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Re: [Debconf-team] [DC14] Portland team: DebConf in the USA

Hi Gunnar,

On Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 07:26:26PM -0600, Gunnar Wolf wrote:
> And as the mails I just sent, some salient questions for you:

> USA, the eternal debate
> =======================

> First, there's the obvious issue of going to the USA. Several European
> DebConf usual attendees voiced their opposition (and some didn't
> travel) to DebConf10, and several non-first-world will probably have a
> hard time getting the visa.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to address this question.

I am aware that there are Europeans involved in Debian who were
conscientious objectors to DC10 being held in the US; and I applaud their
opposition to modern oppressive travel regimes and respect their personal
choice to not travel to conferences in the US.  However, making this a
DebConf-level issue is a deplorable double-standard:

 - Governments and airlines of EU nations are complicit in the enforcement
   of the US's invasive security rules.
 - The EU is not more friendly to visitors from (arbitrary) developing
   countries than the US is.
 - The (logistical and monetary) costs for getting a visa to the EU if you
   must apply for one are not substantially different from those for getting
   a visa to the US.
 - While the US immigration regime differs in some relevant details from
   that in the EU, such as the fingerprinting requirement, the broad strokes
   of the policies are the same.

The only thing unique about DebConf in the US has been the vocalness of
objections.  I'm sure there were people who chose not to attend DebConf11 in
Bosnia, who chose not to attend DebConf12 in Nicaragua, and who would choose
not to attend a DebConf14 in Venezuela because they disapprove of one aspect
or another of these countries' government/policies.  However, any such
boycotts did not prevent us from holding a successful DebConf in Bosnia, in
Nicaragua, or in New York; they would not prevent DebConf from being a
success in Venezuela if that's what the DebConf committee chooses; and they
would not prevent the success of a DebConf in Portland.

None of this is meant to downplay the significance of visa difficulties for
those affected.  But we should address these challenges pragmatically, not
polemically, as part of the broader question of making DebConf a success.
When weighed against the cost of gathering people in one place from all over
the world, the visa expenses are very small, and there are certainly things
that DebConf could do to level the playing field: in addition to the local
team providing visa assistance (as Allison has already commented, and which
I would consider a normal part of any DebConf bid), we could also consider
visa application fees a sponsorable travel expense just like plane tickets
are.  When you consider the map of Debian developer locations[1], I think
it's obvious that we can be more cost-effective with our travel budget by
sponsoring visas for developers to come into the US from Latin America, than
by sponsoring plane tickets for developers in Canada and the US down to

[1] http://www.debian.org/devel/developers.loc

Oh, and just to throw in some numbers: according to [2], 825 of 920 active
Debian developers (90%) live in countries whose citizens are eligible for
travel to the US without a visa.  That includes the 37 visa waiver program
countries listed on [3], as well as the US and Canada.  It does not include
Mexico, for which (as you know) the US has its own particular system of
visas valid for 10 years.

[2] http://www.perrier.eu.org/weblog/2012/06/06
[3] http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html

> There is also this tradition we have of not repeating countries. Of
> course, being the USA such a large country, and being its Debian
> population so large, I would not give much weight to the argument, but
> I have seen it mentioned on IRC.

There are many good reasons to move the conference around from year to year:
it removes the risk of burning out a local team, it gives us an opportunity
to reach out to different local sponsors (avoiding to bleed any of them
dry), and it lets us make the conference geographically fair to attendees in
the aggregate.  But these are factors we should consider because *they make
for a better DebConf*, and not out of blind adherence to a "tradition" to
never repeat a country.

A policy to never repeat a country couldn't work indefinitely; sooner or
later we would run out of unique countries with credible hosting bids. 
While we should still try to vary the hosting location, we should certainly
not try to to enforce a "once per country" rule.

As for Portland in particular, it's been 4 years since the last DebConf in
the US.  Taken altogether, we've had two DebConfs in South America (Porto
Alegre, Mar del Plata); two in "Central" America (Oaxtepec, Managua); and
two in "North" America (Toronto, New York).  In terms of geographic
equality, I think there's no clear reason to prefer one bid over the other.
And Portland is over 3,000 km from either of the previous North American
host cities; there's no overlap in terms of local teams with the previous
conferences, and likely to be very little overlap with "local" sponsors.

> Proposed venue
> ==============
> I feel the proposed work rooms you mention for the venue somewhat
> small. Quoting from the Wiki:

>     One main plenary room with capacity for 200. This room has
>     removable partitions that convert it into two talk rooms during
>     sessions, one @ 98 places, one @ 70 places.
>     One additional talk room @ 48 places.
>     Two hacklabs, one @ 90 places and one @ 54 places, for a combined
>     capacity of 144. 

>     If attendance is higher than expected, we will have the option of
>     reserving more or larger rooms closer to the date of the event
>     (subject to availability). 

> But, if we are looking at a >300 people attendance, there will be many
> saturation moments. Do you have an idea of those additional spaces'
> fees and capacities?

The pdf Allison linked to from the Portland State website provides
information about additional rooms available and their (standard) rates.
Any of the rooms shown there are potentially available for our use, it just
depends how much money we have to spend and how much space we want.

Can you clarify what figures you think we should be using for estimating
attendance?  In preparing the venue quote, I've gone from the statistics on
attendance at DC10 in New York:

  - peak attendance (for people with properly-entered data) was 271
  - attendance peaked mid-week (Tue-Thu); attendance the day of the opening
    plenary was 267, attendance the day of the closing plenary was 177
  - not everyone who's present will attend the plenary
  - the plenary room can accomodate a few more people "standing room",
    beyond the 200 seated capacity
  - I have assumed the attendance in Portland will be slightly less than
    what it was in New York, due to geographic considerations.

All things considered, then, I have the impression that the listed rooms
would suffice for DebConf.  But if you would like us to use different
assumptions for attendance at different points during the week, we're happy
to rework the bid accordingly.

In that case, I think the best option would probably be to rent the ballroom
(600 person capacity) for just the opening and closing plenaries.  I avoided
including this in the bid originally because I know the video team prefers
not to have to move equipment around between rooms, so it's preferable to
not use "special" rooms for only part of the time; however, the ballroom
comes pre-equipped with a complete A/V setup, so if we need the use of a
larger space for the plenaries we can probably make this work and avoid
incurring huge added costs from renting space we're not using for the whole

Steve Langasek                   Give me a lever long enough and a Free OS
Debian Developer                   to set it on, and I can move the world.
Ubuntu Developer                                    http://www.debian.org/
slangasek@ubuntu.com                                     vorlon@debian.org

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