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Video LinuxFest Northwest is Coming in April (Video) 43

Jakob Perry, today's interviewee, is a volunteer who helps make LinuxFest Northwest happen. This is an event produced by the Bellingham Linux Users Group that "has been a tradition in Bellingham, WA since 2000." Bellingham is a small town about a 1.5 hour drive away from Seattle, and a shorter distance from Vancouver, Canada. Last year they had 1200 people. They have a core group of about 10 year-round volunteers, with as many as 60 participating in the event itself, many of whom are students at Bellingham Technical College, which is where LinuxFest Northwest is held.

Robin 'Roblimo' Miller: We are talking about LinuxFest Northwest. Jakob, you are one of the organizers. Tell me a little bit about yourself and about LinuxFest Northwest.

Jakob Perry: My name is Jakob Perry, and I am a technical account manager at Acquia. We are a Drupal company. And I am an organizer for LinuxFest Northwest, and I have been involved since the beginning back in 2000. So I guess that is almost been 14 years ago now.

Robin: Wow!

Jakob: So, yeah. That’s basically half my life I have spent working on LinuxFest. And I am 28. So yeah, it has been a fun journey, and it is a great little festival located about halfway between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. So just on the south side of the border in the States.

Robin: Well, so obviously you just don’t have as large a population to draw on as say, I don’t know, Los Angeles SCALE (So. Calif. Linux Expo), where people are organizing stuff... in Florida even; but you still have Seattle. How far out of Seattle are you?

Jakob: We are about an hour and a half. And despite being an hour and a half north of Seattle, and 45 minutes south of Vancouver, or three hours depending on the lineup

Robin: Right. Okay. The border. There is a border there, yes.

Jakob: Yeah. We end up still gathering almost 1200 people for the two-day events.

Robin: Wow! That is a pretty good showing. And how many people does it take to put this on?

Jakob: So we have about a core group of ten people who are around year around. We start the week after LinuxFest ends basically and go all the way around the year. And then when the event happens at Bellingham Technical College, which is where we are located at, they have their CNET, their IT group of students, we have 50 of them come volunteer, help set up the network, help do the rooms and all that. So we have 60 people total, and 50 of them are students. They are doing this as a student project for their end of the year, sort of like CAP stuff.

Robin: So it sounds kind of like, one way to make this sort of thing work, if somebody else wanted to do something similar, is to hook up with a college or university. Am I right?

Jakob: I think it is a good prescription. There are a lot of conferences who have started that way, and then move away from it. But for us, it really works well, because our core tenets is to keep it free and a community event first. And I think one of the problems with a lot of events that you see even in the open source community, is they turn to paid events, and that sort of, I don’t know, it takes away from the fun of the whole thing in the first place.

Robin: Well, I went up and I spoke at the Southeast LinuxFest, and that was in the Carolinas, and they charge admission, I think it was some $5 or $10, something token, and they had really really good volunteer help. That thing runs like a clock, but I think it burns people out, it was subsidized heavily by a couple of local businesses including one of the guys who was one of the organizers, and his own business. I don’t know how long he can keep it up. It had to be a drain on him. How are you guys doing as far as burnout?

Jakob: So I think part of the greatness of how LinuxFest started was as a bunch of people who wanted something to do, we have people from all ages, and because we have such a wide range of people, who are both working and retired, we have a lot of extra time to work on things, and we keep it fairly grassroots and low key. Because of that, we don’t have to raise much more than a couple of thousand dollars a year, we don’t have like $40,000 budgets, we don’t have to worry about a board of directors, we don’t worry about any of that. It is sort of like the college gives us all of this space and then we just need to pay for the rest of the supporting infrastructure around it, and it makes it a lot easier and a lot less stressful than say, a major conference.

Robin: Now, you mentioned retirees, I haven’t seen a lot of people tapping the retiree community, and wait, that would be me for one. How did you do that? How do you contact and get hooked up with retirees?

Jakob: I think a lot of the past of the Bellingham Linux Users Group which sort of started the whole Linux Users Group in general, quite a few of them are close to, or in retiree age, and were playing around with Linux or old Unix systems and they just want to keep that up and running. And so a lot of them need something to do and this is a fun thing to do; so it keeps people energized and engaged.

Robin: That’s interesting. That would be certainly be something if we want to do -- hint, neighbors and people from here to Orlando -- if we want to do another LinuxFest type thing in Florida because Lord knows, we have more retirees than anybody. It is true. Seriously, how did this get going? How did the Northwest LinuxFest start out?

Jakob: We started as an Install Fest at the college. So one of the people who is an organizer, he was a professor that did the Linux course at BTC as a part-time job and that sort of moved in to being able to use a few rooms at BTC for an Install Fest which then turned into a tiny LinuxFest. And then we found out the other Linux users groups in the Seattle area would love to do something as well, but they ran into issues of space, venue, the issues that most places run into, and then they said, hey let’s just latch on to LinuxFest Bellingham and make this LinuxFest Northwest.

And so with the combined efforts of Seattle and Tacoma and I think we’ve had some people from Vancouver and Victoria involved in the beginning, we just started working on LinuxFest Northwest and it sort of expanded to be this large thing in Bellingham. Originally, we were going to actually move it from Bellingham and rotate it around the Northwest, but when the time came to actually look at other venues, it was a lot of work, and it is really really easy to stay at BTC. So people are like: Drive one and a half hours or put on an event in Seattle? Well, we will drive one and a half hours. So that is sort of how it stayed there.

Robin: Interesting. Let me ask you: It sounds like great fun, you are going to set up a website, I’ll put that in the text, I will link to that of course, but here is a question: If you were going to give some advice to somebody who wanted to start a regional Linux thing somewhere, what would you tell them?

Jakob: So you got to secure a venue, a venue is pretty much a key spot, and then you mentioned the website, trying to get a community around the said website is probably the next step. So that you can get participants.

Robin: Do you have corporate sponsorships? Do you have companies that come in and set up stuff up?

Jakob: Yes, through the website, through the COD website, we have a sponsorship system, where people can sign up and they are mainly open source companies.

Robin: Right.

Jakob: We have open source companies, and we also have community companies that also donate time or materials to the event.

Robin: Such as?

Jakob: Like we have Hardware Sales, there is a local Bellingham hardware store, locally owned and they donate the power distribution nodes to distribute power for the event. We had a sign company donate time and stuff for that. So even people outside the community, the open source community, are helping, and we get those types of sponsorships as well.

Robin: Okay. So you are saying giving local business and the local community, I have never a very few of the people I have met who organize Linux shows think in terms of the local business. They tend to go for they call Red Hat, they call Rackspace, the usual suspects, and I know they get just absolutely overwhelmed with calls, not that they necessarily mind. But do you just go out and cold call local businesses, and say, “Hey we are going to have a thousand people here”

Jakob: Well, one of the advantages, I guess, we have specifically with Bellingham is that it is one of those towns that if you are there for a few years, you’ll end up knowing someone somewhere that knows how to do it, and so in our case, like with the sign company, we had a guy who used to work there, and he got us in a few years ago, he doesn’t work there anymore but they still gave us the deal. With the hardware company, we used a guy that ran rentals there, and he is no longer working there, but they still run the deal for us. We got a guy who runs internet connections there. He provides us one of the best internet connections you can get at any conference in that LinuxFest because we have a fiber gigabit connection, straight out to the internet from the conference and it is provided by CSS Communications down in Bellingham.

Like, so we have these fun ties, because people in the org committee either know people or know some other people. And that is probably a unique feature of living in a smaller town of 70,000 or 80,000; so you might have better success actually organizing a conference in a smaller town than a bigger town.

Robin: Yet I don’t know. I think even in big cities, people don’t exploit their contacts. What you are saying is: We know somebody who knows somebody, and so the advice -- the takeaway, as we say nowadays -- from that is: Talk to your friends, talk to your friends of friends, talk to your cousins’ friends in business, your parents’ friends, whomever, and it is all just it is not what you know, it’s

Jakob: Yes, it is who you know. Yes. So I would definitely suggest trying the local community first. It will get you the furthest with the least cost.

Robin: We want to boost LinuxFest Northwest. We think it is a worthy thing, some of our people, Tim Lord has been there, and loved it. And other people have been there. We need to try to get more people to do it around the country, and around the world, which is why I am sort of asking these how-do-you-do things questions.

Jakob: Sure.

Robin: What would be your biggest piece of advice for somebody who wants to start a Linux conference somewhere?

Jakob: So your two best things to have are your venue, trying to figure out some type of local college or university venue where you can host it for really cheap or for free. I would also add if you can find a technical college with an IT department of students that need to have on-the-job experience, this is a great spot to start. The second part is getting a website that will organize all this stuff and do it with as little effort needed. And what we use is the Conference Organizing Distribution called COD on Drupal. That provides you all your attendee information, all your session management, all your community organization that you need around the camp. And almost all the Drupal camps use it, and almost every LinuxFest uses it as well right now.

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LinuxFest Northwest is Coming in April (Video)

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  • Where you can find a bunch of people who follow simulacra views and ideals, where you actually feel like you are a majority.

    While the true majority doesn't care that much to go hunting for similar people.

  • I'm assuming installing Linux and using Linux are on the agenda, and drawing a blank on the rest. Disputes over the best distro? Presentation of devices that run Linux that nobody knows run Linux? Competitions to get two sound cards in the same system to work reliably with both ALSA and PulseAudio?
    • by rkfig ( 1016920 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @06:22PM (#42720521)
      There is a room dedicated to installing and/or troubleshooting installs for the whole event. Of course there is the vendor area showing whatever wares they have. Mostly it is sessions covering a broad range of topics. I saw Monty Widenius talk about MySQL upcoming features and such a few years ago. There was a session about how red light cameras actually work from a software and hardware point of view last year. Developing for this or that, embedded platforms and such. Generally one session for either KDE or Gnome and why they are either good or bad. There is an electronics area where they are showing 3D printers, Lego Mindstorms and that sort of thing usually. A guy I know does a whole day session demonstrating the automated beer homebrewing system that he made which utilizes Linux. He also supplies the home made beer and soda for the after party. Jeopardy style game session that I think is called Alpha Nerd. Most of the sessions are someone showing something they created to "scratch their own itch," such as the git based backup system session I saw either last year or the year before. It seems like there are usually 20-30 different sessions at least scheduled throughout the day, and a raffle drawing at the end with some great prizes. Also, the culinary department of the school has a great lunch, usually salmon, steak sandwiches, or some vegetarian option I can't recall, for a very reasonable price.
      • That sounds pretty good. I figured there had to be something more to it if 1500+ people were showing up. 18 years in and my imagination with regard to Linux still only goes so far as to web browse, write code, and beg WINE to run games properly. Though I certainly wouldn't turn away automated beer if it came in the next Ubuntu.
    • Morning Agenda:

      8:00 AM - Registration
      8:05 AM - Slapfight about which distro is superior to the others
      9:00 AM - Demonstration of upcoming commercial software for Linux
      9:05 AM - Resume slapfights
      10:00 AM - Open Mic comedy, mostly consisting of jokes involving blondes and "sudo"
      11:00 AM - Symposium extolling the virtues of GNOME 3
      11:01 AM - Break for lunch

  • by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:35PM (#42719981)

    "Bellingham is a small town about a 1.5 hour drive away from Seattle, and a shorter distance from Vancouver, Canada. Last year they had 1200 people."

    Bellingham, or the LinuxFest?

    • Bellingham, or the LinuxFest?

      It's a trick question. In the daytime, Bellingham's population triples as thousands of Canadians descend on the town snapping up cheaper milk, cheese and Costco vodka.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Bellingham's population triples during the summer month weekends due to cross border shopping, but when WWU is in session for the school year, the student population dilutes the bump caused by our northern visitors. One thing is true any time of the year -- there is absolutely no point in going to a supermarket on the weekend. Everything on sale is sold out, the aisles are totally packed, and there's no place to park unless you walk to the store from home. And don't forget about gas. Protip -- never rea

      • ...and to fill up gas on the way down to the Premium Outlets, where they return with 20 Coach bags on each woman's arm (I swear, customs officer - I brought these down from Vancouver and therefore are not subject to import duties. Wink.)

        I went for a walk with my future wife at the time in the area, and accidentally stumbled upon the 2000 LinuxFest. They had just set up and didn't even have an entrance sign at the time. She noted at the time "what's that smell?" We walked around for about 15-20 minutes and r

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I know you were kidding, but Bellingham is the 12th-largest city in Washington state. It's a college town; Western Washington University is there.,_Washington []

  • Tell him to take that sticker out of his light so he looks less a fool.

  • beer (Score:3, Informative)

    by tehlinux ( 896034 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:43PM (#42720101)

    My buddies do the brewing automation system presentation. Pretty cool. []

  • by drosboro ( 1046516 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:45PM (#42720135)
    Since Bellingham is already a hot-spot for Vancouver-ites doing their cross-border shopping, it's gotta be easy to book vendors! Looks like a great event.
    • Since Bellingham is already a hot-spot for Vancouver-ites doing their cross-border shopping, it's gotta be easy to book vendors! Looks like a great event.

      Not necessarily. Unless you hit a sale at Fry's [], computer stuff is often cheaper in Vancouver than in Bellingham or Seattle.

      My criterion for bringing something back is 50% off the Canadian price, or just plain unobtainable.

      The border people can be unpredictable: I've been waived through and told to have a nice day on a day trip with $800 worth of stuff, and I've done all the paperwork for $50. On one memorable trip I had collected a new telescope mount [] in Anacortes []. Even the cashier said "ouch!" when sh

      • Well, your criteria is a lot stricter than mine... I just need my trip across the border to save me money after I factor in my time... So, when I can get down, pick up a mail-ordered bit of electronics (e.g. a camera for my daughter's birthday, about $40 less than available in Canada), a tank of gas (saving about $20), and some milk and cheese (saving another $20 or so), it becomes a worthwhile trip - I live very close, so the round trip is only about 45 minutes including border waits, most of the time. A

    • Canadian LOVE Costco. []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    the after-party is highly recommended.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How can I help?

  • The NWLF has no love for a Slackware fan. Make sure to put a Debian sticker (or something FOSSie) on your back back or you may be harassed by the locals. And under no circumstances are you to mention anything related to BSD! Wearing sandals with socks will help you blend in. Just keep your head down and you will be ok.

    This public safety announcement has been brought to you by your local Washington State Church of the SubGenius.

    • by anagama ( 611277 )

      Clearly humor but I will say that my first exposure to PC-BSD a few years back was NWLF -- they had a table in the main room so the harassment couldn't have been that bad. Socks and sandals though are very comfortable -- you can wear them all the time, not just at LFNW.

      Anyway, I tried PC-BSD I think (can't actually remember but I know I did take cd) but never became a user for no particular reason other than I was already more familiar with linux. It had what seemed a user friendly notion: all of a the l

      • by Smauler ( 915644 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @10:51PM (#42722453)

        Socks and sandals though are very comfortable -- you can wear them all the time, not just at LFNW.

        You do actually know that socks and sandals are not looked down upon just because they're not comfortable, right? There is another reason.

        I admit it - I'm a fashion Nazi. Socks and sandals just hurt me when I see them. I feel physical pain whenever I see socks and sandals. I'm not a stylish person - most of the stuff I wear is pretty generic. However, I'd prefer someone come in to work with an emu costume on rather than socks and sandals. Seriously. You hurt me when you wear socks and sandals.

        • by anagama ( 611277 )

          Well the only downside with socks and sandals is stubbing your toe. In that sense, I totally feel your pain!

  • I go every year (Score:4, Informative)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @07:14PM (#42721029) Homepage

    LinuxFest Northwest is a great event. I encourage you to go if you can.

    Here are a couple of articles I wrote for Linux Journal about LFNW: [] []

    At LFNW I have attended some really outstanding lectures, sometimes by famous or important people. George Dyson [] lives in the area and he sometimes gives a talk; every time I have attended one of his talks it was great.

    They have a raffle with some cool prizes every year. There are always O'Reilly books, and sometimes they have things like "one year of virtual server hosting".

    The Bellingham Technical College is a great venue for the event. Lots of parking, lots of classrooms for talks, lots of space for the vendor hall, a snack bar that serves espresso drinks... they also serve up a lunch; usually on Saturday the lunch offers salmon grilled over a wood fire.

    I hope to see you there.

  • Population is over 80,000.

    It''s great conference - I've driven up from Seattle a couple times. In addition to Linux talks there are talks about languages and projects people are doing on Linux. One year I went to a talk by a guy who was writing a book on early computers (EDVAC I think)

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @02:53AM (#42723343)

    Bring a towel.

    While most of you think that's a cute HHGttG reference (OK, it is...), this is the rains. A lot. An umbrella wouldn't be a bad idea. Really.

    If you're staying in a local motel, AVOID THOSE LOCATED ON SOUTH SAMISH BLVD. The local cops keep all the crack-heads, tweakers and other various riff-raff confined to the daily/weekly/monthly motels along this street--no need for you to go looking for trouble, it will find you if you stay there for long. The better motels are located north of Lakeway Blvd. (including the Quality Inn right on Lakeway. It's one of those fancy ones). The one exception to this rule is the Shamrock Motel in North Bellingham--I hear more call-outs on the police-dispatch frequencies referencing this motel then any other address in Bellingham. Avoid it.

    Bring an UP TO DATE street map, especially if you're going to be driving anywhere besides the Technical College--Bellingham has the most ill-designed street layout of any city I've ever been to, including San Francisco. Not going to vouch for Google maps or TomTom like devices either...really, get a map.

    Bellingham is notorious for having the highest fuel prices in the Northwest. If you're driving in from the south, gas up at the Skagit Valley Casino--lowest gas prices in the area as it is on native lands (Upper Skagit Indian Tribe). They also have cheap, decent buffets. They're located 15 mins south of Bellingham. If you're driving in from the North, the same can be found at the Silver Reef Casino just north of Bellingham, west on Slater Dr. from I-5 (Lummi Indian Tribe).

    Hope that helps.

    • by steveha ( 103154 )

      this is the rains. A lot. An umbrella wouldn't be a bad idea. Really.

      Meh. Most of us in the Northwest don't fuss with umbrellas, because most of the time it rains very gently. You can walk around quite a while without really getting wet. I wear a hat to keep rain off my glasses, and I wear a coat if I will be out for more than a couple of minutes, but you should be able to make it from the parking lot to the fest without melting.

      In the Pacific Northwest, it sort of mists for days or weeks

  • I wish there were more events on the east coast. I live in NY, i rarely get to see many events out here. I've never been to a Linux event before, something i would like to do one day. But traveling across the country is not something i can really afford right now (broke college student). Maybe next time around there will be something closer

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann