I don’t get out nearly as much as I should. I enjoy going to work and then coming home to just relax. Sometimes I’ll go and fly my drone, but that hasn’t been very often lately. This is something I plan to fix, but that’s a whole different story. So, with the help of my close friends, both online and meatspace, I decided to attend Southeast LinuxFest this year. (I will refer to this event as SELF from now on)

Preparations and the Adventure Begins

SELF was held at the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. This is about 4 hours away from where I live outside Atlanta. So, I had to prepare. Seeing how it was a Linux convention I didn’t feel right bringing my MacBook and iPad. So, I brought my work laptop, a Thinkpad T480 with Fedora 30 on it. I also ended up bringing my iPad Pro since it has LTE connectivity and I didn’t know what the WiFi situation would be like. I also brought along my standard everyday carry: iPhone XS was the phone of choice (though I did think about bringing my Pixel 2 XL), my Apple Watch Series 1 would track all of the exercise I’d be getting throughout the day, and my AirPods would give me the freedom to listen to music or take a call while being discreet.

So, we got into the car and went to get gas. We were leaving around 5 am, so we stopped at a station near us that’s open 24 hours. Then the plan was to get some Starbucks for the road. Nessa had looked the previous night at the hours for this coffee shop and they said they’d be open. So, when we rolled up we were surprised when nobody answered the speaker box. Looked again and she was an hour off. It was open earlier the previous day when she’d checked, but not today. That’s no problem, there’s another Starbucks in town so we turned around and went there. They were open, so we got our drinks (I got an iced cinnamon dolce with half-and-half which I wholeheartedly recommend) and we were on the road.

Our route would take us from Conyers, down I-20, up I-285, then I-85 all the way to Charlotte. It was a fairly straightforward route with only a couple interchanges that we’d have to look out for. The roads were surprisingly filled with cars. It was early morning on a Saturday, but somehow the volume of traffic was too much for comfortable cruise control usage. The roads were incredibly bumpy and rough in South Carolina and into Charlotte. We used Apple Maps through CarPlay, which worked surprisingly well. The only time it deviated from our normal route was to tell us to take the Business 85 route. I assumed it was trying to cut down on time in traffic, but there was a bus that was on I-85 as we merged onto Business 85 and we ended up meeting up with them when we merged back onto I-85, so the only conclusion is that it was less physical miles rather than time saved. We averaged around 41 MPG in my 2018 Honda Civic EX-T, which I was more than happy about considering the lack of cruise control on the trip.

Arriving, Meeting People, and the Darter Pro

We arrived at the Sheraton at 9:30 am. We walked inside and I messaged a friend from my online LUG, Rocco, that I had arrived. He then came around the corner and greeted me. It was amazing to see him. We exchanged pleasantries and he went to get another friend, Zeb, to meet me. Zeb, whose real name is Robert, had flown all the way from England to come to SELF. The community had started a GoFundMe and everyone put a little bit in there and together we managed to raise the money needed for his trip.

Zeb, who you can find on the wonderful podcast Destination Linux, was given a System76 Darter Pro to review while he was at SELF. It was a decent enough machine. Very quick, but the build quality wasn’t what I was used to from my MacBooks, Thinkpad, and iPad Pro. He said he didn’t like the touchpad as it was a bit unresponsive and mentioned that Rocco had problems with the keyboard at one point. It turns out that these problems actually stemmed from the Pop!_OS Linux distro that came with the unit. When he wiped it and installed Peppermint 9 on it, it worked without problem.

So, Rocco helped me find where to get my badge and get acquainted with the area of the hotel where the con was going on. We went up to meet Michael Tunnell and Ryan from the Destination Linux crew up in their room. Chatted with them about the previous night’s partying and then headed back down. I ran into a few people in the hallway, which seemed to be the happening place to be. I met Eric The IT Guy, who was giving talks at SELF, and he was welcoming and had his significant other there with their child. I met with Simon Quigley of Lubuntu and Tyler Brown who is a part of our online LUG. Tyler actually took his HAM radio exam while at SELF and passed! Congrats, Tyler! I met Jon Uhler, who is both from our online LUG and also a Georgia native. There was also Fred, a massive dog that roamed the con. Fred was really nice and everyone would greet him as he went by. My cats would not be quite as happy to be there as Fred was.

I went to lunch with Michael Tunnell, Zeb, Ryan, Rocco, and Nessa (I managed to get her to come along) at Bang Bang Burgers in Charlotte. I got a sriracha burger and fries. It was actually spicy and I felt it on my lips for quite a while. We chatted about various things including SELF, ESR’s talk, and the varying differences between things in England and things here in America. It was an awesome time.

Attending Talks

I attended two talks while I was at SELF. The first of which was a talk given by Eric The IT Guy on starting out in open source. His talk covered things such as joining a community, connecting with developers and teams, the need to immerse yourself in the open source culture and software, and tips on how to approach contributing back to the community.

The second talk was on Kdenlive video editing by Michael Tunnell. Michael is a chronic procrastinator and this was no exception. He was still putting things together at the last second before actually starting the talk. He’s a great guy, but he can be a mess sometimes. His talk covered the basics on how to use Kdenlive for video editing, some of the differences in the new refactoring that’s going on, how to manage things like the timeline and proxy clips, and showed some more advanced topics like matte transitions. It was a good talk and there was plenty of Q&A afterward.

The Journey Home

Things were starting to wind down for the day, so I sat around the lobby area with Nessa, Zeb, Rocco, Pete (who is also part of our online LUG), and anyone else who came by. We chatted about things and helped get some laptops set up for the BDLL stream later that night. I was not able to stay for it, though. We had a long drive home and still had to get dinner. So I said my goodbyes, which was hard ‘cause I would have loved to stay and spend time with everyone. Nessa and I left and went to the nearby Cracker Barrel for dinner. I was pretty dehydrated, despite drinking water near constantly all day, because it was hot in the hotel due to the summer heat in the windows and the number of people there. So, when we ate dinner, I got a simple salad and cooled down. Then we gassed up and left for home.

The drive home was worse than the one up there. The traffic was somehow worse than before and we hit bumper-to-bumper situations twice due to construction. We also almost stopped at a gas station that looked like we could easily be murdered there, but thankfully across the freeway was a brightly lit and clean station that was way more inviting. Death avoided once again. We arrived at home around 11:30pm and both of us were exhausted.

I am glad that I went to SELF. I only spent a day there this year as a way to test the waters. Next year I’ll be going on my own and staying the whole weekend. I don’t know who all will be there next year, but I know I’ll have a great time as I did this year. It was amazing meeting all these other people that use and enjoy Linux. It was great being able to talk to them about these things without having to first explain everything that I was saying.

A New Perspective

PComing into SELF, I was very down about the Linux community in general. I had recently switched to using my iMac exclusively, and I had all but left the Linux community. Going to SELF and seeing normal, well-adjusted people using Linux and enjoying the community around them really gave my perception of how folks were a big boost. My enthusiasm for Linux and everything surrounding it had been restored quite a bit. I was excited to get home so that I could set my Linux desktop back up and become a part of something again. Seeing everyone’s different setups and workflows gave me perspective into how the diversity of Linux was alive and well. There were people from all walks at SELF. People of all genders, including transgender, people of many races, people of varying body types, physical and mental abilities, and even species. It was so awesome to see a wide variety of people come together around something we all love so much.

Here’s to SELF 2020. If you’re going, make sure to say hi in the hallway!

Zeb (right, Rocco (left), and me meeting for the first time

Having lunch at Bang Bang Burger. Rocco, Michael Tunnell (front right), Zeb, Ryan (back right), and me. Nessa too the picture.

Eric The IT Guy giving his talk.