LCA 2009: Wednesday (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 21 Jan 2009

LCA 2009: Wednesday

Wednesday started with a keynote by Tom Limoncelli that was, frankly, disappointing. A lot of it was specific to enterprise sysadmins (including a set of "homework" for all the new directives you're going to implement in your IT department) and the rest was, well, nothing special.

The first regular talk I heard was Keith Packard, describing advances in X (and related graphical desktop software) over the past year. Surprisingly, there actually have been a lot of advances. Chief among them is GEM, a system for sharing data efficiently between X and the kernel to avoid all the horribly inefficient copying that's always happened in the past. It all sounded very promising except that if I understand him correctly, none of this works on graphics cards, only on integrated Intel graphics. A nice step, but until it works everywhere I'm not sure it's really a solution.

But Keith was overshadowed by his coworker, Carl Worth, who spoke next, giving a lively and interesting discussion of the architecture of graphics on Linux, including the many ways control might flow depending on which libraries are in use and the capabilities of the graphics card/chipset are. Better, he enumerated the many ways of tracing the execution of the various graphics layers -- gtk, cairo, X, mesa etc. -- and I'm looking forward to downloading his slides to get the list of debugging commands. This may also be the first talk I've seen to use GIMP as a presentation system. (He only used it for one slide, where he drew and labelled new codepaths people have proposed to get around graphics bottlenecks.

My tutorial (on Firefox/Mozilla hacking) was after lunch. I was fairly happy with it. The audience had a lot of questions, the slides I had hoped were funny got laughs, and the time worked out -- I had to rush through the last handful of slides because of the amount of audience questions and discussion, which is much better than ending early because no one was interested.

Jonathan Corbet's talk on the Linux Development Process mostly fairly basic details I already knew (what the difference kernel trees mean, how subsystem maintainers act as gatekeepers, why it's better to maintain code in the mainline kernel tree than separate code) but his talks always have nuggets of interest and relevant stories, with Linus sitting in the audience to add another perspective. The talk ended with some good advice on how to get started in kernel development: review code, and (in a quote from Andrew Morton) "try to make the kernel work well on every machine you have access to."

Wednesday night's Penguin Dinner was spectacular. The dinner was fairly spectacular itself (a huge and varied buffet), but the really impressive part was after dinner. We saw a short presentation on the plight of the Tasmanian devil (the largest marsupial carnivore after the extinction of the Tasmanian "tiger", or thylacine, in the early 1900s). The devil is threatened due to a transmissible cancer that causes horrible facial tumors which are invariably fatal. Then the charity auction began, led by Rusty Russell. At auction was one item: a large format numbered print of a beautiful, award winning waterfall photograph by Karen Garbee. Bidding was spirited and rose very quickly into the thousands of dollars, at which point things got complicated, with coalitions of multiple people bidding, other people offering matching offers under certain conditions, other items (such as a GEEK license plate registered in Queensland) being added to the photograph. In the end the winning bid was $10,500 (which amounts to something over $36,000 when various matching funds are included) on condition that Linus shave Bdale's beard.

Poor Bdale! The beard suits him and he's had it since 1982. But it will come back, and the Tasmanian devils won't if the cancer drives them to extinction.

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[ 15:32 Jan 21, 2009    More conferences/lca2009 | permalink to this entry | ]

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