The FOSS4G 2014 conference was a blast as every year. I really enjoyed meeting old friends as well as people that I’ve know through the web only.
As I was in the program committee myself, I won’t say much about the selection of the talks (please see the “Things to improve” section, though), but I’ve heard only few complaints so far. This might be due to publishing the review process that we used. But if you have any complaints or ideas to improve it in coming years, please get in touch with me.
I haven’t spend all my time it talks but saw quite a few. As always you might end up in some decent talk where you expect it the least. Notable ones that I’ve attended:
- “Gimme some YeSQL! – and a GIS” by Vincent Picavet: It was a good overview what is hot and new in PostgreSQLl. It’s good to see the Josh Berkus is getting closer to his envisioned CouchgreSQL.
- “Spatial in Lucene and Solr” by David Smiley: For me it’s always interesting to hear from other spatial indexing solutions.
- “Accurate polygon search in Lucene Spatial (with performance benefits to boot!)” by Jeffrey Gerard: That one was of interest for me as the problems that need to be solved are similar to the ones I have with GeoCouch.
- “An Open Source Approach to Communicating Weather Risks” by Jonathan Wolfe: A talk about the NWS Enhanced Data Display, which is a huge web portal. There are a lot possible through that web interface, which contains a lot of information. Although they use a lot of open source I’d really love to see the portal itself to be open sourced.
- “OnEarth: NASA’s Boundless Solution to Rapidly Serving Geographic Imagery” by Joe Roberts: They showed WorldView which is another example of a huge web portal, but this time the source code is available as open source on Github: https://github.com/nasa-gibs/worldview
- “Introduction to the geospatial goodies in Elasticsearch” by Simon Hope and Jerome Anthony: It was a good introductory talk with a great live example at the end.
I certainly had fun with my own talk “GeoCouch: A distributed multidimensional index”, I had a good feeling afterwards. I hope the people in the audience enjoyed it as well. I’m still working on getting the Terminal output into a PDF.
The catering was great. I heard a few people that weren’t happy about last year’s catering in Nottingham, I have to say that I was.
What I really enjoyed this year was that after the first day there was even food after the last session. On the second day there was the gala event (with food) and on the last day everyone was heading off anyway.
This year the venue was great as all sessions were close to each other. It was easily possible to switch rooms (unlike it was in some of the previous FOSS4Gs).
Everything was well organized, there were plenty of volunteers, you saw them at every corner. Also the guidance to the gala event was great. I think everyone who wanted to make it was easily able get onto the right lightrail.
The social events
There was an JS.Geo after-party I liked meeting some people that I haven’t seen in a while that weren’t even attending the FOSS4G. We then moved on to the FOSS4G Welcome Reception hosted by Ecotrust and Point 97.
On the first day there was the LocationTech Meetup which had plenty of free drinks and a lot of the people from the conference that just went over to that bar.
Second day was the gala event at the World Forestry Center. I think it was the best one from any of the FOSS4Gs that I’ve been to (since 2009). What I really enjoyed was that it wasn’t the normal “Gala Dinner Setup” with huge round tables you kind of feel locked onto. Instead there was a wide open space and you grabbed the food at some counter (kind like a food cart). You were able to walk around and chat with people, but if you’d like to be seated you could also sit down (at one of those round tables).
The field trip
I booked a field trip on Saturday to Mount St. Helens. It was really great. Our guide Jill was just as enthusiastic as Darrell Fuhriman described her. It was a fun group, a lot to learn, beautiful views and certainly worth a visit. I was impressed by scale of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. It looks way smaller on the pictures that I’ve seen in the past.
I really liked that you didn’t get huge conference bags with all sorts of things you never need and throw away anyway. Instead you were just pointed to a table with those things where you could take them. You would then proceed to pick a t-shirt of your size (if you wanted to).
I also really like the program brochure, I don’t think I’ve seen one done that well before. It’s small and handy and was insanely well designed. Having the talks split into tracks which fit one page and having the time axis horizontally is a great idea. Also having the abstracts right behind every day, rather than having the full schedule first and the abstracts next is good to keep things easy to browse. You don’t really care about yesterdays abstracts, do you? But even if you do, you can easily find them as the individual days had colored markers on the side of the page, very much like telephone books have. So it was again easy to browse. Perhaps the local team could upload it for reference for future conferences.
Thing to improve
There wasn’t much that could be done better. Though there’s one thing that I’ve discussed with another member of the program committee (that I was also part of). The conference is about Free and Open Source Software. For me this means that you are not only using, but also contributing something back. For me the conference talks should create value for the community.
Of course there should also be talks about “How we migrated our department from proprietary software to open source”, I don’t have a problem with that. Though things should be clearer. What I generally don’t want to see is talks about how people use open source software, build upon it, even improve it, but then not contributing it back. Such a talk has no real value for the attendees. It’s too much “Look what we’ve done but you can’t use it”. I’m well aware that there are cases where open sourcing things is not possible due to the contracts. It strikes me that we might have rejected a talk that would have been in the open source spirit.
One solution I came up together with Jacob Greer is that for future FOSS4Gs you need to include a link in your abstract submission to the source code. This could either be to the project itself, or to upstream projects that you’ve contributed to (and not only used).
It was an awesome, well organized event. I’d like to thank the local organizing committee very much for all the huge amount of work they’ve put into this. You’ve set the bar really high.