Shallow Thoughts : tags : conferences
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.
Wed, 29 Jan 2014
The first batch of hardware has been ordered for Rupa's and my
tutorial at PyCon in Montreal this April!
your own PiDoorbell - Learn Home Automation with Python on
the afternoon of Wednesday, April 9.
It'll be a hands-on workshop, where we'll experiment with the
Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins and learn how to control simple things like
an LED. Then we'll hook up sonar rangefinders to the RPis, and
build a little device that can be used to monitor visitors at your
front door, birds at your feeder, co-workers standing in front of your
monitor while you're away, or just about anything else you can think of.
Participants will bring their own Raspberry Pi computers and power supplies
-- attendees of last year's PyCon got them there, but a new Model A
can be gotten for $30, and a model B for $40.
We'll provide everything else.
We worried that requiring participants to bring a long list of esoteric
hardware was just asking for trouble, so we worked a deal with PyCon
and they're sponsoring hardware for attendees. Thank you, PyCon!
CodeChix is fronting the money
for the kits and helping with our travel expenses, thanks to donations
from some generous sponsors.
We'll be passing out hardware kits and SD cards at the
beginning of the workshop, which attendees can take home afterward.
We're also looking for volunteer T/As.
The key to a good hardware workshop is having lots of
helpers who can make sure everybody's keeping up and nobody's getting lost.
We have a few top-notch T/As signed up already, but we can always
use more. We can't provide hardware for T/As, but most of it's quite
inexpensive if you want to buy your own kit to practice on. And we'll
teach you everything you need to know about how get your PiDoorbell
up and running -- no need to be an expert at hardware or even at
Python, as long as you're interested in learning and in helping
other people learn.
This should be a really fun workshop! PyCon tutorial sign-ups just
opened recently, so sign up for the tutorial (we do need advance
registration so we know how many hardware kits to buy). And if you're
going to be at PyCon and are interested in being a T/A, drop me or
Rupa a line and we'll get you on the list and get you all the
information you need.
See you at PyCon!
[ 19:32 Jan 29, 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?
[ 10:32 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.
[ 19:59 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.
[ 21:39 Feb 28, 2011
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Wed, 21 Jul 2010
On Linux Planet yesterday: an article on how to write scripts for chdk,
the Canon Hack Development Kit -- Part 3 in my series on CHDK.
Photography with your Inexpensive Canon Camera (CHDK p. 3)
I found that CHDK scripting wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped -- some
of the functions, especially the aperture and shutter setting, were
quite flaky on my A540 so it really didn't work to write a bracketing
script. But it's fantastic for simple tasks like time-lapse photography,
or taking a series of shots like the Grass Roots Mapping folk do.
If you're at OSCON and you like scripting and photos, check out my
session on Thursday afternoon at 4:30:
GIMP Plug-ins and Scripts, in which I'll walk through several GIMP
scripts in Python and Script-Fu and show some little-known tricks
you can do with Python plug-ins.
[ 09:31 Jul 21, 2010
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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.
[ 21:34 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.
[ 14:34 Feb 24, 2010
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Sat, 20 Feb 2010
I gave a lightning talk at the Ubucon -- the Ubuntu miniconf -- at the
SCALE 8x, Southern
California Linux Expo yesterday. I've been writing about grub2
for Linux Planet but it left
me with some, well, opinions that I wanted to share.
A lightning talk
is an informal very short talk, anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes.
Typically a conference will have a session of lightning talks,
where anyone can get up to plug a project, tell a story or flame about
an annoyance. Anything goes.
I'm a lightning talk junkie -- I love giving them, and I
love hearing what everyone else has to say.
I had some simple slides for this particular talk. Generally I've
used bold or other set-offs to indicate terms I showed on a slide.
SCALE 8x, by
the way, is awesome so far, and I'm looking forward to the next two days.
Grub2 3-minute lightning talk
What's a grub? A soft wriggly worm.
But it's also the Ubuntu Bootloader.
And in Karmic, we have a brand new grub: grub2!
Well, sort of. Karmic uses Grub 2 version 1.97 beta4.
Aside from the fact that it's a beta -- nuff said about that --
what's this business of grub TWO being version ONE point something?
Are you hearing alarm bells go off yet?
But it must be better, right?
Like, they say it cleans up partition numbering.
Yay! So that confusing syntax in grub1, where you have to say [SLIDE]
(hd0,0) that doesn't look like anything else on Linux,
and you're always wanting to put the parenthesis in the wrong place
-- they finally fixed that?
Well, no. Now it looks like this: (hd0,1)
THEY KEPT THE CONFUSING SYNTAX BUT CHANGED THE NUMBER!
Gee, guys, thanks for making things simpler!
But at least grub2 is better at graphics, right? Like what if
you want to add a background image under that boring boot screen?
A dark image, because the text is white.
Except now Ubuntu changes the text color to black.
So you look in the config file to find out why ...
if background_image `make_system_path_relative...
... there it is! But why are there two blacks?
Of course, there's no documentation. They can't be fg/bg --
black on black wouldn't make any sense, right?
Well, it turns out it DOES mean foreground and background -- but the second
"black" doesn't mean black. It's a special grub2 code for "transparent".
That's right, they wrote this brand new program from scratch, but they
couldn't make a parser that understands "none" or "transparent".
What if you actually want text with a black background? I have
no idea. I guess you're out of luck.
Okay, what about dual booting? grub's great at that, right?
I have three distros installed on this laptop. There's a shared /boot
partition. When I change something, all I have to do is edit a file
in /boot/grub. It's great -- so much better than lilo! Anybody remember
what a pain lilo was?
# DO NOT EDIT THIS FILE
# It is automatically generated by /usr/sbin/grub-mkconfig using templates
# from /etc/grub.d and settings from /etc/default/grub
Oops, wait -- not with grub2. Now I'm not supposed to edit
that file. Instead, I edit files in TWO places,
/etc/grub.d and /etc/default/grub.conf, and then
run a program in a third place, /usr/bin/update-grub.
All this has to be done from the same machine where you installed
grub2 -- if you're booted into one of your other distros, you're out
grub2 takes us back to the bad old days of lilo. FAIL
Grub2 really is a soft slimy worm after all.
But I have some ideas for workarounds. If you care, watch my next
few articles on LinuxPlanet.com.
Update: links to Linux Planet articles:
Part 1: Grub2 worms into Ubuntu
Part 2: Cleaning up your boot menu
Part 3: Why use Grub2? Good question!
[ 10:29 Feb 20, 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.
[ 10:58 Jul 21, 2009
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Mon, 04 Aug 2008
No postings for a while -- I was too tied up with getting ready for
OSCON, and now that it's over, too tied up with catching up with
stuff that gotten behind.
A few notes about OSCON:
It was a good conference -- lots of good speakers, interesting topics
and interesting people. Best talks: anything by Paul Fenwick,
anything by Damian Conway.
tutorial was fun too. It's a little embedded processor with a
breadboard and sockets to control arbitrary electronic devices,
all programmed over a USB plug using a Java app.
I'm not a hardware person at all (what do
those resistor color codes mean again?) but even I, even after coming
in late, managed to catch up and build the basic circuits they
demonstrated, including programming them with my laptop. Very cool!
I'm looking forward to playing more with the Arduino when I get a
spare few moments.
The conference's wi-fi network was slow and sometimes flaky (what else is new?)
but they had a nice touch I haven't seen at any other conference:
Wired connections, lots of them, on tables and sofas scattered
around the lounge area (and more in rooms like the speakers' lounge).
The wired net was very fast and very reliable. I'm always surprised
I don't see more wired connections at hotels and conferences, and
it sure came in handy at OSCON.
The AV staff was great, very professional and helpful. I was speaking
first thing Monday morning (ulp!) so I wanted to check the room Sunday
night and make sure my laptop could talk to the projector and so
forth. Everything worked fine.
Portland is a nice place to hold a convention -- the light rail is
great, the convention center is very accessible, and street parking
isn't bad either if you have a car there.
Dave went with me, so it made more sense for us to drive.
The drive was interesting because the central valley was so thick
with smoke from all the fires (including the terrible Paradise fire
that burned for so long, plus a new one that had just started up near
Yosemite) that we couldn't see Mt Shasta when driving right by it.
It didn't get any better until just outside of Sacramento. It must
have been tough for Sacramento valley residents, living in that for
weeks! I hope they've gotten cleared out now.
I finally saw that Redding Sundial bridge I've been hearing so much
about. We got there just before sunset, so we didn't get to check the
sundial, but we did get an impressive deep red smoky sun vanishing
into the gloom.
End of my little blog-break, and time to get back to
scrambling to get caught up on writing and prep for the
school girls. Every year we try to make it more relevant and
less boring, with more thinking and playing and less rote typing.
I think we're making progress, but we'll see how it goes next week.
[ 22:00 Aug 04, 2008
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Fri, 08 Feb 2008
Here I am in LA at the start pf
catching up on blogging LCA and the Australia trip.
I didn't write about the Lightning Talks session just before the
closing ceremonies. I love lightning talks -- to make a point in three
minutes you really have to condense your talk to the single most
Alas, I didn't come up with a topic in time, so I didn't give a
lightning talk myself. But there were some excellent talks!
Some of them included:
- a live demo going "from database to web app in 45 seconds" by
someone listed only as "Flame";
- Paul Wayper describing some of the pitfalls of trying to fit a
real wood veneer onto a laptop;
- a discussion of a PHP code quality analysis tool;
- A talk entitled "Getting Laid", by Jeff Waugh, which turned out to
be a more general discussion of open source involvement;
- Pia Waugh describing her plans for OLPC Australia, to distribute
XO laptops to needy children;
- I (Still) Hate Threads, in which Rusty Russell explained why
threads are often less efficient than a separate process;
- "Fixing the Web", in which Paul Fenwick demonstrated the
Greasemonkey extension to Firefox, and how you can use it to
turn a cluttered, impossible myspace page into a nice neat login
Paul's demo concluded to overwhelming applause, and there wasn't much
question as to who had won the lightning talks session. I believe Paul
won an Asus Eee (nice prize!) (Oops, Paul tells me after reading
this that it was nothing quite that cool, but he did get a very nice
book voucher), and deserved it for a very polished
and funny talk. You can watch the video of
talk on youtube.
Other observations from the week of LCA 2008:
Linus was around and listening to kernel talks, but not
presenting. Rusty's "LCA for Newbies" presentation on Sunday night
included a bullet point on "Don't fanboy the speakers" presumably
applies, and everybody behaved themselves pretty well (myself included).
I stayed in Trinity College. We didn't have wi-fi in the dorm rooms
like last year, only in the common room; but actually it was just as
well to have a good reason to hang out in the common room and talk to
people. The bathrooms were co-ed, but the doors closed so there was
But the weirdest thing about Trinity was the corridor
and outside doors. Every corridor had doors at both ends, usually
locked doors that required a card key from one direction, and the push
of a button from the other direction. Sometimes an alarm went off
if you didn't wait quite long enough between pressing the button and
opening the door (fortunately, pressing the button again cancelled the
alarm). It was very strange to walk down the building corridor
continually pushing buttons and then carding back in; I have to
wonder whether the high security was worth it. The outside gates
were worse: to get out to the street you need a card key, there's
no button press allowed. (Fortunately on the weekend most of us
checked out, they left one of the outer gates open so we could
leave even after we'd returned the card key.)
There were tons of Asus Eees around. Turns out other Linux geeks find
that little laptop just as interesting as I did! Everybody seems quite
happy with them, and I mostly saw them being used as real laptops ...
in contrast to the many OLPCs, which were numerous but mostly being
used as toys to network with other OLPCs. I saw more and more of them
as the week progressed -- turns out a lot of people were heading over
to a nearby computer store to buy one, either because of hardware
problems with their normal laptop, or just for a toy.
(In contrast, here at the first day of SCALE I haven't seen a single
Eee yet, nor any other small laptops besides my own Vaio.)
I talked to someone who'd tried one with a projector, one of my main
concerns with the very low resolution Eee. He said it drove the
projector just fine ... but only at the Eee's native resolution
of 800x480. Hard to imagine giving a GIMP talk (or, indeed, any
sort of technical talk) like that. Bummer!
I also got a good look at one of the modern Toshiba Librettos (a
year-old model). Lovely machine, smaller but thicker than the Eee,
but much more capable (also much more expensive). The keyboard was
noticably smaller than my Vaio or the Eee, but quite well designed
and apparently it's no problem typing full speed on it once you adjust
to the size.
Other interesting small laptops I noticed were a couple of Vaios (the
10-inch models descended from my SR17), a couple of Toshibas and
Lenovos, and a couple of rare birds like Val's uber-cool grey-market
Also highly popular were Macs. Some were running Linux, but a
surprising number were running OS X; I wasn't able to get an estimate
[ 12:49 Feb 08, 2008
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Thu, 31 Jan 2008
How can it be the last day of LCA?
Wait! I'm not ready for it to end yet!
Well, at least Friday was a pretty full day, starting with the keynote,
Anthony Baxter's "One Snake Enter, Two Snakes Leave" covered the two
upcoming Python releases: 2.X (a minor stability/feature release)
and 3.0 ("the release which will break all your code").
I hadn't seen him give a technical talk before, only the talk he'd
given on flashy talks last year at the LCA Speakers' Dinner, and I was
curious about how well his style worked for a real talk. Very well,
as it turns out -- he was entertaining, clear and still plenty
technical. The video of the keynote is well worth checking for anyone
who programs in Python and needs to know about the upcoming changes.
Next up was
Ralph Giles' "Seeking is Hard", an explanation of the Ogg container
format (as he recovered from running across campus to find a needed
video adaptor to get his Mac to talk to the projector).
I got a little lost in the discussion early on distinguishing packets
from pages (someone asked what the motivation was for each, and that
would have helped me too).
But the core of his presentation -- why seeking is hard
(for a media format that has to encompass video as well as audio) --
was clear and interesting. Seeking means finding a file location
corresponding to a specific time offset; Ralph discussed the
difference between seeking to a file position directly proportional
to the time (which works only in uncompressed formats no one uses
any more), using a seek table (a good optimization, but they're
often wrong so you can't count on them) and the real solution,
putting timestamps in each page.
He covered problems like keyframes (a video frame from which a set
of subsequent frames are calculated, so you can't seek and then start
playing right away; you have to search backward to the last keyframe)
and multiple tracks (you have to seek in each track to get them all
in sync before starting to play).
Quite interesting, and I understand video formats a little more than
I did before (which was "not at all").
Of course, you have to laugh at the title of Matthew Garrett's talk:
"Suspend to Disk: Why it doesn't work, can't work and never worked in
the first place (and what to do about it)." And we kept laughing
throughout the talk. Who knew that kernel swsusp was such a funny
topic? But the talk was informative and detailed as well as funny
... a strong contender for best talk I saw at the conference.
After lunch, Keith Packard of Intel told of "Pain and Redemption on
the Linux Desktop." At the beginning of his talk,
Keith announced Intel's release of a Programmers Reference Manual
for their graphics chipsets -- some 1700 pages of detail used in their
current driver, all released under a Creative Commons license (no
derivative works). Horray, Intel!
The meat of the talk was a discussion of problems with the current X
model, and fixes for them, including lots of information about who was
working on what. Sort of a "state of the server address".
[ 23:44 Jan 31, 2008
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Thursday's keynote was Stormy Peters' "Would you do it again for free?"
She talked about motivation: what motivates open source developers,
and does paying them reduce the motivation to work for free?
She reviewed lots of motivation studies (like the Israeli day-care
experiment) and discussed the implications for open source contributors.
(During the Q&A period, she recognized one of the questioners
and said "Oh, you're going to tell me how many 'um's I had."
Indeed she did have a few, though not many for an hour-long keynote.
But it made me wonder if she's in Toastmasters.)
Moving on to the tutorial slots ...
Dangit, I got the time wrong on Wednesday and missed Rusty Russell's
prep session for his Thursday morning hands-on tutorial on kernel
hacking with lguest. He'd made it very clear that no one should come
without being fully prepped, and indeed, I had severe doubts about my
poor old Vaio's ability to survive a 2-hour session of kernel
compiling -- certainly the battery I'd brought couldn't last that
long without an external power source.
And my second choice, Malcom Tredinnick's
tutorial on website performance, was packed to the rafters and
not letting anyone else in. So I took the opportunity to catch up
on some email and do some shopping.
I got back in time for
Peter Hutterer's interesting talk, "Redefining Input in X".
Finally, an explanation of what that confusing "core" terminology
means in the xorg.conf file when fiddling with graphics tablets.
Basically, X has two different sets of input events: core pointer,
and XI (X input). But GIMP is the only Linux app that registers
for XI events -- everything else only gets core events.
So to deal with this, when X sees an event from an XI device,
it also generates a core pointer event.
His real subject was a new model which would allow X to have
multiple pointers and keyboards at once. X would have "master"
(virtual) devices with which "slave" (physical) devices can be
associated. It makes the event setup more, not less, complicated:
for each physical input event, you generate not
two but three events: an XI event from the slave, an XI event from
the master and a core event. Maybe there's no way around that.
His demo, showing two mice and two keyboards active at the same time,
was quite fun to watch.
Skipping forward to the
final talk of the day, it was a tough choice between Vic
Olliver's talk on his "RepRap" 3-D printer, and Elizabeth Garbee's
"Introduction to Open Source Animation".
I finally chose the animation talk, because I know the Vic would have
the RepRap at Open Day on Saturday.
Elizabeth is 15 and can
already hold her own as a clear and confident speaker. She covered
the pros and cons of a wide range of options for making animations
with open source software, ending with a recommendation for her
favorite, synfig. Hurray for smart up-and-coming Linux-using Chix!
[ 17:52 Jan 31, 2008
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Wednesday was W-Day -- the day I was giving my tutorial on
GIMP Scripting, first thing after the keynote. (Cue portentous music.)
But first, the keynote:
the day opened with a highly anticipated appearance by Bruce Schneier.
He discussed the illusion of security versus the reality, and how to
bring the two closer together. Most of his points were familiar to
anyone familiar with his writing, but he's still an excellent and
polished presenter. Worth noting: no slides, just Bruce. Worked great.
After the keynote I skipped the morning tea and headed over to the
lecture room to make sure I had enough time for setup. (You never know
when a particular projector and laptop will develop a dislike for each
other, though I'm happy to say I've been pretty lucky with my Vaio.)
The talk went well. I had been worried about the code-heavy topic
being too dry, so after watching Jacinta's coding talk on Tuesday
I'd made an effort to find more graphics and add more variety to
the slides. I think it worked -- I got laughs where I hoped for them,
and people were certainly following closely, as they were quick to
point out when I made typos or other errors in the live coding
section. A great audience -- I hope I lived up to their expectations.
In the afternoon, Dirk Horndel's "Make hardware vendors love open
source" was right on target and very well presented. (Again, no
slides, and as with the keynote, there was no need for them.)
Dirk offered plenty of food for thought, even for those of us who
don't often interact directly with hardware vendors.
Following afternoon tea, I squeezed into Bdale Garbee's
standing-room-only "Peace, Love and Rockets" presentation.
He has a little board bristling with
sensors (a pressure sensor for altitude, a three-axis accelerometer
and I forget what else) that includes a processor and enough RAM to
record a rocket's flight profile. It's all designed under the Open
Hardware License and driven by GPL software, of course.
[ 15:27 Jan 31, 2008
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Wed, 30 Jan 2008
Monday I wandered among several different miniconfs. In the morning
I checked in at the Debian and Wireless miniconfs, but found nothing
inspiring there (unfortunately I missed the wireless mapping talk,
which sounded like it might have been interesting).
But I ended up spending the afternoon in the security miniconf,
ending with a massive keysigning. Unfortunately, the room had no
document projector, and the attempts at using a mac with a camera
to project people's IDs made several people uncomfortable since the
mac offered no way to project an image without also saving it.
So we ended up with two long lines out in the hallway, checking
I spent Tuesday morning in the LinuxChix miniconf.
Pia Waugh got us
off to a rousing start with an energetic and cogent discussion of
women in open source. There are more of us than most people realize
I was glad to hear that I'm not the only one who questions the
numbers in the oft-quoted FLOSSPOLS study -- the one that claimed
that the percentage of women in open source was vastly less than
in proprietary software. (My own problem with the study is that they
compared numbers from two completely different surveys.)
Pia began by challenging everyone in the audience to write a list of
ten women we know who inspire or impress us. By the end of the talk,
I hope even the people who couldn't think of ten have a better idea of
who we are and what we do.
Then Joh Clarke kept the audience laughing with true stories of
sysadmin mishaps and words of wisdom to avoid making the same
Jacinta Richardson spoke next -- she raced through an informative and
entertaining discussion of code optimization and algorithm complexity.
From watching her I learned as much about how to put together a good
presentation on code as I did about code optimization -- she kept a
potentially dry subject lively by alternating between funny pictures
and source code listings. It inspired me to go find some images to
spice up my tutorial, scheduled for the following day.
Brenda Wallace finished up the morning session with a talk about
memcache, a useful daemon which can speed access to commonly used
database queries, generated web pages or other CPU-intensive
One thing that struck me about the chix miniconf was how well I
understood everyone's speech. I'd noticed in several of Monday's
presentations that I was having some trouble understanding several of
the speakers, particularly one in the wireless miniconf who mumbled. I
thought the aussie accent was giving me trouble. But Pia's and
Jacinta's talks dispelled any such notion. Pia talks about twice as
fast as any other speaker I've heard, and Jacinta had a lot of
information to get across in a short time, yet I had no problem
understanding anything they said. It's not the accent ... just
inexperienced speakers who weren't enunciating clearly. (In the main
conference, where all the speakers are quite experienced, I found I
didn't have trouble understanding anyone.)
[ 20:50 Jan 30, 2008
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Tue, 23 Oct 2007
I just got back from She's Geeky
What a rush! It'll take me a while to wind down from this fabulous
I have to admit, I was initially dubious. A conference for geeky women
sounded great, but it struck me as kind of
expensive -- $175 (with a $125 early-bird rate). That's very cheap
as tech conferences go, but for a two-day "unconference", it was
enough to turn off most local techie women I know: nearly all of them
knew about She's Geeky and said "I'd love to go but I can't afford
it." Full disclosure: I said the same thing, and wouldn't have gone
myself had I not gotten a "scholarship", for which I am immensely grateful.
(In retrospect, considering how well run it was, it probably
would have been worth the early-bird price. But that's not easy
to tell ahead of time.)
Monday consisted of lunch and informal discussion followed by
two sessions of scheduled talks. I particularly liked the afternoon
schedule, which included two different sessions of speaker training:
the theory being that one factor holding women back in technology
jobs is that we don't make ourselves visible by public speaking
as much as we could. I went to the "Lightening (sic) Talks" session,
headed by Danese Cooper. It didn't make me lighter, but we got some
great advice at giving conference talks (lightning and otherwise)
plus two rounds of practice at three minute talks.
I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, the practice and useful feedback or
the chance to listen to so many great short talks on disparate and
Tuesday started way before normal geek time, with bagels and espresso
and an explanation by conference organizer Kaliya Hamlin on how we'd
use the Open Space process.
Sessions would be an hour long, and we had eight rooms to work with,
all charted on a huge grid on the wall. Anyone could run a session
(or several). Write it (and your name) on a card, get up and tell the
group about it, then find a time and space for it and tape it on
the grid. Rules for sessions were few.
For session leaders, Whoever comes to your session is the right
audience, and whatever happens is what should have happened.
For people attending a session there's the Rule of Two Feet:
if you're not getting anything out of the session you're in,
you should get up and get yourself to somewhere where
you're contributing and/or learning. Not hard when there are seven
other sessions to choose from.
This all worked exactly as described. Whatever hesitance many
women may feel toward public speaking, there was no lack of volunteer
session leaders on a wide variety of topics, both technical and social.
I signed up to give a GIMP session before lunch; then in a morning
session on server and firewall configuration given by fellow
LinuxChix Gloria W. and Gaba,
I noticed a few people having a lot of general Linux questions,
in particular command-line questions, so I ran back to the wall
grid and added an afternoon session on "Understanding the Linux
Easily my favorite session of the conference was the Google Maps API
talk by Pamela Fox of Google. I've been meaning to experiment
with Google Maps and KML for a long time. I even have books on it
sitting on my shelf. But I never seem to get over the hump: find a
project and a specific task, then go
and figure out how to write
a KML file from scratch to do something fun and useful. Pamela got
me over that in a hurry -- she showed us the "My Maps" tab in
Google Maps (you have to be signed on to a Google account to use
it). It includes tools for generating some starter KML
interactively, and it even has a polygon editor, all implemented
way to get a running start on map mashups. There's also a whole open
mapping apps. I'm sure I'll be experimenting with this a lot more
and writing about it separately. Just this talk alone made the
conference worthwhile, even without all the other great sessions.
But I didn't get a chance to experiment right away with any of
that cool mapping stuff, because right after that session was
one by speaker and comedian Heather
Gold. Heather had given Saturday night's evening entertainment,
and I am very sorry to have had to miss the show to go to a night class.
The session was on self confidence, getting over fear of speaking,
and connecting with the audience. Since the allotted space was noisy
(the same one I'd ended up with for my GIMP talk, and the noise was
definitely a problem), Heather led our small group out onto the
balcony to enjoy the warm weather. The group was diverse and included
women at very different levels of speaking, but Heather had great tips
for all of us. She has great presence and a lot of useful things to
say, and she's funny -- I'd love to see her on stage.
Everybody had a really positive attitude.
At the Lightning Talks session on Saturday, Danese stressed
"No whinging" as a general rule to follow (in talks or anywhere else),
and I'd say the whole conference followed it.
While we heard about lots of serious topics women face, I
didn't hear any whining or "men are keeping us down" or that sort
of negativism. There were some bad experiences shared as well as good
ones, but the point was in finding solutions and making progress, not
dwelling on problems. This was a group of women doing things.
There are only two changes I can think of that could have improved the
conference at all.
First, I already mentioned the cost. While it was fair
considering the fantastic organization, great people, plus catered
meals, it still lets out some of the women who could have benefitted the
most: students and the un- and under-employed. A few of us LinuxChix
talked about how much we'd love to see a similar conference held at
a cheaper facility, without the handouts or the catered meals.
Maybe some day we'll be able to make it happen.
Second (and this is a very minor point), it might have been helpful
to have runners reminding people when sessions were ending, and
perhaps making the sessions 55 minutes instead of an hour to encourage
getting to the next session and starting on promptly.
Even without that, people mostly stuck to the schedule and Tuesday
finished right on time: pretty amazing for a conference whose agenda
had been made that morning with cardboard, tape and marking pens.
I've seen unconferences before, and they're usually a disorganized mess.
This one ran better than most scheduled conferences. Kaliya and her
fellow organizers clearly know how to make this process work.
We all pitched in to clean up the room, and I braved the rush-hour
And arrived home to find that my husband had cooked dinner and it
was just about ready.
What a nice ending to the day!
[ 23:01 Oct 23, 2007
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Sun, 12 Aug 2007
The best thing at Linuxworld was the Powertop BOF,
despite the fact that it ended up stuck in a room with no projector.
The presenter, Arjan van de Ven, coped well with the setback and
managed just fine.
The main goal of Powertop is to find applications that are polling or
otherwise waking the CPU unnecessarily,
draining power when they don't need to.
Most of the BOF focused on "stupid stuff": programs that wake up
too often for no reason. Some examples he gave (many of these will
be fixed in upcoming versions of the software):
- gnome-screensaver checked every 2 sec to see if the mouse moved
(rather than using the X notification for mouse move);
- gnome volume checked 10 times a second whether the volume has changed;
- gnome-clock woke up once a second to see if the minute had rolled
over, rather than checking once a minute;
- firefox in an ssl layer polled 10 times a second in case there was a
- the gnome file monitor woke up 40 times a second to check a queue
even if there was nothing in the queue;
- evolution woke up 10 times a second;
- the fedora desktop checked 10 times a second for a smartcard;
- gksu used a 10000x/sec loop (he figures someone mistook
milliseconds/microseconds: this alone used up 45 min on one battery test run)
- Adobe's closed-source flash browser plugin woke up 2.5 times a
second, and acroread had similar problems (this has been reported to
Adobe but it's not clear if a fix is coming any time soon).
And that's all just the desktop stuff, without getting into other
polling culprits like hal and the kernel's USB system. The kernel
itself is often a significant culprit: until recently, kernels woke
up once a millisecond whether they needed to or not. With the recent
"tickless" option that appeared in the most recent kernel, 2.6.22,
the CPU won't wake up unless it needs to.
A KDE user asked if the KDE desktop was similarly bad. The answer
was yes, with a caveat: Arjan said he gave a presentation a while back
to a group of KDE developers, and halfway through, one of the
developers interrupted him when he pointed out a problem
to say "That's not true any more -- I just checked in a fix while
you were talking." It's nice to hear that at least some developers
care about this stuff! Arjan said most developers responded
very well to patches he'd contributed to fix the polling issues.
(Of course, those of us who use lightweight window managers like
openbox or fvwm have already cut out most of these gnome and kde
power-suckers. The browser issues were the only ones that applied
to me, and I certainly do notice firefox' polling: when the laptop
gets slow, firefox is almost always the culprit, and killing it
usually brings performance back.)
As for hardware, he mentioned that
some linux LCD drivers don't really dim the backlight when you
reduce brightness -- they just make all the pixels darker.
(I've been making a point of dimming my screen when running off batteries;
time to use that Kill-A-Watt and find out if it actually matters!)
Wireless cards like the ipw100 use
a lot of power even when not transmitting -- sometimes even more than
when they're transmitting -- so turning them off can be a big help.
Using a USB mouse can cut as much as half an hour off a battery.
The 2.6.23 kernel has lots of new USB power saving code, which should help.
Many devices have activity every millisecond,
so there's lots of room to improve.
Another issue is that even if you get rid of the 10x/sec misbehavers,
some applications really do need to wake up every second or so. That's
not so bad by itself, but if you have lots of daemons all waking up at
different times, you end up with a CPU that never gets to sleep.
The solution is to synchronize them by rounding the wakeup times to
the nearest second, so that they all wake up at
about the same time, and the CPU can deal with them
all then go back to sleep. But there's a trick: each machine has to
round to a different value. You don't want every networking
application on every machine across the internet all waking up at once
-- that's a good way to flood your network servers. Arjan's phrase:
"You don't want to round the entire internet" [to the same value].
The solution is a new routine in glib: timeout_add_seconds.
It takes a hash of the hostname (and maybe other values) and uses that
to decide where to round timeouts for the current machine.
If you write programs that wake up on a regular basis, check it out.
In the kernel, round_jiffies does something similar.
After all the theory, we were treated to a demo of powertop in action.
Not surprisingly, it looks a bit like top. High on the screen
is summary information telling you how much time your CPU is spending
in the various sleep states. Getting into the deeper sleep states is
generally best, but it's not quite that simple: if you're only getting
there for short periods, it takes longer and uses more power to get
back to a running state than it would from higher sleep states.
Below that is the list of culprits: who is waking your CPU up most
often? This updates every few seconds, much like the
program. Some of it's clear (names of programs or library routines);
other lines are more obscure if you're not a kernel hacker, but
I'm sure they can all be tracked down.
At the bottom of the screen is a geat feature: a short hint telling
you how you could eliminate the current top offender (e.g. kill the
process that's polling). Not only that, but in many cases powertop
will do it for you at the touch of a key. Very nice! You can try
disabling things and see right away whether it helped.
Arjan stepped through killing several processes and showing the
power saving benefits of each one. (I couldn't help but notice, when
he was done, that the remaining top offender, right above nautilus,
was gnome-power-manager. Oh, the irony!)
It's all very nifty and I'm looking forward to trying it myself.
Unfortunately, I can't do that on the
laptop where I really care about battery life. Powertop requires a
kernel API that went in with the "tickless" option, meaning it's
in 2.6.22 (and I believe it's available as a patch for 2.6.21).
My laptop is stuck back on 2.6.18 because of an IRQ handling bug (bug 7264).
Powertop also requires ACPI, which I have to disable
because of an infinite loop in kacpid (bug 8274,
75174). It's frustrating to have great performance tools like
powertop available, yet not be able to use them because of kernel
regressions. But at least I can experiment with it on my desktop
[ 13:06 Aug 12, 2007
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Sat, 11 Aug 2007
Last week was the annual trek to Linuxworld.
There wasn't much of interest on the exhibit floor. Lots of
small companies doing virtualization or sysadmin tools.
The usual assortment of publishers. A few big companies,
but fewer than in past years. Not much swag. Dave commented
that there was a much higher "bunny quotient" this year than
last (lots of perky booth bunnies, very few knowledgeable people
working the floor). The ratio of Linux to Windows in the big-company
booths was much lower than last year, especially at AMD and HP,
who both had far more Windows machines visible than Linux ones.
The most interesting new hardware was the Palm Foleo. It looks
like a very thin 10-inch screen laptop, much like my own Vaio only
much thinner and lighter, with a full QWERTY keyboard with a good
feel to it. The booth staff weren't very technical, but apparently
it sports a 300MHz Intel processor, built-in wi-fi and bluetooth,
a resolution a hair under 1024x768 (I didn't write down the
exact numbers and their literature doesn't say), a claimed battery
life of 5 hours, and runs a Linux from Wind River.
The booth rep I talked to said
it would run regular Linux apps once they were recompiled for
the processor, but he didn't seem very technical and I doubt it
runs X, so I'm not sure I believe that. For a claimed price of
around $400 it looks potentially quite interesting.
Their glossy handout says it has VGA out and can display PowerPoint
presentations, which was interesting since the only powerpoint
reader I know of on Linux is OpenOffice and I don't see that
running on 300MHz (considering how slow it is on my P3 700).
Apparently they're using Documents To Go from DataVis, a PalmOS app.
Aside from that there wasn't much of interest going on.
They split up the "Dot Org Pavilion" this year so not all the
community groups were in the same place, which was a bummer --
usually that's where all the interesting booths are (local LUGs,
FSF, EFF, Debian, Ubuntu and groups like that: no Mozilla booth
this time around). But this year
the dotorgs were too spread out to offer a good hangout spot.
It didn't look like there was much of interest at the conference
either: this year they gave us Exhibit Hall pass attendees a free
ticket to attend one of the paid talks, and I couldn't find one
on the day we attended that looked interesting enough to bother.
However, that changed at the end of the day with the BOF sessions.
The Intel Powertop BOF was an easy choice -- I've been curious about
Powertop ever since it was announced, and was eager to hear more about
it from one of the developers. The BOF didn't disappoint, though the
room did: they didn't even provide a projector (!), so we all had
to cluster around the presenter's laptop when he wanted to show
something. Too bad! but it didn't keep the BOF from being full of
I'll split that off into a separate article.
[ 11:34 Aug 11, 2007
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Sat, 27 Jan 2007
Australia! I spent the last week in Sydney as a speaker for
linux.conf.au 2007. My first time overseas, and first time in way
too long at a technical Linux conference.
I had lots of plans to write about it as it was happening. Jot down
events of the day, impressions of the talks, etc. In retrospect I have
no idea how anyone manages to do that. There's just so much
stuff going on at LCA that I was busy the whole time.
Blogging or sleep ... that might be a hard choice for some people, but
I like sleep. Sleep is good. Sleep lets me have a lot more fun at the
talks and the social events afterward.
First, about technical conferences. With the emphasis on technical.
In California we have a bunch of conferences like Linux World Expo and
the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference, where a few
geeks-turned-PR-people make whizzy presentations to marketing and CIO
sorts. Ick. Sometimes there are a few presentations that are actually
technical, but not many. And oh, did I mention the multi-kilobuck reg
Linux.conf.au isn't like that at all. It's all geeks, all the time.
Not everyone is a programmer (though the majority are), but of the
hundreds of people I talked to during the week of the conference I
didn't meet a single person who wasn't deeply and passionately
involved with Linux in some way. You could pick any person at random,
start a conversation and immediately be deep in conversation about
interesting details of some aspect of Linux you hadn't thought much
Picking people at random and talking to them? What sort of a geek
would do that? Well, the cool thing is that in an environment like
LCA, the shyest geek can still network pretty well. If you can't
make small talk or force a fake smile, you can jump to the meaty
stuff right away and start trading notes on filesystems or network
configuration or IRQs or python GUI toolkits. I was almost late to
the post-conference LinuxChix meetup because it turned out the person
sitting next to me at breakfast was a udev expert who knew how to get
my memory stick reader recognized (more on that in a separate article).
Not that you'd really need to talk to random people if you didn't want
to. One of the many highlights of the conference was the chance to
meet people from all over the world whom I'd only met before on IRC
or mailing lists. I already "knew" lots of people there, even if I'd
never seen their faces before.
There were tons of
talks, with four or five tracks going at all
times, and all on good topics. It was quite common to want to go to
two or three or even more simultaneous presentations. Fortunately
nearly everything was video taped, so with any luck we'll be able to
catch up on sessions that we missed (and folks who couldn't afford the
trip can benefit from all the great talks). The videos are still being
uploaded and aren't all there yet, but they've done an amazing job
getting as many transcoded and uploaded as they have so far, and I'm
sure the rest won't be too far behind. (Some of them are on the
but not yet linked from the Schedule page.)
How do they get all those great talks? I must say, LCA treats its
speakers well. In addition to the super-secret "Speakers Adventure",
which we were assured was worth getting up at 6am for (it was),
they gave us a dinner cruise on scenic Sydney harbor, which
included an after-dinner talk on how to give better talks (focused on
flash rather than content). I didn't agree with all his points, but
that's okay, the point is to get people thinking. I bet every one of
us (certainly everyone I talked to) went back and revised our talks at
least a little bit based on the presentation.
I hope my GIMP
tutorial and my miniconf bugfixing talk lived up to
the organizing committee's expectations -- it's intimidating sharing a
schedule with so many smart people who are also good speakers!
The first two days of the conference were taken up by
I originally had my eyes on several of the miniconfs, on topics such
as Kernel, Education and Research, though I knew I'd start the day at the
As it turned out, that miniconf was so excellent that I spent
the whole day there. It included a mixture of technical and social
issues: talks on women in FOSS (Sulamita), my talk on "Bug Fixing for
Non Programmers", "Demystifying PCI" (Kristin), a set of terrific
"Lightning Talks" under five minutes, and eventually concluded with
talks on networking in the social sense (Jacinta) and negotiating
wages (Val). After Jacinta's and Val's talks we broke up into small
groups and headed for the lawn outside for some very productive
discussions of networking and negotiation, which were so interesting
we kept the discussions going all afternoon.
The LinuxChix miniconf was Standing Room Only all day, with plenty of
men listening in. It was quite a rush to see so many technical women
all together, giving talks and discussing details of Linux and FOSS.
Another miniconf-like activity was Open Day, on Thursday afternoon,
when the conference invited people from the area (particularly
teachers and students) to wander through displays on all sorts of FOSS
topics. There were booths from most of the major distros handing out
CDs or inviting people to do network installs, a booth showing the One
Laptop Per Child project, booths showing games
and interesting projects such as amateur rocket and satellite projects
or the open source Segway clone, a Linuxchix booth, and booths from a
few companies such as Google. Open Day was jam packed, people seemed
to be having fun and they gave away a few amazing prizes, like Vaio
laptops (donated by IBM) which came in an amazingly small box. I was
itching to see what was in those little boxes (we never get the cool
small laptops in the US, where the national philosophy is "Bigger is
Better") but alas, I wasn't one of the lucky winners.
A couple of other notable talks I went to:
Making Things Move:
Finding Inappropriate Uses for Scripting Languages by Jonathan
Oxer, which included live demos of hooking up radio switches and
controlling them from the commandline (with a little simple C glue);
and "burning cpu and
battery on the gnome desktop" by Ryan Lortie, who not only gave an
excellent and entertaining list of programs and services which use up
system resources inefficiently by polling, opening too many files or
other evils (several other speakers offered similar lists), but also
gave concrete advice for finding such programs and fixing them.
I'm looking forward to seeing his slides uploaded (I'll link them
here when I find them).
[ 22:30 Jan 27, 2007
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Sat, 19 Aug 2006
It's been a week jam-packed with Linuxy stuff.
Wednesday I made my annual one-day trip to Linuxworld in San
Francisco. There wasn't much of great interest at the conference
this year: the usual collection of corporate booths (minus Redhat,
notably absent this year), virtualization as a hot keyword (but perhaps
less than the last two years) and a fair selection of sysadmin tools,
not much desktop Linux (two laptop vendors), and a somewhat light
"Dot Org" area compared to the last few years.
I was happy to notice that most of the big corporate
booths were running Linux on a majority of show machines, a nice
contrast from earlier years. (Dell was the exception, with more
Windows than Linux, but even they weren't all Windows.)
Linuxworld supposedly offers a wireless network but I never managed to
get it to work, either in the exhibit hall or in the building where
the BOFs were held.
Wednesday afternoon's BOF list didn't offer much that immediately
grabbed me, but in the end I chose one on introducing desktop
Linux to corporate environments. Run by a couple of IBM Linux
advocates, the BOF turned out to be interesting and well presented,
offering lots of sensible advice (base your arguments to management
on business advantages, like money saved or increased ability to get
the job done, not on promises of cool features; don't aim for a
wholesale switch to Linux, merely for a policy which allows employees
to choose; argue for standards-based corporate infrastructure since
that allows for more choice and avoids lock-in). There was plenty
of discussion between the audience and the folks leading the BOF,
and I think most attendees got something out of it.
More interesting than Linuxworld was Friday's Ubucon,
a free Ubuntu conference held at Google (and spilling over into
Despite a lack of advertising, the Ubucon was very well attended.
There were two tracks, ostensibly "beginner" and "expert", but
even aside from my own GIMP talk being a "beginner" topic, I
ended up hanging out in the "beginner" room for the whole day,
for topics like "Power Management", "How to Get Involved", and
"What Do Non Geeks Need?" (the last topic dovetailing into the
concluding session Linux corporate desktops).
All of the sessions were quite interactive
with lots of discussion and questions from the audience.
Everyone looked like they were having a good time, and I'm sure
several of us are motivated to get more deeply involved with Ubuntu.
Ubucon was a great example of a low-key, fun,
somewhat technical conference on a shoestring budget and I'd love to
see more conferences like this in the bay area.
Finally, the week wrapped up with the annual Linux Picnic in
Sunnyvale, a Silicon Valley tradition for many years and always a good
time. There were some organizational glitches this year ... but it's
hard to complain much about a free geek picnic in perfect weather
complete with t-shirts, an installfest, a raffle and even (by
mid-afternoon) a wireless network. Fun stuff!
[ 19:52 Aug 19, 2006
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Thu, 11 Aug 2005
There's really not much to say about Linuxworld this year. It was
smaller than last year (they moved it across the street to the
"little" Moscone hall) and the mood seemed a bit subdued.
SWAG was way down: to get anything remotely cool you generally had
to register to watch a presentation that gave you a chance to get
something to wear that would enter you for a chance to win something
cool later. Or similar indirections. You had to be pretty
desperate. But maybe people were, since I saw lines at some of the
I did my annual sweep of the big booths to see
who was running Linux on their show machines. This year was the first
time that all the major booths used predominately Linux (except on
machines running fullscreen presentation software, where it's
impossible to tell). It was a huge change from past shows --
I stopped keeping tabs after a while.
I saw only one or two confirmed Windows machines each
at most of the big booths, like Intel, AMD, IBM, Sun, and even HP.
They seemed fairly evenly divided between SuSE and Redhat.
At the AMD booth, lots of machines sported cardboard signs saying
"Powered by Redhat" or "Powered by SuSE". One of
the "Powered by Redhat" machines clearly had a Start menu,
so I had to ask. The AMD rep gave me a song and dance about
virtualization technologies, pointing out that although the machine
was running Windows, it displayed both Redhat and SuSE windows which
he said were running on the same machine. Okay, that's a perfectly
good reason to be running Windows at a Linux convention. No points off
there. I suspect most of the booths showing Windows had similar excuses.
"Virtualization is the wave of the future! Everybody here is
displaying virtualization technologies," the AMD rep told me.
Indeed, virtualization was everywhere. I don't know that I'm convinced
it's the wave of the future, but there was no question that it was the
wave of the present at this year's Linuxworld.
Sweeping the hall, I passed by the Adobe booth, where
someone was giving a presentation to an audience of maybe ten people.
The projector showed a window which showed ... nothing. A blank window
border with nothing inside.
"Now, it's connecting to San Jose", explained the presenter with
apparent pride, "to get permission to display the document."
I kept walking . It hadn't finished connecting yet by the time I
was out of earshot. Perhaps the audience was somehow persuaded by this
demo to buy Adobe software. I guess you never know what people will like.
A bit past Adobe was the weirdest booth of the exhibit hall:
SolovatSoft, offering offshore software development at rates starting
at $18/hour. Honest, this was an actual booth at Linuxworld. I should
have taken my camera.
Gone were most of the nifty embedded Linux displays of yesteryear. I saw
only two: one (Applieddata.net, I think) which I've seen there
before, showing an array of fun-looking custom embedded platforms of
all sizes, and another showing Linux on various cellphones and similar
consumer devices. Only one laptop maker (Emperor) made it there, and
none of the smaller-than-laptop manufacturers -- I was hoping Nokia,
Sharp, Psion or some other maker of nifty Linux PDAs might be there.
The "Dot Org Pavilion", the place where free software groups like
Debian, Mozilla, the FSF, and the EFF have their booths, was on a
completely separate floor, and would have been easy to miss if you
didn't look at the maps in the convention guide. But it wasn't all
bad: someone on a LUG mailing list pointed out that this put them in a
nice quiet area away from the raucous advertising of the big
commercial booths in the main hall, so you could actually have a
conversation with the booth folks. Also, the dot-orgs got a nice view
out the second-floor windows compared to the cavernous indoor
I only went to one keynote, "The Explosive Growth of Linux and Open
Source: What Does It All Mean?" The description made it look like a
panel discussion, but it was really just five prepared speeches: three
suits repeating buzzwords (Dave and I amused ourselves counting the
uses of the word "exciting", and with Toastmasters reflexes I couldn't
help counting the "ah"s) and two more interesting talks (well, okay,
Eben Moglen was also wearing a suit but at least he didn't spend
his whole talk telling us about the exciting opportunities ahead for
I would have liked to have heard Mike Shaver's keynote on web
technologies, but it wasn't worth going back to San Francisco for a
second day just for that.
In the end, the real highlight of the day was hooking up with Sonja at
the Novell/SuSE booth for a nice lunch. Hooray for conferences that
give you an excuse to meet friends from far away! Catching up with
some of the Mozilla crowd was good, too. That made the trip worth it
even if the exhibit hall didn't offer much.
[ 21:25 Aug 11, 2005
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Tue, 10 Aug 2004
A Sun employee named James Todd has been posting
paeans to Sun and their Linux support on the svlug list
I don't intend to follow up to that thread,
because I expect after 18 messages in four days
(including 9 from jwtodd spanning over 800 lines)
I expect most folks on the list would prefer to move on to other topics.
James attacks me repeatedly for my earlier blog entry
wherein I say that the machines I saw in the Sun booth were all running
Windows. He says he worked in the booth, and there were no Windows
If that's true, then that's terrific! I'm very happy to hear that
all the machines I saw with "Start" menus and Redmond-looking icons
and themes were actually just a theme Sun puts on their Linux
(or Solaris?) desktop boxes. I don't know why Sun feels it
necessary to make Linux look just like Windows -- maybe that's part
of their theory that you don't need to know what OS you're on (which
is really quite a good idea for corporate installations, and
reportedly is working quite well internally at Sun).
Perhaps they further assume that if they make the non-Windows
installations look like Windows, people will be more accepting of
the idea. I'm not sure this part is a good idea -- wouldn't it be better
if the theme sent the message "Sun" rather than "Windows",
so customers don't get the idea that they can just zip off to Dell
or somewhere and buy cheaper machines that will do the same thing?
Wouldn't it be better marketing at a show like Linux World to show
off a theme that didn't look like Windows?
But that's all marketing. If the machines were in fact running
Linux and Solaris, I'm happy to hear that I was wrong.
Time will tell whether the Windows-like theme is the
choice, and whether Sun sticks with Linux in the long run.
Of course I hope they do, and that they succeed in selling linux
boxes to corporate customers, and that the recent settlement
agreement with Microsoft does not herald a withdrawal from open source,
as it has with some other companies.
(Whether Sun has helped open source is not at issue,
and never was part of this debate, as far as I know.
They've already contributed quite a bit, with the Open Office
project, and with contributions to Gnome and Mozilla accessibility
[ 13:29 Aug 10, 2004
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Sat, 07 Aug 2004
Hey, cool! The Linux
T-shirts came in a women's version!
Looked like they had a bunch -- I hope they don't end up with
too many extras and regret making them, 'cause they're very nice
and I'd love to see this catch on.
(It's black, so maybe not too useful outdoors, but it looks great.)
(Followup: actually it's very thin fabric and even outdoors it's
The picnic was fun, too, and well organized.
Oracle sponsored the food.
Thanks to Google, Oracle, and the Linux Picnix crew
(Bill Kendrick, Bill Ward and whoever else helped out).
[ 23:05 Aug 07, 2004
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Tue, 03 Aug 2004
I just got back from Linuxworld.
The exhibit floor isn't very different from last year.
A few more desktop booths, a few fewer embedded and small (e.g.
PDA) booths, still dominated by server oriented exhibits --
clustering, network monitoring and similar sysadmin tools.
The "Dot Org Pavilion" was quite a bit bigger than last year
(which I like, since that's where most of the interest is for me).
The most interesting corporate booth was Psion, which was showing
a small device midway between a large PDA (like their old Revo)
and a small subnotebook (like my Vaio SR). It has a keyboard that
looks smaller than my Vaio's, but which types very well,
surprisingly comparable to the Sony. It uses CF as its main disk,
but also has a SD/MMC slot, and PCMCIA and USB (no actual hard drive).
And a touchscreen. They claim 8 hours battery life.
They told Dave that it might sell for around
$1000-1500 (too much, probably because of the touchscreen).
They've been trying to sell
the hardware as a WinCE box to corporate buyers and vertical
markets, and I guess it isn't doing well, so they put linux on it
(a Debian variant) and brought two of them to the show to gauge
interest. It looked like they weren't expecting any interest at
all: their booth was spare, with a table with two of the devices on
it, one guy who seemed to know something and two women who just
stood around and didn't seem inclined to talk to anyone or answer
questions. No fliers, no sign, no nuthin. There were people
crowded around the booth (not thickly, but a few) both times I
passed. Perhaps they'll decide there's enough interest to go ahead.
The linuxastronomy.com guy
was there again (with a friend) showing
off a live homebuilt seismometer, recording on the show floor.
Very cool. Someone who came to visit the booth showed his latest
hack, a knoppix that boots from an NTFS partition (so it's fast and
doesn't require a CD). I suggested he show it to the open source in education
guy in the booth next door, since I'd just been
commiserating with him about how hard it is to get people at schools
(or any Windows users, really) to try something like Knoppix.
The Mozilla booth was doing great and always had a crowd around it.
Apparently they sold out of the plush firefox toys immediately,
surprising everyone since they hadn't been selling on the web site.
The Debian and local LUG (shared between LUGoD, SVLUG, PenLUG and
BayLUG) booths were both doing well, and the Gentoo booth always had
a few visitors typing on the demo machines. The Fedora staffer
looked lonely; hardly anyone seemed interested in the Fedora booth.
I did my usual quick survey of which of the big booths were running
linux in their booth. Oracle and Redhat were clear winners, with no
definite Windows boxes (a few in each case which were running full
screen presentation software so I couldn't tell what the OS was).
Sun was the worst, with only one Linux box I saw, and the rest all
Windows: no Solaris that I saw. AMD leaned toward Linux (maybe
60%), Veritas leaned the other way (60% Windows) and IBM was about
50-50 (no better than last year).
The "Golden Penguin Bowl" was strange. It's a trivia contest
between two teams of luminaries; but in this case, one team (the
Nerds) was three big-name Linux luminaries, and the other team (the
Geeks) was all Apple or BSD people with no connection to Linux at
all. Dave kept wondering, "And his connection to Linux is ...?"
About half the questions dealt with sci-fi rather than
computers, and the Geeks had a strong lead there, but the Nerds
cleaned up on the computer questions and ended up with the prize.
Timothy D. Witham (of OSDL) was particularly impressive with his
knowledge of obscure CPUs, and got several major ovations from the
audience after correcting the judges.
Then it was BOF time, and I chose the Zeroconf BOF. I'd done a
little research into Zeroconf a month ago for a possible article,
but hadn't been able to get it to work, and ran into a snag that
the sourceforge page on zcip says it's been removed because of
Apple asserting intellectual property rights over the protocol.
I hoped that the BOF would shed some light on what I was missing.
Boy, was that wrong! The BOF was a long advertisement for Apple,
run by an Apple employee, Stuart Cheshire,
and an Apple user (and former employee? I wasn't clear). It
consisted of a powerpoint presentation followed by numerous demos of
two Mac laptops talking to each other, or a Mac laptop talking to
some obscure-but-nifty piece of hardware that implements rendezvous
(or whatever Apple is calling it now). After about an hour of this
I finally asked where linux fit in, and the answer boiled down to,
"Gee, linux doesn't really do zeroconf very well and we wish it did,
we're hoping someone writes it."
He mentioned zcip as one of the options, so I made the mistake of
asking about the message on sourceforge about Apple's patents, and
got a long lecture on how beneficent apple was and how they'd never
sue anyone other than in self defense, and anyone who says otherwise
is probably trying to push an anti-patent political agenda,
but poor apple has to have patents to protect itself from mean
companies. And besides, he thinks the patent expired a couple
of weeks ago, but it was a good patent, which may seem obvious
now but probably wasn't back when it was issued.
Hoping to get back on track after unintentionally derailling the
conversation, I asked what Linux users should use given
that his first suggestion, zcip, was unavailable. He mentioned
HOWL, by Scott Herscher (who was there at the session),
which implements all three parts of zeroconf.
Googling later at home, I found it at
software. It's apparently a mixture of BSD licensed code and
Apple licensed code. But it doesn't seem to require signing the
Apple developer agreement to download it. I haven't tried it yet.
He said that the zcip part of zeroconf would be much better
implemented in the kernel, where it would be only about twelve lines
of additional code. (He seemed to be talking about the "choose a
random number, check for traffic, and back off if it's occupied"
portion. Isn't there more to zcip than that? Or is the rest
already there in the kernel?) He wondered why no one was adding it.
Dave asked, "So, why don't you do it? C'mon, just twelve lines!"
Stuart was not amused, and said that while writing the twelve lines
wasn't a problem, setting up the build environment for the kernel
takes a lot of time, far more than he had available.
Speaking of that Apple license and agreement,
Stuart says that there's nothing
prohibiting Apple licensed code like zeroconf from being distributed
in any linux distro, and he seemed surprised and perturbed that no
distro was shipping it (of course, the fact that it just released
a couple weeks ago might have something to do with that. :-)
Other bits I wasn't previously clear on: a machine can have a link local
address and a regular IP address concurrently, on the same ethernet
card. I'm not clear how this shows up in ifconfig (if it does).
Link local addressing is not required for the other two parts of
zeroconf: MDNS and service discovery should work even over normal
Some of the docs on the web about zeroconf say that MS is backing a
service discovery protocol called SLP, rather than the DNS-SD protocol
used by Apple, and that most people think SLP scales much better
than DNS-SD. As presented at the BOF, both Apple and MS support
Rendezvous as it exists now (but then why point out that Apple's
Rendezvous is now available for Windows? If Windows already does
it, why would anyone need to register with Apple and download
different software? I wasn't clear on that) and UPNP, backed by
MS, is losing ground and probably won't win in the long run.
Perhaps UPNP is a renaming of SLP. I declined to ask about the
scaling issues, having already unwittingly caused enough trouble
asking about patents.
Great quote from Stuart, possibly sufficient to justify sitting
through an hour and a half of Apple advertising:
he was talking about somebody having trouble with a networked
printer which it turned out had been configured to have a
non-default IP, then returned to Fry's, and added
"Fry's is the Silicon Valley Hardware Lending Library."
Incidentally, the BOF area was supposed to have wi-fi, with an
essid that was given on the signs, but I got "access point out of
range". I guess I really should try one of the other drivers,
linux-wlan or hostap. Dancer says hostap is easier to set up,
and apparently it uses the normal wireless-tools, unlike linux-wlan
which uses its own set of tools. I don't need hostap mode, but
if it's a good driver for normal client use then I guess that's
what matters. Though the Apple people didn't see a network either,
but maybe that's because they didn't know about the essid.
[ 22:36 Aug 03, 2004
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