September 3, 2014

A Linux Accessibility Advocate's Top 3 LinuxCon Takeaways

Jonathan KuniholmEvery year, I look forward to attending LinuxCon North America, and felt honored (and ecstatic) to speak for the second time about an issue that both on a professional and personal level means a lot to me. While I may return home exhausted and a bit overwhelmed by it, I also come home with a renewed sense of drive, to not give up, and realizing that I’m not alone.

Chicago has many outstanding qualities, and provided an excellent backdrop to this year’s LinuxCon. Three things stuck out this year that were significant to my own experience:

1. Keynotes

While having keynote speakers isn’t new, a few choices stood out and held my attention - even though they all were pretty awesome. A crowd favorite was Solomon Hykes, founder of Docker, discussing what Docker is and how using containers can make our work easier. I’m embarrassed to state this, but I came to Chicago without knowing what Docker was - or even how popular it was among the Linux community. My only wish is that I would have found out sooner, as I find Docker very cool and a novel, innovative solution, and I can’t wait to try it on my own system.

Anthony Moschella with Makerbot and Jay Rogers with Local Motors were not only impressive, but fed my curiosity and geeky desire to build and create whatever I need. 3D printing is cool - not only for fun and hobby purposes, but for serious ones such as health, environmental and technological as well. As someone who sees a possibility for 3D printing to assist people with disabilities to create their own assistive technology, I was impressed. Of course, Jay Rogers had a strikingly good presentation, even though I raved about how cool it was for a company to help you build your own car - something that I’ve wanted to do since I started driving, and even more so after the Rally Fighter debuted some years ago.

My favorite keynote, though, was Jonathan Kuniholm’s presentation about open-sourcing prosthetics design. It was the one I was looking forward to the entire conference; he confirmed some of what I knew, and brought real-life experience and evidence to the table concerning 3D-printed limbs. It was the information I wanted and needed. Jonathan had an excellent talk that captured everyone’s attention, and shed light on a subject that is rarely discussed outside of charity events and organizations. I hope that such attention is not fleeting, and that communication stickersKuniholm was able to gain more support and contributors to the Open Prosthetics Project.

2. Badges and Communication Stickers

Sure, this seems insignificant in comparison to the keynotes, but a durable, informational, high quality badge can really make a difference over three short days. The lightweight, laminated badges this year included information about the wi-fi network, as well as evening events and location information on the back. Ingenious.
I also really enjoyed the new Communication Stickers that you could attach to your badge, showing your preferences: green = talk to me, yellow = only people I know please, and red = not at this time please. It seemed to be a hit among the attendees, as lots of green and yellow could be seen on many badges. This works especially for those who may be working away from home and have little time to network, as well as new persons of whom this may have been their first LinuxCon. It’s easier to talk to someone new if you can understand and subsequently respect their desired choice of communicating.

3. Women in Open Source Networking Luncheon, Women’s Resume Writing Workshop, and Ally Skills Workshop

One of my favorite things about Linux is the diversity and encouragement of choice. You are responsible for your decisions, but no one holds you back. Some may disagree with you on the finer points of which GUI you use, your package manager, even your file system - but ultimately you have a wide array of options to build something that Rikki Endsley LCNA14fits who you are.

While I have noticed that technology seems to be a primarily male-dominated field, I’m noticing that it’s not going to stay that way - a change that in my opinion is long overdue. We have no idea or prediction of where and whom the ‘next big thing’ will come from, and without diversity in its beautiful forms, we may miss out on a concept, theory or viewpoint that could change….everything.

While I did not attend all of these sessions, I was glad to see them offered. I was also delighted to see more women attending and presenting this year; learning from Kelley Nielsen about her struggle to become a kernel hacker and be the person she wants to be, Rikki Endsley’s talk about improving technology education in schools and promoting inclusion of girls in what many schools see (in an archaic, outmoded and anachronistic view) as more male-centered subjects, and Dawn Foster’s always entertaining and informative discussion about community using science fiction - just a few sessions that provided insight and lessons that I found immediately usable and applicable in my own endeavors. I can definitely say that if they had not been there, the amount I learned and gained this year would not have been nearly as fruitful, nor the conference as worthwhile.

Finally, the Museum of Science and Industry was the perfect spot for a welcoming celebration, and was just phenomenal. The food, exhibits, etc. were just what was needed to kick off LinuxCon 2014. With that, I eagerly look forward to Seattle next year, and the progress we will make as a community in the meantime.

Spencer Hunley is an autistic individual and professional, open-source assistive technology enthusiast, and proud Linux user since 2008. He has presented at LinuxCon 2013 and 2014, giving talks about including people with disabilities in the Linux community, how accessible and assistive technology would benefit from more Linux and open-source contributions, and how people with disabilities can be an asset for the Linux and open source communities. He is currently a moderator for Universal Tux on Google+, and a board member of the Autism Society of the Heartland & ASAN's Kansas City chapter. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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