My Pilgrimage to Librecon

2015-10-31 12.37.12

“Revista Compostelana” Late 19th century lithographic

I’m currently traveling back from Librecon, a conference that aims to bring together the applications of free software in both business and  education. The conference was held in the gorgeous and quite historic city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, and I think it is a strong frontrunner for the best experience I have had as an invited speaker to date. There were quite a few factors playing into that claim, so let me try and articulate them.

First and foremost, it was the first time I travelled to a conference with my special lady friend Antonella. In fact, it is the first time in 11 years—since the birth of our oldest child—that we’ve traveled together sans bambini anywhere (at least overnight). We had a total blast.


#artsyselfies were had

The other thing that ruled about Librecon was that the conference organizers really took care of you. They had cabs from the airport and to the conference; a cool hotel right smack in the center of the city; and a breathtaking venue in Galicia’s City of Culture designed by the U.S. architect Peter Eisenman. The project is rather controversial given how much in ended up costing, but seeing it first hand was truly spectacular; I’ve never seen anything like it. Not to mention holding a conference in it!


The City of Culture of Galicia

Another element of Librecon I loved was that it wasn’t only about education. The organizing principle of the conference was open source software rather than one particular field. So you had folks from car manufacturers, local government municipalities, policy makers, entrepreneurs, and educators all sharing how they use open source technologies in their particular fields. That was really powerful. I spent much of the morning of the second day hearing Roberto Zompi talk about GENIVI‘s attempt to build open source standards for car infotainment systems—fascinating stuff. After that, Tin Hang Liu presented his open source car project OSVehicle. Crazy. The idea of an entirely open source car is wild, and Tin has gotten manufacturers in China to agree to start producing them, so we could be looking at cars as cheap as a few thousands dollars in the near future—Ikea cars!

In the afternoon things turned to a more education-based focus. It got started with Mikel Arbiza impassioned talk about how we have been beating any sense of exploration and curiosity out of the children with our current models. He provided a sustained critique, and his talk led to the most colorful Q&A of the conference. He also linked folks to a wonderful video by legendary street skater Rodney Mullen about open source skateboarding and the “Art of Good Practice.”

We then got to hear a new, powerful voice in edtech—new to me at least for me—Beka Iglesias. I found her thinking and framing of the working she is doing really brilliant. She was focusing in on the tensions between prototyping and products, and subtly teasing out the differences, and why education needs to focus on the former not the latter. She also shared the work she’s been doing around interdisciplinary design projects using the hacker space approach (which seemed similar in spirit to the Porto Design Factory). I really hope to run into Beka again and hear more about the work she is doing because how can you not be when her bio reads like this:

…my work focuses on biointerfaces, posthuman concepts, the dissolution of gender and telepresence as connective-magical device, always using free technologies, particularly creative code and arduino electronics.

After Beka’s talk I got a third chance at my Indie EdTech presentation I had given previously at dLRN and Whittier College. I think this one kinda nailed it, all the pieces and the bands came together narratively, and I was even able to start off with a demo of Reclaim Hosting’s State U and work backwards. Over the last couple of years I have actually given the same talk 3 or 4 times over the course of a couple of months and found I could continue to hone and fine tune my thinking.

Indie EdTech at Librecon

I think of my presentations as a kind of gigging, playing to an audience and feeding off their response and energy while being very much within the moment. It works well with my music metaphor, and I’ve kind of enjoyed remaining within a presentation for a a couple of months, but I’m mindful to avoid playing it out for too long. I think after Libercon I can put away the Indie EdTech presentation and be pretty happy with it. My next presentation will be at OER16 and focus around open infrastructure as an open educational resource of sorts (or something like that), playing off stuff folks like the great Tony Hirst are thinking through presently (I’m even trying to get him to co-present with me—but he is being very British about it 🙂 ).

Speaking of DevOps and virtualized infrastructure, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting David Lareo at Librecon, and he is very much a fellow traveller. He has been digging in on Docker, Sandstorm, and other decentralized hosting approaches to re-thinking the web. I really hope to reconnect with him while in Europe and start sharing plans and ideas for experimenting more robustly with this stuff. But I have some work to do of my own before then—I’m committed to playing more intensely with these platforms before year’s end.

I also got to meet Juan Freire—the person responsible for getting me invited to Librecon–and someone I have been reading and following since the days of EDUPUNK. In fact, he is still very much excited by the idea—which is awesome!—but that might be because he heard the less commercial version from Brian Lamb in 2009. It’s cool to see these ideas have taken a bit of root for folks and that I still feel like we are following similar paths. it was cool to hear Juan had left higher ed a couple of years back and is running his own edtech business, something I can deeply relate to these days.

I guess the last bit I’ll say here is that they couldn’t have picked a better place to do the conference in. Galicia is a gorgeous part of Spain, I loved the rain swept streets and you can feel the sea in Santiago de Compostela, but not see it—which creates an interesting feel to the city. What’s more, Spain has to be the greatest country in the world for nightlife. Nothing gets started until after 10 PM, and it goes into the wee hours of the night. The restaurants are awesome, and we got to spend a most enjoyable evening with folks from the conference, particularly Roberto Brenlla who took us to an awesome bar and turned u on to the early 80s Galician punk band Siniestro Total.

On top of all that, Antonella and I spent all day Saturday checking out the crazy cathedrals that are everywhere Santiago de Compsotela. The main cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has got some serious medieval Catholic history going for it. It’s the resting place of the apostle St James, and over the centuries his image has been fashioned to be a great defender of the faith and killer of infidels, namely the Moors—which coincides historically with the Crusades. From the 10th or 11th century it has been framed as a space for holy pilgrimage, and so much of Santiago’s identity as a city is still defined by this centuries long tradition. Luis Buñuel even had fun with the pilgrimage history in his irreverent The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. I always feel so small and insignificant when i come into contact with these sweeping, historical spaces in Europe. It is a welcome dose of sobriety, if not piety.


An appropriately Gothic image of Santiago de Compostela’s Cathedral

And those are just a few reasons why Librecon was awesome. It’s a young conference, and I think it’s got a promising future.

And with that I put the last of my conference obligations behind me for 2015. The last two or three months have been intense in terms of travel and presenting, but I have had a blast. And there could be no better way to end it than with Librecon. Now it’s time to lock into Italy, the family, and the bava—the unholy trinity of my new life. Oh wait, there’s also this little thing call Reclaim Hosting…#4life!

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