Shallow Thoughts : : conferences
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Thu, 17 Apr 2014
I'm back from Montreal, settling back in.
The PiDoorbell tutorial went well, in the end. Of course just about
everything that could go wrong, did. The hard-wired ethernet
connection we'd been promised didn't materialize, and there was no way to
get the Raspberry Pis onto the conference wi-fi because it used
browser authentication (it still baffles me why anyone still uses
that! Browser authentication made sense in 2007 when lots of people
only had 801.11g and couldn't do WPA; it makes absolutely zero sense now).
Anyway, lacking a sensible way to get everyone's Pis on the net,
Deepa stepped as network engineer for the tutorial and hooked
up the router she had brought to her laptop's wi-fi connection
so the Pis could route through that.
Then we found we had too few SD cards. We didn't realize why until
afterward: when we compared the attendee count to the sign-up list
we'd gotten, we had quite a few more attendees than we'd planned for.
We had a few extra SD cards, but not enough, so I and a couple of
the other instructors/TAs had to loan out SD cards we'd brought for
our own Pis. ("Now edit /etc/network/interfaces ... okay, pretend you
didn't see that, that's the password for my home router, now delete
that and change it to ...")
Then some of the SD cards turned out not to have been updated with the
latest packages, Mac users couldn't find the drivers to run the serial
cable, Windows users (or was it Macs?) had trouble setting static
ethernet addresses so they could ssh to the Pi, all the problems we'd
expected and a few we hadn't.
But despite all the problems, the TAs: Deepa (who was more like a
co-presenter than a TA), Serpil, Lyz and Stuart, plus Rupa and I, were
able to get everyone working. All the attendees got their LEDs blinking,
their sonar rangefinders rangefinding, and the PiDoorbell script running.
Many people brought cameras and got their Pis snapping pictures when
the sensor registered someone in front of it.
Time restrictions and network problems meant that most people didn't
get the Dropbox and Twilio registration finished to get notifications
sent to their phones, but that's okay -- we knew that was a long shot,
and everybody got far enough that they can add the network
notifications later if they want.
And the most important thing is that everybody looked like they were
having a good time.
We haven't seen the reviews (I'm not sure if PyCon shares reviews with
the tutorial instructors; I hope so, but a lot of conferences don't)
but I hope everybody had fun and felt like they got something out of it.
The rest of PyCon was excellent, too. I went to some great talks, got lots
of ideas for new projects and packages I want to try, had fun meeting
new people, and got to see a little of Montreal. And ate a lot of good food.
Now I'm back in the land of enchantment, with its crazy weather -- we've
gone from snow to sun to cold breezes to HOT to threatening thunderstorm
in the couple of days I've been back. Never a dull moment!
I confess I'm missing those chocolate croissants for breakfast
just a little bit.
We still don't have internet: it's nearly 9 weeks since Comcast's
first visit, and their latest prediction (which changes every time I
talk to them) is a week from today.
But it's warm and sunny this morning,
there's a white-crowned sparrow singing outside the window,
and I've just seen our first hummingbird (a male -- I think it's a
broad-tailed, but it'll take a while to be confident of IDs on all
these new-to-me birds). PyCon was fun -- but it's nice to be home.
[ 10:20 Apr 17, 2014
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Fri, 27 May 2011
I'm just now finding time to write up some of my notes from
PII: Privacy, Identity and Innovation
PII was a fabulous conference, fascinating and well run.
It was amazing to be in a room with so many people who actually
care about these issues.
There were two days of speakers and panels, most of them in the same
room, which surprised me: usually conferences have multiple tracks to
give you lots of choices. But I ended up being glad for the single track.
Almost all of the speakers and panels were interesting, including some
I might not have chosen on my own. I had my
laptop along with some projects I figured I'd work on during the boring
sessions -- but that never happened. I didn't even get time during
lunch or breaks -- too many fascinating people to talk to in the hallways.
Then Saturday was "Privacy Camp", a less formal "unconference" full
of round-table discussions about some of the issues raised during
the regular conference. Conversations were lively and informative.
Usually after a conference I have a couple of suggestions for improvement.
For PII I really can't come up with anything. The website
was very informative (they even had detailed parking information),
everything ran pretty close to on time, rooms were easy to find,
they had an A/V crew recording everything, and wow, that Thursday lunch.
Plus: Best. Badgeholders. Ever. Great job, PII organizers!
And I couldn't help but notice the gender balance:
a third of the speakers were women,
and by my rough count-of-nearby-tables, women were close to 40% of the
attendees. At a tech conference! That's about double most conferences.
Most of the women I talked to were entrepreneurs, many with a history
of successful startups already, plus some researchers and a few developers.
The opening talk was worth getting up early for: Julia Angwin, the
journalist who wrote the Wall Street Journal's excellent "What they
know" articles, discussing the research that led to to the series
and what they've learned from it.
Later, once the panel discussions got started,
the biggest takeaway from the conference was a question mentioned early on:
"Were users surprised? When were they surprised?"
Sometimes companies say they care about privacy, but haven't thought
much about user expectations.
Asking yourself this question is a great test of how well you're
really protecting user privacy.
Privacy statements don't work
One of the panels I wouldn't have chosen that was unexpectedly
interesting discussed web site privacy statements.
First, M. Ryan Calo of the Stanford privacy center presented a study
on user behavior with regard to privacy statements.
They tried several different types, on websites of very different designs,
to see what worked best for users.
The upshot? "We couldn't test how well various privacy statements worked,
because no users clicked on them. Zero."
Then Aleecia McDonald of Mozilla presented a study where
they tried structuring privacy statements in different ways
to make the information clearer to users. How can you improve on the
"natural-language" policy you see on most websites, consisting of
several pages of dense obfuscated text? They tried hierarchies
where they showed the basics and let users click through to the details;
interactive pages where you could expand and contract sections or mouse
over a category to see more;
colored tables, cute icons, the works. They found that most of the seemingly
easier formats were actually worse than the long natural-language
expositions no one reads.
If you make the page interactive, users won't expand
the sections and won't find the important mouseovers.
If you make sub-pages, users won't click through.
If you use icons, users won't know what they mean.
But too often, they'll end up thinking they understand,
making assumptions about the details that don't match what's really in
the policy. So most simplified, "user-friendly" policies are actually
worse than a dense wall of text.
The only style that tested slightly better than natural-language policies
was the "Nutrition label" style, where they presented several aspects of
privacy with ratings for how good or bad the site was.
I felt sorry for the two panelists after Ryan and Aleecia, who were
there to show off their cool hierarchical privacy statement page designs.
They'd obviously put a lot of work into trying to make their policies
clearer ... but we'd just been convincingly shown how ineffective such
policies really are.
How to be stupid much faster
One panel discussed big data collection, and some of the ways
data can be misused. Someone (Beth Givens?) related a story of a family
arrested for marijuana growing after their power company's algorithms
flagged them as suspicious for their heavy late-night use of power.
Turns out they just had two teenagers who liked to stay up late
playing video games.
Terence Craig, in my favorite quote from the conference, quipped:
"It used to be that it took weeks to accumulate that data.
Now you can be stupid much faster."
I enjoyed a workshop given by Brian Kennish of Disconnect and Calvin
Pappas of SelectOut about their projects. Disconnect arose from a
chrome browser extension, Facebook Disconnect, to block Facebook
tracking from widgets on third-party sites. SelectOut also arose from
a chrome extension, making it easy for users to opt out of all the major
advertising networks at once. The workshop turned into a lively
discussion of opt-out versus do-not-track solutions, and what
future directions might be.
In another workshop, Martin Ortlieb described a Google study comparing
attitudes toward privacy of people in several countries. Someone in the
audience asked a question about data being collected and held by
government agencies versus private companies. Martin commented that
attitudes in the study tended toward
"I'd rather companies have my data, because then the government might
regulate how it's used.
If the government has it, no company's going to regulate it."
Someone mentioned that Mozilla didn't seem to be taking "Do not track"
very seriously, hiding it in the Advanced preferences tab, not under
Privacy where you'd expect it. Why? Later we heard that Mozilla is
listening to those concerns, and Firefox 5 will move Do Not Track to
the Privacy tab.
Esther Dyson: "Personal data can be traded; reputation can't.
Reputation is not a currency." She was responding to someone who
described a business model involving trading reputation points.
M. Ryan Calo:
The government doesn't need a warrant to access your webmail if it's
older than 6 months, something most webmail users don't realize.
Finally, Raman Khanna observed:
kids get tattoos, then when they're older they pay a lot
more for laser removal services.
There will be data services like that. "You were stupid
when you were in college, and you put all this info online.
We'll clean it up for you."
A good insight, and it reminded me of the old threat they used to give
us in school (do they still say this to kids?)
"This is going on your permanent record."
Nobody was ever sure what this permanent record was or why anyone would
want to look at it. I wonder if mine still exists somewhere?
[ 11:32 May 27, 2011
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Fri, 04 Mar 2011
I've been going to
about four years now, and this year's
was as good as ever.
There's really only one aspect of SCALE I'm not wild about:
the LAX location.
On the conference's #scale-chat IRC channel Sunday night, some folks were
discussing whether it might be possible to move away from LAX.
It seemed like a great idea, which I want to examine.
Apparently there's a Marriott at the Burbank airport that handles
conferences very well, if being near an airport is important,
Other folks have suggested Pasadena, a great conference venue
if it's not so important to be right next to an airport.
In Burbank or Pasadena, there would be more space, better and cheaper
parking, nice scenery, and options for lunch besides overpriced hotel
restaurants and fast food.
But there's another factor, too:
out-of-towners would come away with a much better impression of LA.
I grew up in the Los Angeles area, and I love going back to visit.
But I've lost count of the number of times I've heard
"Ugh! I bet you're glad to be out of there!"
I always ask how much time they've spent in LA, and where;
the answer is invariably, "Not much, just a few days near LAX."
It makes me wince. The area around LAX is one of the most smog-ridden,
characterless hives of asphalt in four counties.
It's a long way from either culture or nature,
it's hard for locals to get there on traffic-choked freeways,
and it's difficult and expensive to park.
It's not even easy to fly in and out of, last I tried;
the smaller airports are much friendlier.
But face it: a lot of people never see anything
of Los Angeles besides LAX. And those folks go away thinking what a
pit LA is -- even if the conference itself was great.
While I was at SCALE, my husband amused himself in Burbank.
On Saturday, it snowed (!) and he drove around watching folks having
snowball fights and ogling the snow piled on their cars.
Sunday dawned clear and beautiful, and he went for a
hike in the Verdugo hills, with spectacular views of the snowy
San Gabriel mountains, and the resident raven flock practicing
aerobatics like snap rolls, inverted and knife-edge flight.
Okay, so you won't see any of that while listening to talks. But in Burbank
or Pasadena, you could get out during lunch, walk to a restaurant, see the
mountains looming over you, make a Trader Joe's run (I heard more than
one attendee asking about the nearest TJs).
And parking and hotels would be much cheaper,
for those who can't afford to stay at the conference venue.
A reader points out that I forgot to mention there's a Fry's Electronics
just across the street from the Burbank Marriott -- geek paradise!
Even more important than Trader Joe's!
I know, you're thinking people don't go to computer conferences to
walk around outside, or to go to zoos or museums or whatever. But ...
don't they? I've sure had fun exploring the attractions of cities like
Melbourne or Brussels, hiking with friends in the Blue Mountains near
Sydney, visiting Powell's books in Portland,
or petting a koala in Hobart before or after Linux conferences.
I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Sure, they could rent a car and go driving after the conference.
But if all they've seen is LAX, they probably don't even know any of
that other stuff is there. LA is just endless freeways and parking
lots -- everybody knows that, right?
I know there are lots of arguments for staying at LAX,
and I'm sure it's a lot easier for international visitors flying in.
But, SCALE organizers, you do such a fantastic job running the conference;
please consider some day moving it to a venue that lives up to
the rest of the conference.
[ 20:59 Mar 04, 2011
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Mon, 28 Feb 2011
Another year of
the Southern CAlifornia Linux Expo, is over, and it was as good as ever.
A few standout talks:
Leigh Honeywell's keynote was a lively and enjoyable discussion of
from the history of the movement to a discussion of some of the
coolest and most innovative hackerspaces around today. She had plenty of
stories and examples that left everyone in the audience itching to
get involved with a local hackerspace, or start one if necessary.
John Wise and Eugene Clement of
presented the entertaining
"A Reflection on Classroom Robotics with Linux Robots in classrooms".
They've taught kids to build and program robots that follow lines,
solve mazes, and avoid obstacles. The students have to figure out
how to solve problems, details like when and how far to back up.
What a fantastic class! I can't decide if I'd rather teach a class
like that or take it myself ...
but either way, I enjoyed the presentation.
They also had a booth in the exhibit
hall where they and several of their students presented their
Arduino-based robots exploring simulated Martian terrain.
Jonathan Thomas spoke about his OpenShot video editor and the
development community behind it, with lots of video samples of what
OpenShot can do.
Sounds like a great program and a great community as well:
I'll definitely be checking out OpenShot
next time I need to edit a video.
It's worth mentioning that both the robotics talk and the OpenShot one
were full of video clips that ran smoothly without errors.
That's rare at conferences -- videos so often cause problems
in presentations (OpenOffice is particularly bad at them).
These presenters made it look effortless, which most likely points to
a lot of preparation and practice work beforehand.
Good job, guys!
Larry Bushey's "Produce An Audio Podcast Using Linux" was clear and
informative, managing to cover the technology, both hardware and
software, and the social factors like how often to broadcast, where
to host, and how to get the word out and gain and keep listeners
while still leaving plenty of time for questions.
The Exhibit Hall
In between talks I tried to see some of the exhibit hall, which was
tough, with two big rooms jam-packed with interesting stuff.
Aside from LinuxAstronomy and their robots,
there were several other great projects for getting technology into schools:
Partimus from the bay area, and Computers4Kids more local to LA,
both doing excellent work.
The distro booths all looked lively. Ubuntu California's booth was
always so packed that it was tough getting near to say hi, Fedora was well
attended and well stocked with CDs, and SuSE had a huge array of
givaways and prizes. Debian, Gentoo, Tiny Core and NetBSD were there as well.
Distro Dilemma and "the Hallway track"
Late in the game I discovered even Arch Linux had a booth hidden off
in a corner. I spent some time there hoping I might get help for my
ongoing Arch font rendering problem, but ended up waiting a long time
for nothing. That left me with a dilemma for my talk later that day:
Arch works well on my laptop except that fonts sometimes render with
chunks missing, making them ugly and hard to read; but a recent update
of Ubuntu Lucid pulled in some weird X change that keeps killing my
window manager at unpredictable times. What a choice! In the end I
went with Ubuntu, and indeed X did go on the fritz, so I had to do
without my live demo and stick to my prepared slides. Not a tragedy,
but annoying. The talk went well otherwise.
I had a great conversation with Asheesh from the
about how to make open source projects more welcoming to new
contributors. It's something I've always felt strongly about, but I
feel powerless to change existing projects so I don't do anything.
Well, OpenHatch is doing something about it, and I hope I'll be able
Not everything was perfect. The Hilton is a new venue for SCALE,
and there were some issues.
On Saturday, every room was full, with people
lining the walls and sitting on floors. This mostly was not a room size
problem, merely a lack of chairs. Made me wonder if we should go all
opensource on them and everybody bring their own lawn chair if
the hotel can't provide enough.
Parking was a problem too. The Hilton's parking garage fills up early,
so plan on driving for ten minutes through exhaust-choked tunnels
hoping to find a space to squeeze into. We got lucky, so I didn't
find out if you have to pay if you give up and exit without
finding a spot.
Then Sunday afternoon they ran short of validation
tickets (the ones that reduce the cost from $22 to $9), and it wasn't
clear if there was any hope of more showing up (eventually some did).
To top it off, when we finally left on Sunday
the payment machine at the exit swallowed my credit card, requiring
another 15 minutes of waiting for someone to answer the buzzer.
Eventually the parking manager came down to do a magic reset rite.
So I didn't come away with a great impression of the Hilton.
But it didn't detract much from a wonderful conference full of
interesting people -- I had a great time, and would (and do) recommend
SCALE to everyone with any interest in Linux.
But it left me musing about the pros and cons of different venues ...
a topic I will discuss in a separate post.
[ 22:39 Feb 28, 2011
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Mon, 05 Apr 2010
Last week I had the opportunity to go to the
(thanks, Linux Pro Magazine
Then, on the weekend, the free WhereCamp followed it up.
I'd been to WhereCamp last year. It was wonderful, geeky, highly
technical and greatly inspiring. I thought I was the only person
interested in mapping, especially in Python, and after the first
couple of sessions I was blown away with how little I knew and what
a thriving and expert community there was. I was looking forward to
the full experience this year -- I figured Where 2.0 must be
similar but even better.
Actually they're completely different events. Where 2.0 was dominated
by location-aware startups: people with iPhone games (Foursquare and
others in a similar mold), shopping apps (find the closest pizza
place to your location!) and so on. The talks were mostly 15 minutes
long, so while there were lots of people there with fascinating apps
or great stories to tell, there was no time to get detail on anything.
I think the real point of Where 2.0 is to get a sketch of who's doing
what so you can go collar them in the "hallway track" later and make
Here are some highlights
from Where 2.0. I'll write up WhereCamp separately.
The Ignite session Tuesday night was great fun, as Ignite sessions
almost always are.
The Ignite session was broken in the middle by a half-hour interlude
where a bunch of startups gave one-minute presentations on their
products, then the audience voted on the best, then an award was given
which had already been decided and had nothing to do with the audience
vote (we didn't even get to find out which company the audience chose).
Big yawner: one minute isn't long enough for anyone to show off a
product meaningfully, and I wasn't the only one there who brought
reading material to keep them occupied until the second round of Ignite
talks started up again.
Best Ignite talks
Where 2.0 videos here):
- App Stores Suck, Jonathan Stark
- Why Your Data Sucks, Paul Ramsey
- Crowdsourcing the Impossible: Ushahidi-Haiti, Patrick Meier
- Have Chickens, Need Lasers!, Martin Isenburg -- which didn't
actually involve lasers as far as I could tell, but it was certainly lively.
Patrick Meier gave a longer version of his Ignite talk on
Mobilizing Ushahidi-Haiti, full of interesting stories of how
OpenStreetMap and other technologies like Twitter came together
to help in the Haiti rescue effort.
Clouds, Crowds, and Shrouds: How One Government Agency Seeks to
Change the Way It Spatially Enables Its Information, by Terrance Busch of
the US Defense Intelligence Agency, was an interesting look into the
challenges of setting up a serious mapping effort, then integrating
later with commercial and crowdsourced efforts.
In Complexities in Bringing Home Environmental Awareness, Kim Balassiano
of the US EPA showed the EPA
MyEnvironment page, where you can find information about local
environmental issues like toxic waste cleanups. They want users to
enter good news too, like composting workshops or community gardens,
but so far the data on the map is mostly bad. Still a useful site.
There were a couple of interesting keynotes on Thursday morning, but
work kept me at home. I thought I could catch them on the live video
stream, but unfortunately the stream that had worked fine on Wednesday
wasn't working on Thursday, so I missed the Mark L. DeMulder's talk
on the USGS's National Map efforts. Fortunately, they were at WhereCamp
where they gave much more detail. Likewise, I missed the big ESRI
announcement that everyone was talking about all afternoon -- they
released some web thing, but as far as I can tell they're still
totally Windows-centric and thus irrelevant to a Linux and open source
user. But I want to go back and view
There was another talk on Thursday which I won't name, but it had
a few lessons for speakers:
- Be aware of when you're speaking, so somebody doesn't have to come
find you in the audience and say "Hey, you're next. Are you coming?"
- If you're not bringing your own laptop, try to get access to the
presentation machine beforehand and test out your presentation.
- Especially if you're planning on showing a video that may require
downloading nonstandard software.
Base Map 2.0 was a panel-slash-debate between Steve Coast
(OpenStreetMap), Timothy Trainor (U.S. Census Bureau), Peter ter Haar
(Ordnance Survey), Di-Ann Eisnor (Platial), and moderated by Ian White of
Urban Mapping. It was fabulous. I've never seen such a lively panel:
White kept things moving, told jokes, asked provocative and sometimes
inflammatory questions and was by far the best panel moderator I've
seen. The panelists kept up with him and gave cogent, interesting
and illuminating answers. Two big issues were the just-announced
release of Ordnance Survey data, and licensing issues causing mismatches
between OSM, OS and Census datasets.
Community-based Grassroots Mapping with Balloons and Kites in
by Jeffrey Warren was another fabulous talk.
He builds balloons out of garbage bags, soda bottles and a digital camera,
goes to poor communities in places like Lima and teaches the community
(including the kids) how to map their own communities. This is more than
an academic exercise for them, since maps can help them prove title to
their land. Check it out at
build your own aerial mapping balloon!
(He was at WhereCamp, too, where we got to see the equipment up close.)
Visualizing Spatio-temporal War Casualty Data in Google Earth by
Sean Askay of Google was just as good. He's built a KML file called
Map the Fallen showing US and
allied casualties from Iraq: the soldiers' hometowns, place of death,
age, gender, and lots of other details about them with links to tribute pages,
plus temporal information showing how casualties changed as the war
progressed. It's an amazing piece of work, and sobering ... and I was
most annoyed to find out that it needs a version of Google Earth that
doesn't run on Linux, so I can't run it for myself. Boo!
Overall, a very fun conference, though it left me hungry for detail.
Happily, after a day off there was WhereCamp to fill that void.
[ 22:34 Apr 05, 2010
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Wed, 24 Feb 2010
I'm finally getting caught up after
this year's Southern CA Linux Expo.
A few highlights (not even close to a comprehensive list):
The UbuCon and Women in Open Source (WIOS) were both great successes,
with a great speaker list and good attendance. It was hard to choose
Malakai Wade, Mirano Cafiero, and Saskia Wade, two 12-year-olds and an
8-year-old, presenting on "Ultimate Randomness - Girl voices in open source".
Great stuff! They sang, they discussed their favorite apps, they
showed an animated video made with open source tools of dolls
in a dollhouse. Lots of energy, confidence and fun. Loved it!
I hope to see more of these girls.
I liked Nathan Haines demo of "Quickly", an app for rapid development
of python-gtk apps. It looks like a great app, especially for
beginning programmers, though his demo did also illustrate the
problems with complex UIs filled with a zillion similar toolbuttons.
(I'm not criticising Nathan; I find UIs like that very difficult to use,
especially under pressure like a live demo in front of an audience.)
Happily, the UbuCon and WIOS scheduled their lightning talks at
different times (though UbuCon's conflicted with WIOS's "How to give
a Lightning Talk" session). So lightning talk junkies enjoyed two
hours of talks back to back, plus the chance to give two different
talks to different audiences. Hectic but a lot of fun.
I was a little disappointed with the Git Tips & Tricks panel; I wanted
more git tips and less discussion of projects that happen to use Git.
I liked Don Marti's section on IkiWiki;
it looks like a great tool and I wish Don had had more time to present.
I liked Emma Jane Hogbin's useful and interesting talk on "Looking
Beautiful in Print", full of practical tips for how to design good
flyers and brochures using tools like OpenOffice.
Diana Chen, who got introduced to open source only a year ago at SCALE
7x, gets the award for courage: she gave a talk on "Learning python
for non-programmers" using a borrowed laptop that I'm not sure she'd
even seen before the presentation. Unfortunately, the
laptop turned out to be poorly suited to the task (no Python installed?
Dvorak keymap?) so Diana struggled to show what she'd planned, but
she came through and her demos eventually worked great.
I hope she wasn't too discouraged by the difficulties, and keeps
presenting -- preferably with more time to practice ahead of time.
The room was absolutely packed --
they had to bring in lots more chairs and there were still a lot of
people standing. There's obviously a huge amount of interest in
beginner programming talks at this conference!
Shawn Powers' talk, "Linux is for Smart People, and You're Not as Dumb
as You Think", was as entertaining as the title suggested --
an excellent beginner-track talk that I think everyone enjoyed.
I'm not going to review Sunday's program, because I was busy
obsessing over my own "Featherweight Linux" talk. I'll just say that
SCALE is a great place to give a talk -- the audience was great, with
excellent questions and no heckling and, most important, they laughed
when I hoped they would. :-)
I didn't get to spend much time on the show floor, but it looked
active and fun.
The Linux Astronomy folks
had a fantastic display, with a big table with a simulated Martian landscape
and a couple of robotic rovers exploring it and a robotic telescope
driven by a milling machine program, as well as computers exhibiting a
selection of Linux astronomy, science and math-teaching software.
ZaReason had a booth, and my mom was able to get info on how to get
a spare battery for her laptop. (Can I take a moment to say how cool
it is to be wandering around a Linux conference with my mom, who's
carrying her own Linux netbook?)
An Ubuntu/Canonical table was testing people's laptops for
compatibility with the next Ubuntu release. (There may have been
other distros tested as well; I wasn't clear on that.)
Without Borders, Orange County looked really interesting and
assured me that not all of them were in Orange County, and there's
activity up here in the Bay Area as well. Definitely on my list
to learn more.
Linux Pro magazine was giving out copies of Linux Pro and Ubuntu User,
both fantastic magazines packed with good articles.
Beginners and Hobbyists
One notable feature of SCALE is the low price. This conference is very
affordable, which means there are a lot of hobbyists, beginners and
even people just considering trying Linux. They've offered a "Beginner
track" for several years, though not all the talks in that track are
really accessible to beginners (speakers: here's your chance to propose
that great beginner talk the other conferences aren't interested in!
Help some new folks!)
There's a lot of energy and diversity and a wide range of interests
and knowledge -- yet there's still plenty of depth for hardcore
Overall, a fantastic conference. The SCALE organizers do a great job
of organizing everything, and if there were any glitches they weren't
evident from the outside.
[ 15:34 Feb 24, 2010
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Tue, 21 Jul 2009
It's been a day -- or week, month -- of performance monitoring.
I'm posting this
while sitting in an excellent OSCON tutorial on Linux
System and Network Performance Monitoring, by
It's full of great information and I'm sure his web site is
And it's a great extension to topic that's been occupying me
over the past few months: performance tracking to slim down
software that might be slowing a Linux system down.
That's the topic of one of my two OSCON talks this Wednesday:
"Featherweight Linux: How to turn a netbook or older laptop into a Ferrari."
Although I don't go into anywhere near the detail Darren does,
a lot of the principles are the same, and I know I'll find a use
for a lot of his techniques. The talk also includes a free bonus
tourist tip for San Jose visitors.
Today's Linux Planet article is related to my Featherweight talk:
Bogging Down Your Linux PC? Tracking Down Resource Hogs.
Usually they publish my articles on Thursdays, but I asked for an
early release since it's related to tomorrow's talk.
For anyone at OSCON in San Jose, I hope you can come to Featherweight late
Wednesday afternoon, or to my other talk, Wednesday just after lunch,
"Bug Fixing for Everyone (even non-programmers!)" where I'll go over
the steps programmers use while fixing bugs, and show that anyone can
fix simple bugs even without any prior knowledge of programming.
[ 11:58 Jul 21, 2009
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Fri, 23 Jan 2009
The conference is over! Amazing how quickly a week passes.
Simon Phipps warmed us up with a very good keynote, full of inside
jokes and knowledgeable quips indicating he knows the community even
if he is a Sun guy.
Matthew Wilcox had some good tips on improving performance on solid
state disks that I know will keep Dave busy for a while (I got him a
small laptop SSD for his birthday and he's been enjoying it quite a
bit -- it's hugely less power intensive and much faster for most
operations than the regular disk it replaced). Apparently a lot of
his advice will only work on snazzy high-end IBM SSDs, not the cheap
ones like netbooks have or like Dave has, but some of them may be
helpful anyway. Dave is trying the suggestion of using no I/O
echo "noop" > /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler --
apparently there's a lot of crap the scheduler has to traverse that
isn't noticable when the drive is seeking all the time, but on an SSD
that doesn't need to seek, it can make a big difference. Also,
apparently ext4 or btrfs (still under development) have some
enhancements that help with SSD performance.
I went to Paul Fenwick's talk (Awesome Things You've Missed in
Perl) even though I'm not a Perl hacker ... I know by now that
Paul will always have something fun, and indeed he did,
including a live demo of a bot that plays Minesweeper.
The "awesome things" were indeed pretty cool, and I even found
myself tempted to check out Perl again, especially for the new
smart regular expression and grammar syntax (you can name parts
of regular expressions then define grammars based on them -- very nice!)
Matthew Garrett had entertaining stories on power management, though
not a lot of practical advice. Summary: power management sucks, maybe
it'll get better some day; users shouldn't be forced to predict their
use patterns in order to optimize power usage; video wastes a ton of
power, like higher-than-necessary refresh rates when the user is
merely viewing static images on an LCD that doesn't need much
Then it was lunchtime -- time for the Great Shaving, where Linus
shaved Bdale's beard as part of the enormous charity deal (something
between $35,000 and $40,000 -- the count still isn't finished yet)
toward saving the Tasmanian Devil.
Bdale shared some of the emails from his wife (with her permission)
and they were pretty funny, as was
"Geek My Ride" (Jonathan Oxer and Jared Herbohn or "Flame") had an
entertaining presentation full of successful and impressive demos (we
didn't see the actual cars -- those will be at Open Day tomorrow,
apparently). I didn't see the whole presentation because I was
fiddling around with an idea for a lightning talk, but I saw enough
to get the idea.
Kevin Pulo's "Fun with LD_PRELOAD" was indeed fun. He had quite a few
examples of existing LD_PRELOAD hacks as well as a detailed example of
how to make a custom preloaded library. It's quite a bit more
elaborate than I realized, but certainly do-able and something I've
been meaning to experiment with for quite a while.
Then, sadly, it was time for the closing ceremonies, including
lightning talks (I worked up the nerve and participated, though my
laptop didn't behave and wouldn't talk to the projector -- weird how
xrandr sometimes works and sometimes doesn't).
And then the closing announcements:
next year's LCA will be in Wellington, NZ.
The Great Shaving had made the Hobart afternoon news, and someone
brought in a tape of it. The funniest thing was that they focused
on Bdale and the donation but never mentioned the guy who was doing
the shaving (some unassuming guy named Linus).
[ 04:35 Jan 23, 2009
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