Friday Saturday Sunday

FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in a different country.


Preparation for this years FOSDEM started shortly after the end of last years! I hadn't spoken for the last couple of years, and had missed enjoying the chocolates that they give to the speakers after their talks :) Therefore, I spent my time ensuring that (at least) one of my open source projects was new and up to snuff in time for the December submission deadline. Luckily, my Arduino music library, Armstrong, was accepted. So, in January, I prepared a special demo, built an example circuit, and generated a PDF of the talk. Then, on Friday I started walking through the Eurostar security with an Arduino, speaker, wires, memory stick... along with the usual phone, iPad, chargers... and more nerves than usual since I was convinced that the excessively geeky electronics about my person would flirt with the X-ray machines and make jokes about bombs and get me stopped.

So I was cautious. And sweating. Which didn't help...

Prior to the trip, I'd met a friend of mine in the pub. At 11am. Definitely the first customer, and definitely a bad sign since I felt curiously at home! But a friendly pub cat and feline allergy ensured we left fairly soon afterwards, and found a second pub. (Again, I knew of 6 pubs in close promixity - another bad sign - and picked the nicest one currently open.) Here, at 11.30am, I was on my second pub of the day! But, unlike the first, we were not the only customers. Here we solved the problem of voting systems on web sites, designed a new form of social network, and discussed audio apps.

Then it was off to the Eurostar, just across the road, and time to see if the Dutch courage had tempered my sweats and nervousness of the tech I was packing.

It had :) No questions were asked! Maybe I just look too weird...

The journey was uneventful (enlightening conversation, though) and concluded with a taxi ride to the hotel. Via the longest way he thought he could get away with :( This was helped by the fact that I'd booked the wrong hotel! Or rather, I thought I'd booked the one just off Bruckere, but it was actually one by Schumann in the EEC area, and (at least) 25 minutes away from Centrum. The only explanation I have is that I'd found two reasonably priced hotels and had them open in different browser tabs... and closed the wrong one! Pah!

Anyway, a quick scrub up and it was off to 'Bon' to meet-up, before heading out for food and Delerium. All I had to do was put my valuables in the safe and go. Unfortunately, the safe was broken. AGAIN. (Different hotel - different safe failure!) And, after the receptionist couldn't get it to work either, we'd managed to hack it into accepting the four digit code 1236 - the only code that would work. So, it wasn't 'safe' in the traditional sense of the word. But if it was opened without force, I knew there could be only one culprit!

Also, 3 Mobile had screwed up my phone AGAIN so I was unable to check on everyone else's progress and whereabouts, so I was sat like Billy-no-mates in the pub. At least I had a seat - something that wouldn't happen at 6pm on a Friday night in London - and I used the time to compute a translation table between Great British Pounds sterling and Euro Funny Money!

On the plus side, at least my hotel had the lock for the toilet door on the inside... unlike some...

The rest of the night was typical - jokes, barbs, food, beers - but supplemented with some card magic in the Delerium (by yours truly) and a fight in another (not by yours truly). Food was courtesy of the all-you-eat ribs place (nice to me, but uneventful to the others) and proof that by splitting in a smaller group you can more easily get a table. Ultimately I bailed around 2am after I started mis-handling my deck in the Delerium - my sleight of hand ability with cards decreases with alcohol, and I wanted to leave while the magic was still impressive. In fact, I'm now computing a scale of alcohol consumed vs ability to do magic! So, I started my 25 minute walk home. Alas, I managed to get lost when walking along the straight road to Schumann, so didn't get home until 4am. And my right shoe had developed a hole, so my sock had become sodden, and my foot developed a blister. But I settled into bed confident of a good performance the following day.


I awoke early enough on Saturday to walk to ULB. So, knowing I was still without a working mobile, I plotted a route on the iPad using hotel WiFi, and headed out. I passed Jubelpark and walked in a straight line (past the supermarket for supplies of beer and waffles) to ULB... and ended up at Jubelpark!? Twice, in 12 hours, I'd walked in a circle without realizing. And one of those times I was sober! :( So I jumped the Metro to Delta, and walked to ULB... again, in a circle, without realizing it.

Ultimately, I arrived in good time and was able to grab my speaker badge and a programme. This year the guide was 120 pages, and almost twice as long as the O'Reilly Web Workers book (at 62 pages)! A fact which I think is almost as amusing as the fact that the phrase 'Free Software' (the reason for the initial 'F' in FOSDEM) appears nowhere on the cover.

(Go ahead - check it out! I'll wait...)

I spent the next 10 minutes working through the book to pick our the 'must see' talks throughout the rest of the day, and then checked the schedule for what to see next, and headed out.

(The above paragraph was included only to prove that the paper version is still used. And why we should spent 1/2 ton of dead trees to print them!)

I headed first to the game dev room, but it was full.

So I headed back to the lightning talks, stopped to say 'Hi' to people I see more often in Brussels than London, my home town, and prepared for my own talk.

I like to think that Armstrong was well received, with a few tweets bouncing around, and a nice spike in project traffic. Unfortunately I forgot a couple of my jokes, and so came in at 5 minutes under budget, leading to an awkward silence at the end. But the organizers still gave me my chocolates... which I explained was the best reason for doing an open source project :)

Afterwards I headed back to the game dev room, but it was still full. So I took the opportunity to look at the stalls, which seemed to be more focused on selling T-shirts rather than interesting new developers. (Why would I want to wear a shirt, showing support, for a project I'm not yet part of?) But I did pick up a beer token from Google Summer of Code (see.. that's how to get me interested!) and met up with a friend that I bumped into randomly.

Ultimately, I spent most of the day in the lightning talks since there was a series of VoIP sessions that would benefit my 'day job'. I came away refreshed with many ideas and thoughts. And a reminder that I hadn't said hello to Mauro, properly.

Saturday evening is usually full-on but, with the last session ending at 7pm, I didn't get to Delerium until 9pm which meant food was first on the agenda, in case our place of choice shut the kitchen. We were so concerned about an evening without food, that I didn't even have time to spend my GSOC beer token :( [I hope I can redeem it next year!]

We took a short (10 minute) walk to Bier Circus for Carbonnade... but the restaurant was full... so we waited in the bar... and then found that they'd run out of aforementioned Carbonnade! A shock considering it's one of Belgiums signature dishes. Oh well.. we switched to either Spag Bol (good, but bland) and meat loaf (featuring apple and raisins, in addition to meat) and several beers. A good meal, for sure. (Although, despite its promise, the Saint la Monon beer is a watery dark beer with added spices, and the Belgians idea of a hoppy beer... isn't! Even though there's a full hop cone in the bottle, it's still only about as hoppy as a 'Green' Duvel.) Dinner ended around 12.30, and they weren't trying to throw us out so, despite being off the beaten track, I don't think we have to worry about arriving late in the future. Unless we want Carbonnade, in which case we should get there early.

We also designed an English-French dictionary, for those unable to pronounce French. An except is included here:

I would like a cheese sandwich - I. WOULD LIKE. A. CHEESE SANDWICH (point)
How much is that? - HOW MUCH. IS. THAT? (point)
Where are the toilets? - WHERE. ARE. THE TOILETS? (point, to crotch)

Back to the centre for our (now annual) evening the rock club. And, for the first time in a while, I didn't fall asleep and suffer beermat buckeroo! We did have to wonder, though, why there were more people dancing to Zombie, by the Cranberries, than Sepultura in a ROCK club. Maybe the DJ was a little drunk and meant to play White Zombie. When he didn't, a quick request sorted it out and we enjoyed 'More Human Than Human', as well as the full version of Metallica's Puppets. See... that's how you do a rock club!

We left around 5.30am, at which point we'd seen several cycles of 'good tracks-bad tracks', and 'almost empty club-full club'. Plus, a few patrons were keeping up the rock cliche of having sex in the toilets, and under the stage. The taxi ride home was an experience, with the driver channeling the spirit of Michael Schumacher!


Sunday started with my personal best for 'stupidly short sleep and vacate the hotel' routine... In bed by 6am. Awake at 9am. Shopping for beers by 10am. At ULB by 11.30am... The only pause was during the eating of some OudenDijk on the Metro which has (so far) become my favourite cheese discovery of the weekend.

I started by slumping down in Jason for HTML5 video (only to find I'd just missed it), and caught up with my correspondance during the Wikipedia stack talk. I kept an ear out for anything I wasn't 100% sure on, but I still think I was less rude than those talking during it. And those talking whilst walking out. Or those talking during the questions. Something that happened last year too, but seemed to be a lot more prevelant this time.

Also spotted this year were the bouncers at the back of Janson, blocking entrance from the bar area. A shame really. I'd rather people made their quiet (obviously) entrance here, than a noisy one from the front of the room where the people are also in your eyeline.

I headed then to the Go room, but it was full. But my friend was sat outside, in the queue for the next talk, watching the current talk being streamed. Smart! I managed to get into the next Go talk, though, on TARDIS Go, and thought that Elliott Stoneham could be me in 20 years! Not sure wether that's a good thing, though...

I headed then to the Javascript room, but it was full. @teabass was announcing via Twitter that he'd sell his seat for Bitcoins. And he probably wasn't joking. A suggestion for next year would be to populate only every other room. Then anyone who can't get into the room, can just pop next door to stream it, rather than blocking the corridor.

Risking a long queue (and ultimate disappointment) I headed to AW via a new route I'd discovered while hacking the campus! It's a route that avoids the heavy front door, and the mud path that leads to it. Here I managed some IoT talks, including the Fluksometer... seriously... why wouldn't everyone be attending a talk with a name like Fluksometer?

One final talk in Janson on concurrent programming (whose message I never truly understood, TBH, as the technical issues are already well known) and then it was back to the hotel to pick up bags and the Eurostar. That should be the easy bit...right? Er, no! The hotel had a queue of 20+ people wanting the check in/out, so we thought we'd wait in the bar for 20 peoples to let the queue die down. Unforuntately it didn't. And the bar had no staff. The only staff member in the whole place was on reception, not checking people in. So I was forced out of my English-politeness-comfort zone and barge behind the reception counter to collect my bags, as nothing else was working.

Running seriously behind schedule, we then ran to find a taxi. The driver was the crazy relative to the one from Saturday night as, in addition to driving like Damon Hill should have done, he was using his hands-free phone... without using it in hands-free mode! Being loud and brash with his mate on speakerphone for the entire duration, and then virtually throwing us out when we arrived, is not the best end of the weekend. A quick huddle into the terminal to brace oneself for the massive queues of a full Eurostar terminal, and we were away. Well... away 10 minutes later than advertised... but that's ok, I guess. At least my 28 beers, waffles, cheese, chocolates, and assorted clothes made it home safe.

Next year I think I'm making a t-shirt 'FOSDEM - Warning! May contain nuts', since we had enough of them this year!

p.s. when I tried to complain about the hotel through my booking agent, Expedia, they magically/coincidentally took the review section offline

p.p.s. when I tried to uncover why Three messed up my mobile they magically/coincidentally stopped replying when it became apparent they were to blame, but weren't going to investigate