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Thursday, 27 January 2011 09:07

LCA 2011: The main dish: how papers are selected


For the average Australian national Linux conference to run its full course, one needs around 70 papers to be presented during the conference proper.

The first two days of the conference week are not counted in this number - the papers on those days are organised by the people who take on the duty of hosting the mini-conferences. Each mini-conference organiser decides on the papers for his or her little gig and one person oversees all the mini-conferences.

But Wednesday to Friday is the main meal. And the task of selecting who will present papers on these three days falls to the papers committee. This year the panel was chaired by Marco Ostini.

Discussing the mechanics of how the conference menu is developed, Ostini told iTWire yesterday that the papers team used a system called Zookeepr in which the details of all papers were stored.

"Each person sends us a description of their intended presentation in about 500 words. There are also details about the person, their experience, papers they have already presented and also details about projects in which they are involved." he explained.
Marco Ostini
The papers committee is spread around the country; Ostini said there were around a dozen people involved. From the organisers' side this time, he, along with Clinton Roy and Raymond Smith were the three who did the selection. "And, of course (chief conference organiser) Shaun (Nykvist)," he added.

They received around 180 submissions and, given that their requirements were about 70, more than half were rejected.

"The call for presentations was probably a little more compressed this time," Ostini said. "We issued the call a little later than I would have liked.

"There were reasons; bookings had to be cancelled both for the convention centre and accommodation as a large international organisation had already taken these places. That took up some of our time.

"But thereafter we went as per schedule. Everything was followed to the letter and Mary Gardiner and Michael Davies helped us no end with the entire process."

Ostini said he, Smith and Roy had a look at each and every paper. "The committee votes on every paper. There are some cases where it is clear to all and sundry that they will make the grade. The ones which get very low votes are easy to eliminate.

"To sort out the middle ones, we have a face-to-face meeting. That was held in Sydney this time and we were able to finalise our list of speakers."

Ostini said some background checks were done to check the freshness of the presentations. "We look for freshness but you must bear in mind that we are making these decisions several months before the conference begins.

"In the case of keynotes there is more leverage. We have faith in personalities to some extent. An individual's reputation counts," he said, when it was pointed out that Vint Cerf, the first keynote speaker , had delivered a similar talk to his keynote back in July last year.

Asked whether the organisers looked for feedback from conference participants, Ostini said there was a measure of feedback from their own volunteers, at least a couple of whom would be in every room to help with the smooth running of the presentations.

"But that's for our own interest, our own reference," he added.

Asked about the increasing number of papers that were not strictly technical, Ostini said that this year, more than ever, they wanted to pull more people into the conference.

"We are mindful that LCA is a technical conference," he said. "But we would also like it to be of an accessible nature."

Those selected as speakers do not have to pay the delegates' fee. They are also invited to a separate speakers' dinner. "We do have a small budget from which delegates can ask for additional assistance," Ostini said.

This year every speaker has been presented with a small handcrafted bowl made of macadamia nut shells, something that has been made by a small Brisbane firm, Husque. The keynote speakers are being presented a larger version of the same.

"The company kept the pledge to deliver the bowls even though they had to work in a factory that was flooded," Ostini said. "They deserve a mention."



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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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