Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Geek Soup

I can assure you that I'm not the only one who finds the USENIX LISA conference for system administrators to be a happy party of a social time, and a fertile medium for the growth of comfortable friendships. On livejournal after livejournal, in email after email, I've been reading the post-conference comments of the friends I saw there, and they all tell what amounts to the same story: That the world we create at the LISA conference is one they wish they could live in year-round. Of course they don't mean that literally, but we all find it stimulating, energizing, and even socially reaffirming to spend time with each other -- even (more likely especially) in a context where we are talking about issues of professional concern. Day and night. Although not so thoroughly and inviolate as when I first started attending this conference. My friend Anne once pointed out to me that system administrators begin with serious conversation about technical issues and, in time, work up to small talk. At this point we're beyond small talk and up to social interaction. Oh, and relaxed touchy-feely flirtation, even among people of non-aligning orientations.

How do I explain why a professional conference should feel like a family reunion? Well, take the example of my good friend Elizabeth, who lives in California and had a baby early last year. I don't get to see her daughter Opal much, but when I do see her -- at the LISA conference -- it's over the course of several days, with shared meals and more time to play than an afternoon's visit at her home would entail. I made up some Opal and Steven chants (they end with falling to the ground in a heap, which is always popular), which we recited again and again. By my last day in San Diego, after breakfast with Opal during which I drew pictures and told stories about the pictures, she had a full-out tantrum when I had to return to my room to pack, calling out my name through her cries.

So that's a piece of the sysadmin conference to me.

Another piece is that I always get pulled in to organizational issues, and find myself really close to volunteering to help out with various things. The big issue this conference was the formation of a new, independent, professional organization for system administrators (there's a long and political story behind that) and within an hour of my arrival I was caught up in discussion and working through some ideas I have about this organization. Which wasn't really my intention in advance.

A big thing about the conference -- a huge thing -- is that from the beginning it's been a place with a large and visible gay contingent. There's always an evening meeting early in the week for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans attendees, and for me that gave me a social center from the very beginning of my first conference. I not only knew people from that meeting, but I quickly met their co-workers and friends. So the sense of being part of the conference and organization comes quickly, with this as a basis. It seems odd to newcomers, I think, that there should be such a visible gay presence, but that's definitely a big part of what at least some of my friends mean when they say they wish their whole year could feel like the week at the LISA conference.

So there was partying, and socializing, and technical talk, and organizational politics, and weather that was a good sixty degrees warmer than the weather I left behind the morning I flew to San Diego (for part of the time, anyway). There was a big party every night, and time in the hot tub, and massages.

Um, massages, yeah. At the Minneapolis Eagle one of my roles is to relax the tensions of my friends who are regulars there. It's a percussionist thing -- if you want strong fingers and hands, find yourself a drummer. This became known at the LISA conference, and I learned something interesting: Nearly every system administrator has a very specific knot in a very specific place on his or her right shoulder area. I noted this several times over the course of the week to people, and showed them where this would be, and every time, without searching, I was able to put my hand exactly on their ball of tension. I thought this might have something to do with the mouse, but people told me they thought it was more likely due to hauling around a laptop. I am now inspired to seriously research this massage thing -- sysadmins need help!

To the folks reading my livejournal whom I saw last week: It was very, very good to see you.
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