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OpenWest Conference Recap

A few weeks ago, the Utah Open Source Foundation put on its seventh annual conference, known as OpenWest. Spencer already wrote about his experience at the conference. Family concerns kept me from attending much of it, so as time has permitted I've been reviewing some of the conference videos as they've come out. The schedule demonstrates a promising evolution as the conference expands and improves. The early years' schedules always struck me as a bit heavy on front-end development and a limited set of currently popular technologies, and necessarily so given the smaller base of attendees and supporters. But recent years and increasing maturity have brought a very well-rounded conference. For this conference, tickets sold out.

This year's keynotes included Utah's enthusiastic Lieutenant Governor speaking on technology in the state, and though this is a regional conference with attendees from all over the western United States, the issues in question cross state lines as governments turn increasingly to technology, and infrastructure ties together even the very remote and rural areas that comprise much of the West. Cox's video, available here, describes the growth of internet service in Utah as seen through the eyes of CentraCom, a communications company Cox's family helped found.

The next keynote came from OpenWest regular Pete Ashdown, founder and sole owner of conference sponsor XMission, a Utah internet service provider. In the media attention surrounding the National Security Agency, Ashdown and XMission received quite a bit of publicity for making clear their policy to ignore government requests for ISP data except when accompanied by what Ashdown called "proper warrants", and his keynote on Internet Liberty was one I was sad to miss in person. Video of his talk is available here.

My own presentation at the end of the first day covered the essentials of dimensional modeling, as described in a blog post I wrote some time ago. Especially considering the constant hype around "big data" in recent years, the relatively little attention paid to properly modeling those data within a relational database in useful ways is surprising. This may reflect the fact that levels of hype and levels of intellectual rigor don't necessarily correspond, but in larger part it demonstrates the spread of non-relational databases into the "big data" field.

The conference traditionally incorporates a "family day", where topics extend beyond software development into ... whatever the conference organizers are willing to accept. In this year's conference swag, Utah "maker space" theTransistor added an Arduino-based kit for attendees to solder together. The family day track also featured presentations and labs specifically for younger nerds, beginner development classes, and interesting projects that don't really fit in other tracks. My wife and I held a workshop on fermented foods, covering stuff like sauerkraut and sourdough, while other sessions included the traditional annual PGP keysigning, workshops from Perl luminary Mark Dominus, and a full "Young Technologist" track designed both to help kids get into technology, and to support parents in caring for their geeky progeny.

I've enjoyed watching OpenWest develop from a relatively small conference of limited focus into a well-organized regional educational experience. Thanks to its sponsors for their support, and its organizers for their excellent work.

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