Scale13x Retrospective

This year I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the Southern California Linux Expo. Here’s what I observed about the location, the conference’s organization, and my own talk.

LA logistics

Gettting a room in the same hotel as the conference was, as always, an excellent choice. I booked about 3 weeks before the conference with no trouble, but a coworker who tried to book only a week before was redirected to the Mariott next door because the Hilton was full.

The Los Angeles Airpot Hilton is in something of a food desert. Within walking distance there are a Burger King, a Carl’s Jr, and a Denny’s. The hotel contains a Starbucks, a sit-down restaraunt, and a bar, though the prices are 2 to 3 times what one would consider reasonable outside the combination of conference, hotel, and California. My hotel room contained a coffee maker but no fridge, so I was glad to have brought along non-perishable breakfast and snack foods. All of the fast food joints nearby make a pretty decent attempt at offering salads, non-deep-fried chicken, and other staples of my apathetically health-conscious dietary preferences.

The Conference

The registration process was not immediately obvious, and the self-checkin kiosks demanded the exact email address and zip code with which one registered for the conference. The line for getting badges and bags after checkin seemed to go quite fast, though.

The expo hall spilled into the smaller rooms across from the hotel’s main ballroom as well as out into the hallways, which made it feel almost like two separate halls. The dense population and energy of the expo floor felt similar to OSCON, but SCALE’s booths were predominantly actual open-source projects and companies which contribute back upstream, rather than big-name sponsors looking solely to hire. The larger booths, such as HP, were arranged to take several consecutive spaces in an aisle rather than to stand as their own little islands like OSCON’s biggest sponsors tend to.

The conference organizers were extremely friendly and helpful, which created a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. I felt that if an incident involving misconduct or bad judgement had happened to occur among attendees, the organizers would have been able to handle it immediately and effectively. There was almost always at least one organizer hanging out in the speaker lounge, often their affable publicist Larry Cafiero, to assist speakers and anwer any questions. This made it easy to get help with problems small enough not to warrant seeking out or interrupting a busier organizer, but large enough to be annoying if left unsolved.

The rooms were often packed to capacity – I think that there were more people in attendance than the venue was designed to comfortably hold. I doubt that all of the attendees would have fit into even the largest room at once; keynotes were standing room only and relatively early in the morning.

Despite the room size constraints, the layout of the conference was generally good. All of the presentation rooms were centrally located on the second floor and the expo hall was on the ground floor, so it never took more than 2 or 3 minutes to get from one room to another.

My Talk

I had completely rewritten my Human Hacking talk since I gave it at SeaGL, and ironically several of the strengths that I saw in its previous incarnation became weaknesses here. However, the weaknesses from SeaGL became strengths at SCALE as well.

The good:

  • Organization at the slide-order level was much better.
  • Putting more work into my slides meant I had greater trust that they contained all of the important information, and caused me to take fewer tangents.
  • Extra rehersals of the talk helped me excise most of the anecdotes, keeping only those that were directly relevant to the content. This slight narrowing of scope gave me more time to repeat key points.
  • I made the audience laugh, and people remained engaged throughout the presentation.
  • The little Q&A app which Lucy Wyman helped me throw together the day before functioned flawlessly for my interactive demo. And the demo actually did what I expected this time, unlike the ones at SeaGL which got the opposite of the effects I’d hoped for.
  • My laptop’s VGA output Just Worked with the projectors. Nothing in the stack of web browser, window manager, operating system, hardware, cables, and projectors decided to spontaneoulsy quit while I was talking.

The bad:

  • I spoke in the keynote room to an audience of about 40 people (surprisingly large for 3pm on the last day of the conference), and let myself get quite nervous. This caused me to regress back to using a variety of annoying speech habits which I’ve been making an effort to eliminate.
  • I was unprepared for the wierd acoustics of the stage (another function of room size). The speakers were in the corners of the room and I was in the middle with a wireless mic, and I experienced perhaps half a second of delay between saying a word and hearing it over the sound system. Before my next talk I’m going to find a way to simulate that effect, and practice with it occurring, because I found it quite distracting and it’s probably common in similar audio setups.
  • Due to last-minute advice about potential network problems and admonitions to use a local copy of my slides, I presented off their second-to-last version since it was the most recent that I had built on my laptop. It had inconsistent capitalization in the slide titles and the wrong URL on the first and last slides.
  • My transitions between individual slides, and organization of ideas within each slide’s topic, were less polished than at SeaGL. This has taught me that the quality of my transitions depends on planning them ahead of time and leaving myself plenty of notes, no matter how often I practice a talk.

On the whole, I think that my talk was quite successful, and I get the impression (from body language and watching some people taking notes) that most members of the audience enjoyed at least some parts of the information-packed hour. I’m not particularly looking forward to watching the recordings, because I’m well aware of the verbal bad habits (such as filler words) that I engaged in, but it’ll help me target my speaking practice to avoid such problems at future conferences.