Rusty Russell's Coding Blog | Stealing From Smart People

Jan/10

28

linux.conf.au 2010

After slightly disastrous preparation  (my left knee in a brace as detailed for the perversely-curious here) my week went well.  I tried to get back to my hotel room early each evening to rest as per doctor’s orders (and managed it except Friday night), but polishing my Friday talk tended to take a few hours every day.

Sunday

The Newcomer’s Session was well attended, but Jacinta and I were slack with preparation so it was unbalanced for my tastes.  I raced to the post-session pub assuming my crutches would ensure I’d be the trailer, to find that I was wrong.  It would have been better to explicitly and immediately drag people towards the pub, because that’s (seriously) the most important part of the introduction to LCA.

Monday

Miniconf time, and I started in the Open Programming Languages miniconf.  There was some interestingly random language stuff there: it’s one of my few opportunities to get exposure to higher level languages.  The miniconf talks were enthusiastic and unpolished as such things are supposed to be.  Haskell, and all the wonderful things it doesn’t let you do by Stephen Blackheath was interesting,  but lacked solid examples. Introducing Gearman — Distributed server for all languages by Giuseppe Maxia was a great short intro into an unknown project. vcs-pkg.org by Martin F. Krafft was classic work-in-progress talk with insights into a mundane but critical infrastructure problem (standards and practices for coordinating upstream and across distributions using distributed revision control).

Die Flash Die – SVG has arrived by Andy Fitzsimon gave classic bling talk with a message about the animation potential for SVG.  Useful content, too, for those dealing with this, and I was blown away to hear of Gordon, a FOSS Flash™ runtime written in JavaScript.

How to Use FOSS Graphics Tools to Pay for College by Elizabeth Garbee was an insight into the US education system and a chance to find out what my friend Edale (I know she hates that meme!) was doing.  But her talk didn’t quite gel for this audience. Unfortunately using the words “did you spot the head-fake?” riles me.  You are suddenly telling me that you’ve been using your intellect to compete with me rather than to inform and enrich me.

Then came my own Talloc: Pick Up Your Own Garbage! talk, which was delayed by my miscalculation of transit time on crutches. A mediocre rehash of my previous talloc talks, but I wanted to put it in front of this group because it really offers fresh view into a program’s data structures at runtime.

Writing Facebook Applications in Perl by Paul Fenwick was a nice little introduction to the FB API from a Perl point of view, but he kept his powder dry for his awesome lightening talk on Friday.

Tuesday

I peered in at the tail end of the keynote which was apparently excellent.  I woke a little early then did some more work on my presentation, and by the time I had breakfast I was incurably late. One person admitted to me that they watched the live stream from their hotel room, but I wasn’t that clever.

This this day was all hallway track for me, catching up with many people I haven’t seen since last year. Then the Speaker’s Dinner at Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa. This is also a fun time to chat with everyone, but I was disappointed that my crutches forced me to forgo learning a traditional Haka. It was also the first chance to greet the two chief organizers, who had been sick the first two days of the conference.  Edale and I also had fun playing with their very-past-bedtime hyper 2 yo Brooke (until we were told not to stir her up any more!)

Wednesday

The keynote by Benjamin Mako Hill was a little chaotic but made his point about antifeatures well: how such things are only viable when consumers don’t have freedom of choice (in particular, ability to examine, modify and share the software they’re using).  I then headed to Introduction to game programming by Richard Jones, where I struggled with pyglet before giving up and paying half-attention.  I did learn some things though, and everyone who was active seemed to get great satisfaction from the tutorial.

Open Sourcing the Accountants by Jethro Carr lacked density.  It takes a great deal of work to give a thorough comparison of different accounting packages, and his insights into how accountants think were insufficient to make that the backbone of his talk either.

subunit: Testing across boundaries for fun and profit by Robert Collins was slightly familiar ground for me, but as libtap maintainer he wanted me to attend.  It was a good bread-and-butter talk, which perhaps could have benefited from a few more snazzy real-life examples (making testing sexy is hard though!).  He semi-seriously suggested I should take over the C output implementation for subunit; still thinking…

I caught the questions at Teaching FOSS at universities by Andrew Tridgell and Robert (Bob) Edwards, which I will watch seriously once the videos are uploaded.

Then was one compulsory-attendance presentation of the week: The World’s Worst Inventions by Paul Fenwick. I had made a comment to Paul earlier in the week that I was concerned that my talk lacked substance.  His reply was “I won’t comment how much substance is in my talk”.  And any conclusions were left to the minds of the audience as full-costumed Paul took us through a series of invention disasters.  I teased him about it later, but let’s be honest: if I could present like that I wouldn’t have worried about content either!

That evening was the HackOff.  I’ve never tried competitive programming, so when we came up with the plan of a SAMBA team, I heartily endorsed it :)  Intimidation is important at these events, and the tweet from Adam Harvey was promising: At the #lca2010 HackOff. There’s a table with Rusty, Tridge, Anthony Towns and Andrew Bartlett. We’re fucked. However, despite having the largest team (with 6 of us), we only just squeaked in by 2 minutes.  Subtract any one of the team and we wouldn’t have won, though with fewer we might not have tried to brute-force the final question.

Thursday

Glyn Moody’s keynote was excellent. Then I lost some more hallway time before emerging in The Elephant in the Room: Microsoft and Free Software by Jeremy Allison. I thought it was a worthwhile and balanced presentation; of course it had a few cheap laughs in it, but the examination of Microsoft’s actions wrt FOSS is a worthwhile exercise if we want to assess their potential impact.

I was a bit late to Building a Xapian index of Wikipedia in less time than this talk takes by Olly Betts, but it was too unprepared for my tastes and I went in not knowing what Xapian was (though I picked it up from context). Tux on the Moon: FOSS hardware and software in space by Jonathan Oxer was good, but another one I was late to (15 minutes between talks seems to give me enough time to start conversations, but not enough to finish them).

Simplicity Through Optimization by Paul McKenney was a good talk if you didn’t know your RCU.  For me I would have liked to hear more what the various lines of code were doing (before they were excised by the optimized implementation).  But being deeply familiar with the theory and somewhat familiar with the practice, I’m probably in a minority.

By this stage I was exhausted, and Using Functional Programming Techniques In Your Favourite Language by Malcolm Tredinnick was in the same room so I stayed.  This talk was a disappointment to me (and, I think, Malcolm) because it didn’t quite contain the general insights he’d believed were there when he proposed the talk. Nice for me to get an refreshing exposure to functional programming though.

Dinner at an Indian restaurant with the SAMBA people, which meant I was right near the PDNS, so I dropped in briefly then returned to my hotel room for an early night.

Friday

Nat Torkington’s keynote contained the classic “heckle Rusty” factor and was delightfully punchy. He rolled over to a very very strong set of lightning talks; a format which works so well at these geek-rich events.  Paul Fenwick’s “Unfriendly” Facebook app was an awesome way to close.

Patent defence for free software by Andrew Tridgell (late again!) was familiar ground for me, but I wanted to see how he presented such a dry area.  Lots of text: I would have included some more diagrams (claim dependencies are well represented by a tree, for example). But the audience were rapt, so I’m clearly too picky!

Last minute prep for my talk: I decided the previous night that I would use Notes View, only to find that noone could get it to work.  Both notes and presentation appeared on the projector screen, fortunately as I was about to give up and run without notes, someone suggested I simply drag the notes view back onto my laptop screen!  Sometimes the low-tech approaches evade our over-complicated minds.

FOSS Fun With A Wiimote by Rusty Russell was well-received. I didn’t go as far with the project as I had intended, due to personal time contraints and time lost wrangling with actual hardware, but sometimes that’s instructive too.

The presentation itself was flawed in three places.  Firstly, my intro slide appeared all at once rather than clicking in one point at a time, destroying my carefully practiced routine at that point.  Secondly, noone knew what LED throwies were: (an open source graffiti technology developed at the Graffiti Research Lab) and I so that slide was completely lost.  Finally, I should have set up my replacement two-year-old on the stage where the audience and the cameras could see her clearly.

The closing announced Brisbane for lca2011, and I handed the virtual speakers’ gift to the organisers.  That done, I was ready to relax at the Penguin Dinner.  Most years I don’t even drink, knowing that I’ll have to do the auction.  But as there was no auction I sat next to Nat Torkington to guarantee great conversation and was ready to chill. I did some singing, didn’t try the Haga (again). I even got a cuddle with the organiser’s very well-behaved 5-month-old son Adam.

Unfortunately, events conspired against me and I was dragged into a pledging war for a prize I didn’t want to win (and at which my doctor would be aghast). I thought we could get more money from the Wenches For Winching, who were weasonably wealthy and weally wanted to win. Ted Ts’o had a similar idea. Unfortunately the prospect of crippled Rusty being “rescued” (after being dropped: that was the no way part) was too alluring for many, and I had to work hard to ensure I didn’t win.

A good time had by all, though exhausting after a long week.

Saturday

Briefly peered into the Open Day, which was buzzing with setup and opening, before heading home, spent. I did find out that wild weather had wuined the winching of wenches; but there is a standing offer when they find themselves in Wellington again.

Summary

Absolutely on par with previous awesome conferences; there were no organisational disappointments for me the entire week. I was particularly happy to see people digging in and fixing things when they were wrong instead of simply complaining.

A great achievement, everyone!

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3 Comments for linux.conf.au 2010

jldugger | January 28, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Sounds like a great time, sorry I missed it. I notice there was live video streaming; you happen to know if there’s plans to make that available for download later?

Author comment by rusty | January 28, 2010 at 8:07 pm

From what I can tell, they’re expected to be post-processed and put up in nice open formats over the next 2 weeks or so.

We’re all waiting for them…

jldugger | January 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Good to know. Last year was a bit of a bust as I recall. I guess nothing’s being pre-announced in light of that.

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