Notes from Day 1

Perhaps the first thing to mention about day 1 was getting to the venue.  It’s some distance out from the city centre, and off the map supplied by my hotel.  That’s not just the city centre tourist area map, but the bigger one!  So the first task was to find the place, in morning rain, and weather cold enough for the ponds I passed to be partially frozen over.  Fortunately the natives were friendly and helpful, and I got shown to the Free University by a young lady who was heading there herself – albeit to a different area of the campus.

One observation that should please Brit readers: the wildlife.  There were red squirrels in the park of the Abbeye de la Cambre.  I’ve no idea if the Belgians make efforts to protect them, or whether they just thrive naturally.

The Saturday morning was given to keynotes.  These were distinguished doers and competent speakers – as opposed to the distinguished and entertaining speakers some conferences get.  One was Bdale Garbee on Debian: his talk focussed quite a lot on community, in a manner that’ll be familiar to anyone who attends ApacheCon as regularly as I do – though Debian is much more formally structured than Apache.  In questions, I confronted him with essentially the same point I put to Mark Shuttleworth last time I was in Brussels:

I work upstream from Debian: you distribute our software.  But your packages are substantially reorganised from ours, to the extent that when your users come to our documentation, it doesn’t correspond to what they see.  They end up confused, and you throw a big support burden back on us.  Wouldn’t it be better to stick closer to upstream, or if you really have strong reasons to change it then engage with upstream and make the case for your version there?

He seemed to understand the question, and said that when such an issue comes his way he would indeed seek to work better with his upstream suppliers.  But not all his colleagues share that attitude.

Amongst techie presentations I attended, one that impressed me was Lenz Grimmer’s 15-minute lightning talk on Bazaar.  I think I’m sufficiently sold on it that I’m going to have to go away and try it.

Sadly, I cannot end without adding a note of disapproval.  I attended Gervase Markham’s talk on the Mozilla Foundation.  Moz is financially in a strong position, but has slashed its expenditure on useful projects – indeed on its own goals – because it limits that expenditure to the interest on its savings, which has of course fallen.  Surely the whole point of having funds is to survive when times are hard, and when the commercial companies are struggling is precisely when the world is most in need of alternative benefactors like Mozilla.  OK, so you may run down your reserves, but so long as you have a raison d’etre you’ll be able to replenish them.  Bah, Humbug!

The walk back to the hotel was straightforward, and seemed much shorter when I (more-or-less) knew the way.  Indulged in a pleasant evening meal at a small, family-run Greek restaurant near the hotel before retreating to bath and bed.

Posted on February 8, 2009, in FOSDEM. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m not qualified to comment on the techie stuff, but I would like to express some sympathy with Mozilla’s position. Many other charities and non-profit organisations are suffering from low returns on their investments and deposits, and are cutting back their activities accordingly. It may seem ok to spend some reserves on current activity during difficult times, but the problem comes when you try to rebuild these reserves – it takes time and isn’t always easy. Inevitably you will be panned by critics who say it was irresponsible to deplete the reserves in the first place. Furthermore, some reserves are legally restricted, either by donors or by the organisation itself, such that they cannot be depleted to meet short term income deficits. It’s a case of having to take some short-term pain to ensure the long term strength (and possibly even survival) of the organisation itself. Neither position is entirely satisfactory, but I wouldn’t wish to knock Moz’s beancounters too hard over this one.

    Pleased to read about the red squirrels.

  2. In England, charities are required to choose a policy that explains why they aim for a particular level of reserves. See http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/publications/cc19.asp#11 Anyone know if Californian law is similar and what MoFo’s reserves policy reasons are?

    Spending only the interest doesn’t sound very charitable to me, but I’ve mostly worked with smaller not-(just)-for-profit organisations who want to put every last pound to good use, rather than help fund bunches of bankers.

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