On the weekend of March 24, I went to Boston, MA to participate in LibrePlanet 2018. This was my first time to LibrePlanet, and it happened to be the 10th anniversary of the event. It is gratis (free of charge) for students and Free Software Foundation (FSF) members, and I was also very fortunate to receive the travel scholarship to offset part of the expenses. After all, Boston is a big city with a lot of high rises, and staying near the venue at MIT campus is quite expensive. Back to the event, I do feel it is very welcoming to first comers. Those free software supporters who haven’t checked it out should definitely plan to do so next year.
When LibrePlanet 2018 was calling for proposals, I submitted two potential topics. One is an entry level introduction to LaTeX in a standard session, and the other is a lightning talk about my observation and thoughts on free software promotion in APAC. Surprisingly, the latter one got rejected, which possibly indicates that folks in the US do not find that topic very interesting. I presented my LaTeX talk, with more attendees than I had expected. I also got questions afterwards including what is the best way to set up TeX Live in a lab environment. Chances are more students will get started with LaTeX to create beautiful documents! If you missed the session then, check out the slides (source) and video recording online. I didn’t time the presentation very well and hope I can do better in the future.
There were a lot of interesting sessions throughout the weekend. Saturday’s keynote by Deb Nicholson was motivating and touching, and everyone applauded when she mentioned we should treat newcomers to the community with love, like how a mother treats adopted children. Chris Lamb, the current Debian project leader and by the way very handsome, discussed motivation and progress on reproducible build. Gina Likins, a Red Hatter, and Matt Bernius, who collaborates with Mozilla, shared common myths about free software adoption in college. It’s sad that quite a few professors do not allow their students to use or contribute to free software projects mainly for the fear of plagiarism. It was mentioned that one good way to contradict such idea is inviting former students who have graduated and are working in the industry to share how the software industry works in reality.
There was of course RMS. He mentioned the progress of a decompiler which would be useful to develop free/libre firmware among other things. But the most memorable thing for me would be he popped up in a standard session, found some kids were standing in a occupied room, and then fetched chairs from a stack nearby for those kids. That was sweeeeeet! Besides, I also got to know the face of John Sullivan, young and handsome. I also met Georgia Young, a beautiful lady and the Program Manager of FSF.
There was FSF office open house on Friday evening, and I went there of course. Turns out it is located not at MIT campus, but near Downtown Crossing subway station. It was quite crowded when I got there, and people are forming random groups talking and having fun. I got to talk with a volunteer for LibrePlanet who is around the age of my grandparents and enjoys using free software (Kdenlive more specifically) for video production. I met Wez during the open house. The last time I met him I was still studying in Beijing, China. Similar for endle, who I managed to meet on Sunday at the venue. It’s always good to meet old friends again! At the open house I also found a Chinese lady who is working at FSF, Jasimin. My reimbursement is supposed to be taken care of by her 🙂
Other things I learned that are worth mentioning:
- Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) provides various services for free software communities so developers can just focus on the code and documentation.
- Mozilla runs Open Source Student Network to promote free software in universities. They maintain a list of open source clubs in the US and Canada.
- Unison is a free/libre, cross platform, two way synchronization tool.
- I wore the TUNA hoodie to LibrePlanet, and at least one person found it interesting.