Overall Impression of the Conference
GRCon13 could almost not have gone better. There were some minor issues with the setup and location, but there always will be. Once the conference started, though, we hit pretty much all the notes I wanted it to this year.
My first impression about the room was the energy. From the start of the first breakfast, every session and almost no dead time. The audience was attentive, they asked questions, and we had a continuous side-channel discussion on IRC pretty much throughout the entire conference. Every break and lunch period was full of discussions and people exchanging ideas to the point where I felt bad wrapping things up to get back on the conference schedule. Even then, it was often difficult to get everyone seated and quiet again. Many of us took these conversations and others out to food and drink at night. I don't think there was a night that I got back to my hotel before midnight. Really, during the entire conference I barely got five minutes to myself and it seemed about as much sleep. But it was all worth it.
I've told anyone who's asked and I made reference to it in my opening talk on Tuesday why we selected the venue (Space with a Soul) that we did. The SwaS wasn't particularly the right venue for a technical conference like this: the Internet was stable but not particularly fast; the tables came in pretty poor condition without any coverings (and John Malsbury did some quick last-minute thinking to fix that); there were not enough power strips to serve all attendees (so we bought and distributed them). And there were two big problems faced during the entire week. First there were pillars in the middle of the room that made seating in places difficult. Second, the HVAC system was loud but necessary during the entire week. So we have number of things on the wish-list for next-years venue.
Still, even with these issues, the room felt so different from last year. Possibly it was just the growth and development of the community over the past year. Maybe it is partially due to the fact that I had John Malsbury and Johnathan Corgan helping out and I wasn't exhausted from over-work like last year. But I think it quite possibly had to do with the environment. The hotel in Atlanta was isolated and drab. The isolated part was a problem, but the drab part was pretty much what I expect from a conference hotel. It's always the same beiges and browns with no windows and a slightly too-sterile environment. This year's room, though, had a completely different atmosphere and made fore a far more energetic conference.
Two areas that I think proved how excited the conference attendees were this year were the discussion groups and the Friday hackfest. From my perspective as project leader and conference co-organizer, the main thing that I took away from this and why I was so impressed with everyone was how self-organized they were. We did a, purposefully, very minimal amount of prep work for both sessions. For the discussion groups, we set up four topics and identified a leader for each. For the hackfest, we started a list of items people would be addressing and the contacts for each project. Everyone took these basic cues and did what they needed to. Everyone participated, almost too much since it was difficult to get them to stop! It's exactly what we wanted, and also difficult to trust that it will. To me it reinforces the interest and enthusiasm for this project and the community.
Looking forward with GNU Radio, I'm probably most excited about the working group discussion session we had at the conference. We set up four projects initially that we felt are some of the big problems we are facing and trying to address in GNU Radio. These are not things that are going to be solved immediately or simply by a single person. The problems include how to incorporate and use co-processors (GPUs, DSPs, FPGAs, etc.), how to better enable GNU Radio on embedded systems, where we can extend and develop VOLK, and what to do to improve the GNU Radio user experience. The user experience group was so full of both participants and members that they went ahead and split into two teams to address the original question of users and a separate topic on how to improve GRC.
The working groups worked so well that instead of giving an hour for discussion and half-hour for wrap-up reporting to the rest of the attendees, we let the discussions continue for 2 hours and kept the wrap-up to 20 minutes. The working groups are working on putting their notes and ideas online [Link to website] over the next little while to keep a record of what kinds of things people thought of and the main items to come from the discussions.
As the project leader, I think that these working sessions are going to prove invaluable. The ideas themselves are a fantastic place to start, but one of the main reasons for these sessions was continue to build and integrate the community of developers. The problems and the suggested actions are bigger than the development team can address in short time, but having the input and continuing involvement of those in the working group will allow us to address them better and faster. These groups now make up the current areas of interest to GNU Radio. During our monthly developers calls, I'm asking that participants of each group, if not the group leaders, will be able to report on progress and developments in their topic.
I am really looking forward to continuing to investigate these problem areas and interface with the community to better solve them. We in the core development team don't always know what we are specifically missing, and we all know that no single person can do it all. Ideas, developments, and the code itself needs input from the community to be successful.
Another conference success. I was impressed by both the number of people that stuck around to work and how self-organized everyone was. A hackfest isn't necessarily a concept everyone gets. There is very little organization, and everyone is expected to find their own way. But realizing that too much freedom can actually stifle innovation, we try to identify specific projects or goals and the person or persons responsible for that. That at least gives some of the newcomers, who might be at a loss for project ideas, a better handle on what things they can address. I thought that I might have to help coordinate efforts and give people the general picture, but by the time I was ready that morning, everyone had already settled down and started working.
I'm not going to go over everything that happened, but I'll point to the wiki page for the hackfest [LINLK]. There was some great work accomplished on bug squashing, improving GRC, embedded system development, and digital modems.
I'm tremendously excited about where the project can go from here.