This article is part one of four, each focusing on a different aspect of my trip to Manchester, United Kingdom, for the 2017 edition of the GUADEC conference. Sponsorship from the GNOME Foundation has made it possible for me to attend, thanks a lot!

This one is about the days before the conference. Part 2 is about the talks. Part 3 is about the unconference days and the overall conference experience. Part 4 is about my touristic experience in the country.

Early arrival

My travel experience was unusual as my journeys generally have a first trip from Strasbourg airport to Amsterdam if there is no direct flight to my destination, but this time I flew with Air France via the Charles de Gaulle airport. The first leg was on a TGV from Strasbourg central train station to CDG. Air France was taking care of the whole trip, which means my train had a flight number! I checked in and left my luggage at the Air France desk located in the train station. It felt weird hopping on the train without my suitcase but it’s nice not to have to carry it around. I was handed my plane boarding pass at the train station as well, thus when I arrived at the airport I could just head straight to security check and then to my gate. I reckon this is the first time taking a plane felt that straightforward, so big kudos to Air France. Oh and I was also handed a voucher to redeem a drink on the train, which was definitely appreciated. The only minor let down was the lack of Wi-Fi on the train, but I was still able to hack so all was good.

Then to contrast with the excellent service of Air France I was confronted with that of the British railway companies, as one has to take the train to get from the airport to the city of Manchester. I was welcomed by a few non working ticket vending machines, and a line to the working ones. Next I had to figure out what train would take me to my destination, Manchester Oxford Road. I couldn’t find that information from the displays as the only info they had about each train was the final destination. Not super useful when one doesn’t know the various routes (and given this train station is at an airport, I’m willing to bet a large proportion of the people there are in that situation). I could get a few seconds of attention from a person who was busy checking tickets from people heading to the platforms and they told me which train to look for. While I was waiting on the corresponding platform, I could hear the announcements for the cancellation of three trains I should have taken. A local told us tourists on the pier that it was “typical and expected of British railway companies” and we should just wait for the announcements as eventually there would be a train for us. After an hour at the train station, I finally caught a train and headed to my hotel where I chilled out for a bit and then crashed.

On Wednesday we had a full day board meeting at MadLab. It was productive, but felt too short as we had many items on our agenda we didn’t have time to cover. The board usually meets in person once a year (at GUADEC) and we think it would be good to do it more often, as we get much more done in such a focused event than we do when we have to accommodate other bits of our respective schedules during a standard week. That’s why we hope we can hold a hackfest sometime soon to work on some of our pending tasks.

Amongst the tasks we did do was the election of officers. Nuritzi and Allan retain their positions as Chair and Vice chair. Cosimo and I switched seats, I am now Secretary and he’s Vice secretary. Carlos is taking on the Treasurer role and our outgoing board member Shaun very kindly accepted the position of Assistant treasurer to share his valuable experience with him.

We met on Tuesday at the same location but with our Advisory board this time. This is an opportunity for us to keep them up to date on what the community has been busy with in the past year, and for them to tell us about their work and expectations, but also to discuss amongst themselves ways they could work together towards common goals. If your organization wants to be part of these exchanges and support GNOME, get in touch with us!

As the day ended, I went to check in at the accommodation and then headed to the early bird party at Kro bar. As usual, it was good to see so many familiar faces, but quite a few new ones too!

I collected my badge, grabbed a local beer, chatted with and hugged people as I met them, and even did a really quick interview for our social media. That night was a lot of fun and a good conclusion to those two pre-conference days!

Posted 2017-08-02 08:09:11 CEST

After the first two days of hard work, I was already feeling kind of burnt out by the start of GUADEC. This year I was only vaguely involved with the organization, way less than the 2016 and obviously 2014 instances of the event, so I could afford to stand back a bit and enjoy the conference like a regular attendee. The only help I provided was by volunteering to record some of the videos and that simply means attending talks, which I planned to do anyway.

During the opening we were told about an ongoing game for the duration of the conference. Attendees had been secretly assigned to four different houses and could be rewarded with points for asking questions during talks or on other such occasions. I learnt that I had been designated as Turquoise House lead. My guess was that meant I had been officially stamped as an old fart and sure enough, I was handed my “Old farts club” sticker by Bastien a bit later.

By the way, did you know you can adopt me?

Talks I attended

Michael asked us to “Please use GNOME Web”. I have to confess I am only using it part time and I am very slowly converting from Firefox. I like my overall experience with Web more, but it’s not up to the task for everything yet. My main blockers for now are the lack of WebRTC support (which is coming… eventually), the way large numbers of tabs are handled (I have almost 400 tabs currently open in my Firefox window, neatly separated with Tab groups), and the ease with which I can remove noise from my history via the address bar (when a non relevant suggestion like diff views of a wiki page or old blog articles shows up I can just highlight it and press the Del key). We’re getting there though!

Christian told us about the “State of the Builder”. No big surprise for me here as I follow development quite closely, building and using master regularly and of course hanging out with the development team in the chatroom. It was nice seeing the reactions from the audience though.

In her keynote, Karen explored the way we fight “The battle over our technology”. My main takeaway was that we all have our personal reasons to fight for free software and we should each take some time to think about what those are to find more energy to keep fighting.

In “Progressive Web Apps: an opportunity for GNOME”, Stephen explained how with a few tweaks in Epiphany we could get said PWA integrated and feel more at home in our environment. Michael was in the audience and reacted positively. The two will probably be working together in the near future to make this happen. This echoes with Michael saying hacking on Epiphany was relatively easy, and with the friendliness to newcomers we claim.

The “Atomic workstation” presentation by Kalev gave details on their plan and current status for the post-distro world Owen already hinted at last year. I like how he showed GNOME Software integration and said:

For people who have been using GNOME Software, it doesn’t look anything special… and that’s the whole idea.

The timeline for it to be production ready seems quite long, but it’s good to see progress happening.

Day 2 started with Martin’s “Fantastic layouts and where to find them”. He demonstrated Emeus and constraints based layout for user interfaces. I discovered Apple’s Visual Format Language (one of the two ways to defined constraints with Emeus) and was quite impressed by it. I am looking forward to seeing how having that in GTK+ 4 will spark new designs in upcoming applications, and how this will help achieve responsive design in desktop applications.

Although the GNOME part of Michael’s “LibreOffice and GNOME” was smaller than I expected, it was good to see the current state of LibreOffice Online and I’m looking forward to having it integrated with the GNOME Nextcloud instance.

Despite being under the weather and the hardware throwing a tantrum, Matthew did a good job at introducing the audience to “Decentralised open communication with Matrix.org”. Matrix has replaced Jabber and IRC for me since early June and I’m very happy with it.

As GNOME turns 20, Jonathan recounted “The History of GNOME”. This hour long talk felt too short! Even for someone who’s been around in the community, there were gems one may not have known about. I am very thankful this was put together and I had a great time. The fact that he didn’t talk about it conforted me in knowing that there is no Swedish conspiracy. The most important milestone to me was the release of GNOME 1.4 as that’s when we established one of our core traditions:

From here on out, GNOME only removes features.

Not convinced? Just read our release notes!

That history lesson was followed by Neil’s forecast. Our recently hired Executive director shared his vision for “GNOME to 2020 and beyond”.

We took a quick break and came back for the Foundation’s Annual General Meeting.

We had our usual team reports, I gave the translation one.

Then we went out to shoot the traditional group photo.

And it was time for a Q&A session with the Board.

No talk for me on the morning of day 3 which I spent here and there, talking to various people about various things.

I went to the session where our transition to GitLab was discussed. I feel good about the direction this is taking and the way GitLab treats communities like ours.

The open talk about Pipewire by Wim was quite short. I’m not sure what to think of it yet, I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

“How to get better mileage out of Glade” is a question I’ve been asking myself from time to time, so I was glad that Juan Pablo talked about it. He’s done some good work to make it more modern and the future looks bright. I need to spend some time playing with it.

The lightning talks were good and covered lots of topics. My favorite ones are the ones that could be deemed off-topic, like Kat’s about keeping chickens, or the one where Neil fights Zeeshan’s helicopters with his airplanes. I wish we had more. I would actually enjoy attending a day full of lightning talks!

Posted 2017-08-07 18:29:11 CEST

Unconference

Monday morning started with the engagement BoF. We covered a lot of ground and all have many things to work on for the next few months.

I spent most of the remaining time with the friendly bunch, giving my opinion on various documentation related topics, but not actually doing much documentation work apart from fixing a few wiki pages. Instead, I played around with the new glade UI, pondering how far along one can go with it and close to no code when working on the wireframe for an application.

Unfortunately I had to leave by the end of the second day as I needed to go back home to save the world.

GUADEC organization

The conference seemed to run flawlessly. There is usually quite a bunch of last minute hiccups and you see organizers quite stressed, but I haven’t noticed it this year. Granted I was not following as closely as I was during the three previous editions, so some things may have escaped my attention. Kudos to the organization team, the standing ovation during the closing session was well deserved.

Posted 2017-08-09 21:29:11 CEST

Manchester is a puzzling city. On one hand you have lots of abandonned buildings, with black painted facades and big chains with locks on the doors. Some old brick buildings seem to fall to pieces.

On the other hand you have lots of new development. Many skyscrapers are being built. Sam told me that the city was thriving, especially with the economic situation in London making Manchester an attractive alternative.

Even though we had a greaty party at the Museum of Science and Industry, we didn’t really get to visit it. It’s a bit sad, as Manchester is a significant place in the history of Computer science, with inventions such as the Baby and dwellers such as Alan Turing.

Manchester prides itself with the importance music has for it, and if you dig a bit you’ll find a plethora of bands coming from there. It is a bit unfortunate that I didn’t get to be more exposed to the local musical heritage.

Of course this is England, you’ll be reminded of it by its black cabs and double deckers, but also by a few silly things. As another French dude said a while back:

Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person! I blow my nose at you, so-called “Arthur King,” you and all your silly English K-nig-hts.

Some places have two taps! Cold and hot water are separated. All power outlets also have individual switches. Foreigners can be deceived into thinking their laptop or phone is charging when it’s not.

Food was good, albeit expensive, even though I didn’t have that many “typical” dishes. The only ones that comes to mind, apart from the awesome full English breakfasts at the venue, are the black pudding with lentils I had on the first day and the fish and chips I had with some friends before I had to leave for the airport.

Posted 2017-08-11 17:29:11 CEST

20 years ago, Miguel and Federico created GNOME.

We had an early party during GUADEC at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. I organized a local one in Strasbourg yesterday with the help of Marie-France, a student who was already behind the logistics of the Sympa hackfest. It was part of a string of similar events around the world.

Marie-France baked us an awesome cake. We had a love wall, a longtime tradition at GNOME events that the locals weren’t used to, but they sure appreciated it!

Stickers that I brought back from GUADEC got dispatched and brought smiles to the faces of attendees.

Posted 2017-08-17 19:34:01 CEST
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