
*I discovered the Grand Casino Brussels on Saturday night and was there until almost 4 in the morning waiting on a seat at the Hold ‘em table. Generally casinos in Europe are quite stuck up about dress code and appearances (to the point of making you rent an evening jacket), but I found Brussels casino to be very welcoming. You still won’t find flip-flops and t-shirts like you would at some places in Vegas, but at least you can walk in reasonably dressed. Anyway, at 11PM I was #3 in line for a seat and only got to #1 by 3:30am before I had had enough and just left. They had two tables of €5/€10 NL Texas Hold’em, but apparently they sometimes also have €10/€20 limit as well.