FOSDEM 2010: all was well

Posted in conference, FOSDEM, open source by elisehuard on February 10, 2010

This weekend we had our 10th edition of FOSDEM. Fosdem is the Free Open Source Developers European Meeting. It’s the second year that I’m part of the staff – my reasons to join the team was that since I’m using a lot of open source, but contributing precious little (working on it), I might as well give something back in another way. Since then I found another reason to enjoy working on FOSDEM: it’s amazing to bring about such a mammoth event with just a dozen of people and a larger group of volunteers.

Since FOSDEM is entirely free and doesn’t require people to register, it’s always difficult to estimate the attendance. Judging from the numbers of t-shirts and the booklets, and the constant throngs of geeks in the hallways, the general impression is that we had even more participants than last year. To the point that we start wondering if we’re not going to grow too large.

The organization was a success. Kudos to the whole team for doing a good job.
Sponsoring and donations were crisis-insensitive. The network was up on friday night (respect to Gerry, Jerome, Peter, and all who made it happen), with a glass fiber gigabit uplink. During the conference the geeks didn’t even use 10% of the bandwidth. In one of the hacker rooms there was a sign ‘please use more bandwidth’. The devrooms were mostly packed, and the main tracks were (I think) interesting. It’s not always easy to get brainiacs who can speak in front of an audience, but I think we hit the spot most of the time.

Where last year I had to run around like a headless chicken, this year there were plenty of opportunities to sit down for 20 minutes at a time ! Which meant I got out of it feeling marginally less exhausted than last year.

I think we can say that the organization has now reached a nice plateau, and everything was ticking along very smoothly. The only danger is to grow complacent – it’s never a good idea to let your guard down.

Heart-warming: to have faithful volunteers who help us until the bitter (or should I say dirty) end. To have a great atmosphere, and to get heartfelt thanks from participants. If you’ve got any feedback of your own, tips you’d like to share, let us know.

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Posted in open source, privacy by elisehuard on January 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure how I ended up at 26C3, but I had a blast.
From what I gather, the Chaos Communication Congresses are gathering of geeks and utopians (or both), around security, privacy and hacking. And LEDs.

We arrived the night before the start of the conference. We were lucky to have our places in advance, because when we went to retrieve our bracelets, people were queuing up to get their places.

The location of the 26C3 (and a few previous ones) is fantastic. The Berlin Congress Center is a graceful example of 70 architecture of the 2001 welcome to the future category. It’s basically a bloc containing a cylindrical structure – the outside edges are the corridors, the inside disks are rooms. Saal1 (under the cupula) in particular is phenomenal, but the rest of the building has lots of charm too.

The principle is that groups and projects book a table (or two), and gather round that table to sit, and hack, or misc. I ended up at the Debian table (‘debianist by association’), thanks to the friends I was traveling with. There were tables with people having brought really old hardware, tables with robot arms, and everywhere laptops.

At 26C3 they set up all kinds of networks. The building is properly wired, and there were a few wifi network that worked reasonably well. Then there was the DECT radio network, which means everyone was walking around with your average domestic chordless phone (DECT radio for those in the know). They even set up a GSM network which didn’t work too consistently, but was way cool nonetheless: instead of vodaphone et al. you had an in-house network which even worked for normal domestic calls !
old hardware

The talks were streamed live. I didn’t attend that many talks in person, as the rooms were really packed. Besides, knowing that the conference recordings would be available later also made it less of an incentive to try and pile in. The talks I did attend/listen to were fascinating.

One talk I attended was about stylometry, or how you can in certain situation detect who’s the author of a text by the word choice, grammar, etc. Which obviously means danger for whistle-blowers publishing anonymously against an abusive employer or an oppressive regime. The author was trying to ‘attack’ those techniques, by trying pastiche or obfuscation. Another talk was about intelligence support systems, and their use by all kinds of organization. I also followed a talk about attacks on PKI, which is interesting since my current work is all about PKI.
lego robots
The ground floor was catering mostly, and the lower floor was the hardware hackers floor. The catering floor was visited many times to get a dose of Club-Mate. Mate is a naturally caffeinated kind of tea leaf from South-America. Club-Mate is a soda version of that, and quite tasty and effective, as energy drinks go.

Then there were all the cool toys ! You could buy kits of electronic circuits to assemble yourself. I bought and assembled the TV-B-Gone kit to switch off tv’s, which worked, and a dotblox64, which lots of LEDs, which doesn’t yet (because of slightly shoddy solderwork). There was a group making helicopters, and a group building and programming LEGO robots to fight against eachother. Geek heaven, or what.

lockpicking class
I also had a go at lockpicking, though I must admit that I miserably failed at that, being quite clumsy (the instructions in german might not have helped). The stories of the instructor (from lockpicking.org and the lockpicking club of Berlin) were interesting. He explained about how locks usually worked, about different kinds, and the pleasure and effort to figure it out. He also bragged a little about his exploits, of course: seems he has a master key of the Berlin underground, and the Berlin public toilets.

The general vibe was one of love for freedom. Lots of subculture represented, though obviously the overarching one was geekiness. No judgments, no rules, things were built for fun, not necessity. A fairly mixed audience, a slightly subversive but enthousiastic spirit. I had a good time, and will enjoy watching some of the remaining talks at home.

Rails Bugmash: sweet

Posted in open source, rails, ruby by elisehuard on August 16, 2009

Better late than never: if you’re into Rails, but have never had the time to get involved in Rails Core, do participate to the next Bugmash !

Not only was it very instructive, it was also lots of fun, like resolving chinese puzzles in group, and against a clock. The core team members on the IRC channel (#railsbridge on Freenode) made sure you could got an answer to every question. Thanks again to the folks of Railsbridge for organizing the whole thing.

The core team people had singled out a pool of bugs that needed cleaning up or looked at, and had tagged them so they could be retrieved easily. Patches, comments, test sets, all got different types of points. Everyone was pleasantly surprised with the number of bugs processed during the weekend.

I didn’t really see it as a contest, more as an occasion to get involved, so I had a fairly normal weekend, with a dinner party on saturday and a movie on sunday, and I bugmashed on a terrasse part of the time. Still, I was chuffed to land in the first page of results and to get a price (Lighthouse subscription for one year, nice).

So yes, much recommended … after all, don’t you want to know the internals of the platform you’re using every day, and help it evolve ? (some strange and puzzling things in there, let me tell you).

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Rails Bugmash

Posted in open source, rails, ruby by elisehuard on August 7, 2009

This weekend, we have an unique opportunity to get involved (or attempt to) in the Rails core development: the Rails Bugmash, organized by RailsBridge.
The idea is to resolve as many bugs as possible on the stable version of Rails (2.3.x) – with some assistance of established Rails core members (through IRC on Freenode #railsbridge). A level of playfulness, or competition, is added by the fact that you get awarded points for bug reduction, and there’s a few small prizes. The main prize, in my opinion, is the opportunity to participate to a well-managed open source project like Rails.

You’ll find relevant information here. And what to do to have your environment ready: here. The railscast is also a good intro.

A few notes that might be useful:

  • I installed a variant of Relevance’s ruby switcher. I’m using zsh myself, not bash: if this is your case, you’ll find the relevant dotfiles in the spicy-code’s repository. Good source of inspiration, but since I’m fairly happy with my configs, I just took over ruby_switcher.rb and ruby_installer.rb. Since I didn’t want to reinstall versions i already had on my machine, I changed ruby_switcher.rb to use the paths of existing installations (look at the update_path function to see what to use) and then i added the following line to my .zshrc .
    source ~/.zsh/ruby_switcher.zsh
  • To run the activerecord test set, you need a few databases, and a user ‘rails’.
    create user rails;
    create database activerecord_unittest;
    create database activerecord_unittest2;
    grant all on activerecord_unittest.* to rails@localhost;
    grant all on activerecord_unittest2.* to rails@localhost;

    on postgres the grants of course are
    create user rails password 'password';
    grant all on database activerecord_unittest to rails;
    grant all on database activerecord_unittest2 to rails;

    Strictly speaking, you need to test on as many dbs at possible – i’ve got mysql, posgres and (duh) sqlite3 – might add the jdbc’s to that list.
    You can change configs in activerecord/test/connections/native_/connection.rb . For mysql, I had to add my :socket in there, which defaulted to something strange. For postgres, i had to add user and password (though i suppose you could grant to PUBLIC).
    If you want to just test activerecord for one type of database, you go into the activerecord directory, and do
    rake test_mysql
    rake test_postgresql

    and similar. In fact, it’s adviseable to run ONLY the tests you need at first, because the test set is obviously sizeable, and takes a wee while to run (using env variable TEST=).
    Note: I must be missing a grant for postgresql, because i get a load of errors – I’ll update if i fix this Update: i ended up using the superuser.
  • You also need to start memcached. 11211 is the default port.
    memcached -p 11211 -d
  • especially this week-end, i’d do git pull regularly, to avoid surprises.

Interesting, anyway.

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FOSDEM 2010: 6-7 of februari

Posted in FOSDEM, open source by elisehuard on July 16, 2009

Hear, hear ! We already have dates for next edition of FOSDEM, thanks to early cooperation with the ULB (and thanks to Christophe Vandeplas).

Having the dates set this early means:

  • that we can already invite the bestest speakers
  • that we can brainstorm about the awsum things we’re going to do for the 10th anniversary of FOSDEM (OSDEM included)
  • that you, the open source developer, have no excuse to miss it, since you can write it down (right now, please) in your agenda.
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Tokyo Cabinet plugin for Rails

Posted in open source, rails, ruby by elisehuard on July 1, 2009

I made a Rails plugin as a kind of adapter for Tokyo Cabinet. Tokyo Cabinet, apart from having a funny name, is a database engine from (duh) Japan, allowing a few different data storage paradigms.

I got to know it through this post of Ilya Grigorik where he basically says it’s blazingly fast. And when he says it’s fast, I tend to believe him.

So what did I use it for ? I needed to do a multiple shortest path calculation, using the Floyd-Warshall algorithm. I figured storing intermediate results in a Tokyo B+Tree, and table database (for random-length paths) is certainly faster than storing it in your garden variety relational database. It’s definitely slower than doing results in memory … until it isn’t. Storing everything in memory is not a good idea if you want your calculation to be scalable to any size of graph.

I wrote this small plugin tokyo_cabinet4r, which has no greater ambition than to make the use of Tokyo Cabinet in Rails easier, and to a certain extent similar to the use of ActiveRecord (using the Ruby API). If you have any suggestion at all, or you want to use it and a feature’s lacking, let me know. I’ll probably fine-tune and fiddle with it in the next few days, amongst other things.

Online exposure

Posted in open source, privacy by elisehuard on February 22, 2009

Using the interwebs as they are now I perceive the following tensions.

Online identity:

  • the desire of privacy dictates that we centralize as little as possible: atomize our online presence over the different sites, using a different nick every time, so that none of them is traceable to us
  • convenience dictates that we have use single-sign on to identify ourselves once and for all, but this introduces a single point of failure – as well as making us more traceable if not done right (using different personas under a single identity).

Attention economy:

  • we want to keep control of our own data, keep our cards to our chests wherever possible
  • by using convenient sites like last.fm, facebook, google and yahoo applications, and handling single sign-on through external sites, we agree implicitly to donate our inputs to the site owners, who can sell it (hopefully anonymously) for commercial use.

One partial solution to keeping a hand on our identity and our data is to host most of it ourselves (php-OpenID, hosting own node in decentralized social network like DiSo, our own chat server, our own microblogging node, whatever else).

As the convenience <-> privacy contradiction shows, this is only open to geeks for now – you need your hosting, and some skill at installing all this.

Maybe it would be interesting to create an easy to use version of this for the other people ? Something easy to install – a package, a click-through interface, a customized slice ? what do you think ?

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Posted in conference, FOSDEM, open source by elisehuard on February 9, 2009

This weekend, finally, came FOSDEM. In the shape of a tornado, sweeping us up from friday at noon to deposit us, dazed and exhausted, at the end of the week-end.

On friday afternoon, build-up. You go from A (the trash-littered rooms of the university) to B (reasonably clean set of conference rooms with the makings of a decent network).

I had fun laying reams of ethernet cables (total1,6km) under the expert direction of Gerry, the networking specialist of our team. The idea was to provide most of the rooms with good wifi, and the approach was different from other years – partly because we had the loan of some nice Cisco equipment.

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Random tinkering

Posted in open source, rails, ruby by elisehuard on January 7, 2009

Last few month, i haven’t had time to throw more than a cursory glance at whatever was going on in the Rails community.

I’m only starting my next job on the 19th of january. I’ve decided to try and submit a proposal for a Rails conf this year – so now’s time to have a good browse through all my Ruby and Rails feeds and have a sniff around.

I come to the office every day, as usual, but instead of coding i look around and experiment. All I can say is that it’s great fun – i hope i’ll have the opportunity to do this again !

Playthings so far:

  • Android and the possibility to use JRuby with android. Android uses a different bytecode, because it has its own virtual machine (Dalvik Virtual Machine) instead of the JVM. So a modified jrubyc compiler would be necessary. Not to mention that Android apps are very constrained in form, and also that we want to keep the footprint of resulting bytecode small. Difficult, but then easy is boring.
  • A plugin i mostly developed in previous project, which needs tidied up and open sourced. Remains to be seen whether anyone will find it useful. More about this later.
  • CouchDB and Rails. I found a series of articles on the subject and about to investigate whether it works …
  • XMPP/Jabber and its uses for a Rails app
  • Further tinkering with erlang
  • Keeping an eye on the Rails edge repository

That’s what’s keeping me busy for now … If you have other ideas, let me know. Fun !

FOSDEM call for devrooms and lightning talks

Posted in FOSDEM, open source by elisehuard on November 10, 2008

The days get shorter, the trees are practically bare, november storms are whipping the leaves up in a mad dance: now’s the time to submit devroom and lightning talks proposals for FOSDEM.

This year, FOSDEM takes place a little bit earler, on the 7th and 8th of february. As usual, if you’ve got an open source project you’d like to talk about, it’s a good idea to submit it now. Similarly, user groups and large projects can submit proposals for devrooms, if they’re confident they can fill one or two days with talking, brainstorming, hacking in an interesting way.

The official call is here on the FOSDEM website.

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