FOSDEM 2016 – Meeting with Friends from Around the World

When I arrived in Brussels on January 29, 2016, I very quickly started thinking that this trip might be more difficult than I had imagined at first. I realized my French had gotten so bad over the years that I stood in the wrong line for 20 minutes and then, the gentleman who helped me had to resort to using English to explain to me what I actually needed to do. I then proceeded to get lost on my way to have lunch with the FSFE group from Linz at Fin de Siècle.

Having great food and good company cheered me up and after a stop at a nice coffee place, that served wonderful Japanese green tea, prepared exactly to the point, I ended up at the apartment I was going to stay at for the next two days. I was greeted by our host Mauricio and he had turned his apartment into a wonderful meeting place for everyone with lots of nice food and beer. He took great care of everyone and we all had a good European Coordinators Meeting there.  After that, there was a party of course that was a lot of fun.

The next day started with a lot of rain, so by the time we arrived at FOSDEM, I was completely soaked, including my shoes.  There’s hardly anything I dislike more.  However, plenty of great talks more than made up for the disgusting weather.  I heard Francis Rowe‘s talk about libreboot and Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton, who develops hardware that respects your freedom (not yet certified). Both of these endeavors are becoming more and more important so we can still use hardware in freedom when Intel and AMD have both abandoned us altogether.

Tom Marble interviews Richard Stallman
Tom Marble interviews Richard Stallman
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to attend any talks in the GNU Guile devroom, but the Legal and Policy Issues devroom was a pretty big highlight.  Not only did they have an interview with RMS on Sunday, they also had some great talks about the distribution clause in the GNU GPL, about dependency management and licensing information, about legal strategies for commercial ventures, and about copyleft for the next decade.  In between talks, I had the chance to talk to Bradley M. Kuhn of the Software Freedom Conservancy and one of the organizers of that devroom.  The final talk I heard in this devroom, was the interview with RMS on Sunday which was interesting as always and I enjoyed the auction of the adorable, adorable GNU a lot more, knowing that I already have one.  It went for 342 Euros, by the way and this would have blown my budget by a lot.

RMS and the adorable, adorable GNU
RMS and the adorable, adorable GNU

The most important thing about FOSDEM turned out to be the FSFE meetups.  Whether it was chatting with people at the FSFE booth, going out with others, or the evening/night at the Brewdog, it was all immensely enjoyable.  I had a great time getting to know Christian and Max a bit better on the train, meeting Matthias for the first time, seeing how Erik led the ECM, and debating finances with Reinhard.  Talking to Matija, Cryptie, Alessandro, Marc, Polina, Simon, and many others who are from all over Europe, really made the FSFE feel like a European team of computer activists.  It was also great to suddently stand next to and talk to a legend in the Free Software world like Werner Koch, developer of GnuPG and one of the founders of the FSFE, even if it was a bit embarrassing at first because I didn’t recognize him immediately.

FSFE booth at FOSDEM
The FSFE booth at FOSDEM

Hanging out at the FSFE booth was also fun, yet dangerous with all the tremendously attractive merchandise there.  Not having blown my budget at the auction of the adorable, adorable gnu, I was on a quest to find something I could spend my money on. On Saturday, Polina had made me realize on how wonderful the FSFE hoodies are, so I had to go check them out at the booth on Sunday.  Cryptie supported my craving for merchandise and made sure to sell me as much of it as possible.  🙂  No, seriously, she tried to stop me, but she presented everything well and I had a hard time resisting. I have to say the FSFE shop does not do the black hoodies justice.  It’s not that the presentation there is bad or anything, but if you get the chance to see them for yourself, you immediately realize how remarkably soft they are and of what great quality they are.  They are all made in a fair-trade process because the FSFE cares about treating people right in general, not just when it comes to computers.  Needless to say, I went home with a bunch of stuff, including a new hoodie for my wife, so we can now sport the same look.

merchandise at the FSFE booth
all the glorious merchandise at the FSFE booth

All in all, I immensely enjoyed FOSDEM, making new friends and experiencing different cultures.  By the way, I left Brussels the same way I got there—by getting lost on the way to my tram. However, this time, i was able to ask someone for the way in French and understand the answer.  I am looking forward to going to FOSDEM again next year and hopefully, I will see some of the people I met again soon.

A big thank you to everyone who helped organize the FSFE related events and an especially big thank you to Mauricio, our wonderful host for the weekend!