AsterConference 2008 KL: 8liens were there!

30,000 feet above the ground, I asked our CTO Meric Mara what to expect at the AsterConference 2008 KL sprint.

Wide-eyed, maybe due to concealed disappointment (programme is online!) or the usual in-flight ear pain, he said, “They will have roadmapping and also a discussion of the future of Asterisk” and in a more fevered voice, and a wider excited eyes, he added, “Plus, Mark Spencer will be there!”

We are using Asterisk in the office. Sometimes, Boss Mara would playfully play back some recorded phone conversations and we would laugh at how our voices sound, how guttural our “ehrm” were, or how exacting were our statements.

In one occasion, we were having a nice laugh dialing a special local number just to hear Renan, one of our IT Tech Support trainee, being scolded by a voice for deleting a page in our wiki.

These were made possible by an Open Source telephony software called Asterisk which Mark Spencer created and initiated to be continuously developed by a mass number of Asterisk Community Members. The same Mark Spencer who occupies one of the highest places in the open source pedestal, the culmination of our purpose in attending the AsterConference 2008 KL, and the same computer genius who wreaked havoc in the multi-billion dollar phone businesses in the world.

Getting there and waking up

Skip reading this section if you want to go directly to the highlight of AsterConference 2008 KL. You see, this is my first time out of the country and somehow, this blog won’t be complete without me saying something about non- and pre-AsterCon highlights.

After collecting KL brochures displayed at every corner of the KL airport and doing local currency exchange, a Malaysian guy approached us and talked us into taking us to our hotel for 90RM.

Thanks to our kind host, Mr. Alfred Chiong of JCMex, we already have a room at Crown Princess Hotel, the venue of AsterConference.

“Drive us to Crown Princess Hotel,” Deng said, with a Malay twang.Our cab driver is a jolly fellow. He gamely acted like a tour guide making us feel at home during the 45-minute stretch to the city.

It was an hour past midnight. So you can imagine my relief when our cab stopped to drop us off. But the gleaming sign of the hotel says: Crowne Plaza.

No, not Crowne Plaza, Crown Princess. And off we go again. Some turns here, another turn there. Then we were looking aghast at the edifice where the cab pulled over. Deng, Meric and I were suppressing a laugh. We were at the Prince Hotel. Not near enough, but nearly there. True enough, our third stop, exhaling relief, was Crown Princess Hotel. It was almost two in the morning.

Promptly at 8:30 AM, Deng woke me up. It’s AsterConference 2008 three floors below us. I really am in Malaysia!

Hearing from The Man, and those men who learned

The group was welcomed by MSC Malaysia, represented by Mr. Mohd Rizatuddin Mohd Ramli of MDeC (Multimedia Development Corporation).

Listening to him share about the open source wave in Malaysia, I can’t help but ask myself when my own country would support Open Source just as aggressive as Malaysia does. The AsterCon host country is not just riding the Open Source Wave but making sure that businesses and enterprises make the most out of it.

As he stepped down the stage, the group waited anxiously on the next speaker. Good thing, the introduction was short enough so we didn’t asphyxiate holding on to our breath.

And there he was, Founder and CTO of Digium Mr. Mark Spencer, all impish and boyish smiling in his signature Asterisk-printed white tee, rubber shoes and faded jeans.

Starting off with his presentation, his first slide was “What is Asterisk?” with his voice suspending in midair while the crowd, seemingly lost but hanging on, was expecting a whole new definition from the creator of Asterisk.

He humorously dismissed the question though, “This is not the conference for that,” he said. Interestingly, he introduced a new view by which he want Asterisk to be known: Not a PBX but an engine “upon which you can build new applications and features”.

From there, Mark Spencer moved on to cover the technology, the direction and the long-term feature and future of Asterisk.

He was open to term traditional Asterisk features (conferencing, call queues, etc) as “boring” but quick enough to salvage that these applications on it help pay the bills.

Surely, the “exciting” features perked me up and it was engrossing to know that the open source telephony software has more use than “paying the bills”. Sue me if I am lying saying that plants can make phone calls, bicycles can power up an Asterisk server, a phone can be your game controller, and Asterisk can somehow bail you out of a distressing situation.

The young technologist, of course, complemented the “boring” and “exciting” features in Switchvox which is also going Web 2.0. As such, Asterisk as an engine can provide more advance features that are surprisingly very easy to use.

Mark’s 15-minute presentation seemed short but it’s not everyday that one gets updated by The Man himself. Moreso, it was substantial enough to heighten interest and excitement over Asterisk making each delegate there to strengthen ties with Digium, the company that promises a software to get even better in the near future.

Rounding up the morning presentors were Doug Vilim of Sangoma and Dr. Daniel Ali Kraehenbuel of Intuit. Both discussed hardware implementations that only make Asterisk a feature-rich enterprise-grade cost-effective telephony tool.

The afternoon was a breakout session. Not so much of a technical person, I seated myself among those who attended the business track. Greg Vance of Digium, Gerald Lim of Gemme Group, Vikram Rangnekar of VoiceRoute, Polycom’s Peter White and Bernard Yeong of IP Vox were the presentors and completed the learned men of Asterisk during the AsterConference 2008 in KL.

One highlight (at least for me) that beats them all

It was not part of the programme but it sure was another highlight of attending the KL AsterCon. Along with mostly the coat-and-tie wearing delegates to the conference, I queued up to get an Asterisk mousepad signed by no other than the casually-garbed open source rock star himself.

By the way, my name was called during the lucky draw. Unluckily, I was somewhere else and there went my luck. Fortunately, Meric and Deng were called too! And we brought home tax-free without any customs declaration hullaballoo a Sangoma and Digium E1 cards.

Credits where due

In case you skipped that section above, I have to mention again my thanks, in behalf of Meric and Deng, to Alfred Chiong of JCMex for making it happen for us. Also, ViciDial‘s Mark Quitoriano for being our official tour guide (he was there to attend the AsterConference too) in KL. And Sam Acosta, new acquaintance made during the conference, who warmly accommodated us in Singapore cajoling his boss, Darren, to shoulder our Sentosa visit.

I. P. S. (Important Post Script)

By the way, the organizers of the KL Asterconference 2008 shared to us that there are plans to hold the Asterisk Boot Camp here in Manila on March of 2009.

And did I mention that we also had dinner with Mark Spencer and heard him sing Beatle’s “Let it BE”?

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