(apologies for the probably grammatically horrible title. i don't speak the language, i only play one on t.v., and it is intended to be a reference to a local political slogan. </disclaimer>)
the fourth world forum on free knowledge was amazing. it was rather well organized with transportation and meals taken care of daily. the organizational team worked their butts off to make it happen and they deserved every bit of thanks they got and then some.
the first day of the event was pretty intense. technically it was the first night of the event since it was an evening presentation to kick it all off. on the way to this opening event i made a number of new friends, including jeffrey sanabria from columbia who was to become my self-appointed personal guide for the week. he introduced me to local tastes (maltin is quite nice =), helped translate and generally kept me company with great conversation. he also brought some columbian coffee for me and did an interview for a columbian free software magazine he helps put out. an all around great guy, the sort that makes being in the free software community worth it.
we arrived with many others at the local university in maturin, ubv, where there were row upon row of chairs covered in white cloths beneath large tents in front of a stage. a panel of several (8, i believe? perhaps more?) government and industry officials sat in front of the stage and one by one got up and gave a short speech about the importance of the event and what they hoped to see occur. one of the translators for the event, a wonderful woman from italy with a beautiful young family, made sure that those of us who don't speak spanish could understand every word of what was being said.
it was fascinating to hear public officials and industry movers talk openly in the language of freedom and free software. their command of the rhetoric and concepts was deeply impressive. there is still a long ways to go to realize the dream (and mandate!) to move 100% to free software within the venezuelan public sector, but i believe they have a much better chance of achieving it than many other countries might due to their deep internalization of the ideas and reasons behind making such a move.
with the speeches out of the way a traditional band took the stage and dancers came out to entertain with a series of local dances. it was fantastic and i thought i had seen the climax of the night as they left the stage until fireworks started going off overhead.
all i have to say is this: i have seen the promised land of free software conference opening galas and it was at this conference. i plan to be thoroughly disappointed by future opening events now that i've been so thoroughly spoiled.
the days that followed are a blur of presentations and discussion. the weather was warm and humid (to say the least) but the meeting of the minds was even hotter. the presentations ranged from the practical such as demonstrations of kde, voip and perl programming to the political such as Arun Madhavan's presentation on the use of free software in karala, india to the philosophical such as Jef Zucker's talk on international development and Aarti Sethi's presentation on open source concepts applied to other forms of social development.
in between there were great opportunities for involved discussions with people from around the world and the free software community. there were government officials and hackers alike milling about; students and professionals; a variety of ethnicities and projects represented.
my presentation on how free software contributes to society was well received and i think added to the ongoing conversations. but most exciting for me was the half day hands-on kde development work shop. despite some minor bumps (such as the tech team installing kdevelop and the necessary support bits in the wrong lab) and the trickiness of teach via translators (i had two of them that day, so was blessed in that regard) it went very well. people started their first kde application and we stepped through the code line by line together while making changes and customizations. we covered the basics of qobject, xmlgui, kconfig, qt designer, kfiledialog, kstandarddirs and more. it was fairly fast paced but the two dozen or so students kept up well.
at the end we discussed what we could do so as not to lose the momentum and knowledge we had spent the day accruing. it was decided that a spanish language development mailing list would help tremendously. since many of those in attendance either spoke very little english and everyone was much more comfortable conversing in spanish, this is a natural move. we collected email addresses and jeffrey will be putting out an announcement to them all about how to sign up to kde-devel-es this week. hopefully we end up with a decent flood of new development blood in the area!
the end of the event was marked with a social event, more live music and more fireworks. gifts were exchanged and impressive amounts of shwag doled out. the next day those who didn't have to leave in the morning went to a cavern a few hours drive outside the city where we walked amongst cave dwelling birds, their droppings and other critters for 1.2 kilometers while gaping in awe at the cave formations. after a nice lunch at a local restaurant (which featured karaoke! huzzah!) it was off to the airport and back home. driving at 120k/h through a rural highway, dodging in between cars and around street vendors at slightly slower speeds, was an interesting start to that journey.
i don't have any pictures yet, though many are on their way via email and the web in the coming days. that's because my camera was in japan with t., who i pick up in a few hours at the airport. will be nice to have everyone back in one place and sleeping in my own bed, though my experience in venezuela will never be forgotten.