[TUHS] How to Kill a Technical Conference

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Tue Apr 6 05:30:25 AEST 2021

On Mon, Apr 5, 2021 at 2:08 PM John Gilmore <gnu at toad.com> wrote:

> The paper was rejected by the program committee, on the objection that
> "ports aren't research".  So
> the pro-academic, anti-engineering mindset was already in place back then.
John - to be honest, I think the attempt to make the standard for paper
acceptance had started before 1988.  I was on PCs in the early 1983s and
pressure was already on the PCs (and authors) to use 'academic standards'.
I think Ted described the issue well.    The fact is a paper like the one
you describe, I do think would not have been as interesting to some (maybe
even many) in the USENIX audience, although I clearly agree with you that
it would have been for others.  The problem was that paper like that was
not going to help people that were working on a tenure file and the PCs
wanted to fil the sessions with them.  To USENIX's credit, by the mid to
late the 1980s, a USENIX was considered by many academic committees.

The issue for the USENIX BOD had always been getting butts in the seats to
pay the bills.   Academics had a path, so following what IEEE and ACM did
was well-trod and understood.    Get the more pure hackers like yourself,
even the engineers inside of places like Sun or Masscomp was often
difficult and we know was not well understood.  USENIX was hardly the only
firm/org that made some bets in those days that in the long run might not
have been the best.

As Ted referred, at the time a compromise was created.   First, LISA became
the primary sys admin conferences and was and still is successful.  It has
always had a good mix of both practice and academic papers.  As Ted,
pointed out things like FREENIX, USELINUX, ALS, and the like were created
with a different set of requirements.  In the end, conferences like these
three fell out of favor. As someone that lived it at the time and argued to
try to keep/invest in them, I personally think there was more a crash of
personality as much as anything else.  They were a lot more work for the
USENIX staff to produce and that did not help the argument.   And in 1988,
USENIX itself had the gold as UNIX and the UNIX marketplace was at its
height.  I suspect some bad behavior did come through that favored one view
over another.   I personally think the org did attempt to do better in
serving this population, but ultimately did not do as well as many people
would have liked.  As more and, more $s in the market moved into the FOSS
community and away from what was then called the OpenSystems community, it
allowed the folks in FOSS like yourself to be served by others than
USENIX.  IMHO, USENIX walked away from a group that they should have been
trying to cultivate.

I'll give Mad Dog and Ted creds for at least trying to educate that BOD in
those days that what was being done/not done was not going to work for that
community.  The problem is that what was proposed (what was needed) did not
fit the model that the BOD and the then ED had in mind.  Given some of the
personalities, folks (on both sides) stopped trying.  A big problem (IMO)
was that USELINUX and FREENIX needed a conference organization model more
like the Hackers Conference or AMW, ... but ... the personalities running
USENIX at the time understood the traditional (more academic) scheme.   It
was a failure to communicate at a minimum, and certainly had large portions
of a control problem.

So where we are today is that the freshwater is long since over the dam,
and by now well mixed into the salted ocean.  Replaying the acts and
complaining of what should have happened is not going to help here.
Unfortunately, it is true that the actions of some people in those days
bruised some egos, and feelings were hurt.  I wish that were not true, but
I know it happened.  The key for all of us, in this list and else where in
the reset of the UNIX industry is to try to avoid rewriting history, but to
understand what went down and accept it, and move on.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://minnie.tuhs.org/pipermail/tuhs/attachments/20210405/dfc0a553/attachment.htm>

More information about the TUHS mailing list