Thursday, December 15, 2011

Silly silliness

In a previous post ( I discussed the background behind this years 'Silly' tag in the registration process for 2012. Now that we're just a month out, I thought I'd share some of the amusing replacement descriptions that people have entered:
  • Take me to your dairy!
  • from Scotland import Whisky
  • trapped in the badge factory send help plz
  • a very inquisitive Groundhog ][
  • blood type: AB+
  • lazy kitteh is lazy
  • I ported Python to GRUB
  • Putting the eek back in Geek
  • Don't ask if I'm enjoying the partner program
  • rfeia sp
  • Well-behaved women rarely make history
  • someone keeps moving my chair
  • Hi floor, make me a sammich!
  • Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;--
  • au.conf.linux.DBus.Error.NoSillyDescription
  • Mmmmmm salt, mysterious salt
  • Lua programmer extraordinaire
  • wandering foo monkey ninja
  • does this smell like chloroform to you?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The good, the bad and the ill-fitting is, when it all comes down to it, just another type of open source project. It is run by volunteers - volunteers who are passionate, committed and dedicated to delivering an exceptional conference experience for all attendees. Like any open source project, we as a team own the conference, we are responsible for its outcomes whether they be negative or positive.  Naturally, we're open to suggestions (and criticisms) from the community we're promoting so we can respond appropriately - and improve conference outcomes in the process.

The team has recently received feedback from some sectors of the community around conference t-shirts. Specifically, the concern raised was that the only t-shirt option available was a 'unisex' fit, and that this offering did not meet the needs of female attendees. We'd like to take this opportunity to respond to that criticism, provide some insight into the decision making process leading up to the situation and the action we're taking to address it going forward.

As a first comment for future conference organisers: T-shirts at conferences are difficult, deceptively difficult. Seemingly more than any other conference item, they generate angst, controversy, emotion and have a history many an organiser and delegate would rather forget. It is also not something that can be solved the same way for every conference, suppliers are notoriously variable, with samples and promises not always telling the full story. If our experience has shown anything, it's that what works for one conference may not necessarily work for another, even with a tried and tested vendor. The information contained at is of great value and if you haven't read it click that link now, but be aware that, as we discovered, problems can arise from the last places you expect.

Before going through the issues we faced, a huge thanks should go out to Sae Ra Germaine, one of the core organising team and designer of the 2012 shirts, it is simply amazing!
It is also complex. Indeed, when we first approached a manufacturer, their initial reaction was 'Yikes! You want that on a t-shirt, are you crazy?!!', but Sae Ra persisted. We shopped around shirt printers, with most having similar things to say about our sanity, but eventually selected a provider who came highly recommended from a former organiser.

Now, the only way the design could be applied to a t-shirt is using a process called sublimated printing. In contrast to simpler, more traditional methods, sublimated printing uses a heat transfer process to achieve near photographic quality on various types of material. The downside, as we eventually discovered, is that the limitations in the material that can be used mean that going beyond the 'pre-cut' sizes and styles available from the manufacturer was a problem. We requested a large range of sizes, both mens' and womens' cut, and tried most of the sample sizes on. Sizes are sizes, right? Sadly, no. This quality assurance step identified that the womens' size 22 was really about a size 16. This was difficult to accept - the two ladies on the team - Sae Ra and Kathy - are curvy women - and were disappointed that not even a supposed size 22 was going to fit!

The mens' sizes, although a little off, were more realistic. Given that we were now near 3 months into this process, and due to the lead times involved in production, we faced a decision around how best to serve the conference. The options available to us:
  1. Offer both mens' sizes and womens' sizes, knowing the womens' sizes were unrealistically small, and would likely attract significant negative feedback from female attendees. This played heavily in our decision making. Having achieved a level of almost 25% of female speaker participation, it seemed inappropriate to insult our female constituency by offering skin-tight babydoll tees. We even contacted the manufacturer, who, after the previous commitments they had given, were as horrified as us - but unfortunately they were limited by the size range of their suppliers. 
  2. Offer only mens' sizes. Never a serious option.
  3. Identify alternate vendors, seek samples and repeat the sizing try on process. At the time, this simply wasn't considered a feasible option given the timeline for the conference. Trial runs typically take 3-4 weeks, assuming you get things right first time around, and we were very conscious about the time required for a production run. 
  4. Our provider offered a 3rd 'cut' of the shirts in what it referred to as a unisex style.  and offer as wide a range of unisex sizes as possible. We recognised that this wasn't an optimal solution, but it addressed the fact that we knew we had a large proportion of female attendees, and avoided the issue of the skin-tight, impossibly sized female babydoll tees. Samples of the unisex style were made and tested on a wide range of people - both male and female - to ensure that the sizing, fit, and cut were realistic. Only after all this was considered successful did we decide to go with this option. 
The rest, as they say, is history. Registrations for the conference opened, including a page showing diagrams and measurements of the shirts in production, and nothing more was thought of it. That is, until last week when a flurry of tweets and blog comments appeared taking issue with the lack of specific female shirts.

So where does that leave us now? Well, the flood of feedback has showed us that our decision to go with the unisex shirts was made in error and that further consultation should have been made prior to 'pressing the button'. We are now liaising with a custom dye sublimation supplier, who can manufacture a womens' sizes, in a more female-friendly cut, to practically any size we want. Such services unfortunately don't come cheap, however we recognise this is a very important issue for the conference participants so we are committed to doing everything we can to get it right.

We are making genuine efforts to ensure that the requirements and preferences of all attendees are catered for, and are very appreciative of the patience and understanding that the community has generally shown us. Be it shirts, accommodation or any other aspect of 2012, if you have a comment, criticism or suggestion, PLEASE don't hesitate to contact us via one of the below addresses. These are the best ways to contact the organisers and will ensure that the issue is brought to the attention of the most suitable person as soon as possible.

P.S. We couldn't say all that about the shirts without giving a little preview could we?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why the 2012 team works so well

I've worked on quite a few open source events now - including numerous BarCamps and Software Freedom Days, but it's my first time on a core organising team. Each team has its own quirks, culture, leadership style and challenges - but it was clear from the outset that 2012 was made of awesome - here's why!

  • Everyone is a genuinely nice person. I feel incredibly welcomed, and honoured, to be a part of this team. Watching at work is like watching an older married couple - comfortable with each others' habits and needs, knowing what has to be done, and getting on with it using humour, light-hearted banter and a lot of laughs.

  • Everyone brings a unique skillset to the table. Sae Ra (@msmarymac) is an absolutely gun at graphics and multimedia, and everything she touches just looks amazing. Duncan is brilliant at managing our conference software, ZooKeepr, and manages to stay sane in the face of the many 'undocumented features' it has. Brett (@SuperRoach) and Tristan are our AV gurus and know what it's going to take to make recordings of talks top notch. Cameron (@ctudball) manages our finances and ensures that suppliers get paid on time, and that there's an accurate paper trail. Michael Ellery, our esteemed sysadmin takes care of the myriad systems we have to support the conference.

  • Last but not least is Josh Stewart (@noisymime), who in between juggling full time work and a young family has dedicated himself to bringing to Ballarat. Josh's leadership style is laid back while productive; he guides people gently to an outcome and is always willing to take on board the opinions of others. His leadership style works very well for this event - where all the organisers are volunteers and are very capable. Josh is always attuned to the mood of his team - and there hasn't been a task yet that I haven't been thanked for! So many people don't realise that simple please and thank you cost nothing - and can be incredibly rewarding.
Stay tuned for more from the team!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting to Ballarat or "You mean there's actually something in the 800km between Melbourne and Adelaide‽"

A long time ago, in a city far far away (Dunedin to be precise), when we first started talking about Ballarat, the first thing that came up was the 'issue' of traveling to Ballarat. To give a little background for those who don't know the geography, Ballarat is about 100km west of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, which works out to be an hours drive along the freeway. If you're from somewhere that considers 100km a long way, the first thing to remember is that its 110km/h freeway the whole distance, honestly it can easily take longer to drive from one side of Melbourne to the other!

As things started to get a bit more serious for LCA Ballarat, we began talking to the Linux Australia council, who also expressed their concern about the transport 'issue'. They were confident that this was in no way a deal breaker, but definitely something we needed to address in our bid.

And address it we have! Given that the major concern, particularly for those outside of Victoria, is in how to get from the airport to the conference venue, we currently have 8 full size busses scheduled to run to and from both locations the weekend before and the days after the conference. These are offerred for a token price of $5 and a schedule can be found at
Even better, if there's demand for them, we're more than happy to look into getting more services schedule to make things even easier! In short, we're 100% committed to making sure 'distance' is no excuse at all for not coming along to 2012 and will do what it takes to make sure anyone interested in the event is aware of this.

So with all of that said, I guess what I'm trying to point out is that I really can't see any reason why anyone should have any problem getting to Ballarat for the conference. Well, no more problems than they'd have getting to Melbourne anyway. However, if anyone still does consider this to be an issue for any reason, we really would love to hear from you! If there's something we've missed or any other ways we can make this easier, we're more than happy to look into them.

Finally, after all the comments we got from people around the schwag hint dropping in my last post, I thought I'd make a 'thing' of it. To that end, here's another artsy fartsy, tiny depth of field, pic of some of our recently arrived gear. No prizes for guessing the item itself :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

So many stars!

On the weekend in Ballarat there was beautiful clear skies and when evening had comfortably settled in for the night there was this beautiful gradient washed over the sky... it went from blue to black. It made me think about how accurately we managed to capture that on our 2012 website.

We are very lucky to have that sort of skyline out here in Ballarat. That's the one thing I have noticed, now that I live in Melbourne there's a distinct lack of stars it's always refreshing to come back to Ballarat and just stand there "under the stars".

Our Schwag has strongly followed the "under the stars" idea. I'm not going to give away much because I would like to keep a little element of surprise but wow.... even I'm impressed and I'm tough to please. T-shirts are ordered, Lanyards have been printed and delivered. Bags are being printed as we speak, Secret Schwag is working it's way through the printer. So much going on! I'm definitely going to need to organise a holiday after this.

According to our countdown there's 118 days left until 2012 starts. Time is flying WAY too quickly, I do have to say that our core organising team have got it right. We're not panicking, we're taking everything in our stride and enjoying this experience and I really hope that reflects in January for you guys. We are doing what we can to make this the best conference that we can possibly give to you. So please do register, get on board and joins us under the stars...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feeling silly

If you've attended in the past, you might've noticed a strange tagline / description appearing on your badge. Eg:

  • "a narrowly referenced structure"
  • "an improbably terminal expert"
  • "one mysteriously immutable definition"

Naturally the type of people who attend are not the type of people to simply leave this as is and a tradition of 'hacking' this description has become popular. Each year this tended to get a little more complicated (As always Futurama paints a great picture of this process) and so with registrations now open for 2012, I thought I'd give a quick view of how we approached this and drop a few hints in case you're having trouble.

First of all, Zookeepr (The conference management system uses) is open source and this was in the back of our minds as we put the code together, so if you want to have any chance of customising your tag description, you'll have to take a read of it. To this end though, we'll even save you some leg work and say that the code we run on is always available at

Secondly, whilst there's a shortcut or 2 to figuring it out, I suggest you do actually try to figure out what each section of the code is doing as trying to shortcut the whole thing probably won't help. 

Remember it's just python, so really, how hard can it be? ;)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Registrations now open for 2012

Yes you read correctly, early bird registrations are now open for 2012:

The early bird prices will remain available until the end of October or until sold out.

Schedules, schwag and schregistrations

So we may still be a good 4 months away from 2012, but things are already starting to get pretty crazy for us here on the organising team. To help show some of the behind the scenes things that are going on for the conference, we decided to start this organisers blog where we can leak, preview, vent and generally show off all manner of things about what we've got in store for the week in Ballarat next January.

Where are we at then? Well we have some awesome venues booked, obviously the University of Ballarat itself for the main conference but we've also got a real treat in store for those attending our Penguin Dinner, Speakers Dinner and Professional Delegates Networking session. We've tried to put together things that are uniquely Ballarat and so we're pretty confident everyone lucky enough to come along will have a ball.

We also made our first major announcement for a while this week with the release of the draft conference schedule:
The papers committee put in a fantastic effort and have come up with what we consider to be a simply amazing lineup. There's a lot of the regulars, but we've also aimed to get in a lot of new faces as well. Most impressively, approximately 24% of the selected talks will be given by women, which is a seriously encouraging continuation of the increasing trend the conference has seen in this regard over the past few years. It should go without saying, but for anyone who still has their doubts, I want to stress that this figure was reached with absolutely no need for a selection bias and gender was not considered as a criteria in any way, shape or form.

Over the coming few days and weeks we've got some huge announcements coming up, so keep your eyes out for these. We hope to spill some more behind the scenes beans shortly too to help give anyone interested a look at the various rooms etc we're looking at using.

To conclude, I'll leave you all with a little sneak peak of the first piece of schwag that has arrived recently: