OSCON 2008

This year I finally made it out to the O’Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland. Just for the Wednesday to Friday session portion, mind you; I couldn’t bring myself to leave this guy for a whole week:


All of the conference slide shows and keynote videos are already up on the OSCON web site (or will be there shortly), so you can benefit from the conference even if you didn’t get a chance to go. In summary: Best Conference Ever

Here are some of my random notes from the conference.


  • Ate dinner at the Charlotte Airport. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.

  • Scheduled flight arrival time: 8:20 PM. Actual arrival time: 10:00PM. My seat didn’t recline. I think they were saving money on air conditioning, as I seemed to be sticking inordinately to my pleather seat. They were showing Finding Neverland; a good flick, but so old it’s probably on its tenth run on the Lifetime channel, and my headphone jack gave off a high-pitched microphonic squeal that will probably prevent me from having more children. My reading light had a short and kept flickering on and off to the point I was beginning to wonder if I was expected to dance. Things were in such dire straights I paid $5 for a Heineken, which, to their credit, was cold. I would have had a second brew for medicinal purposes, but I feel a certain responsibility to my fellow passengers should an emergency arise – I logged enough hours on Wing Commander in college to dead-stick a 747 in your driveway. But I ramble here. US Airways: I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.

  • This was the most geek-friendly conference I’ve ever attended. They actually had power strips laid out under the seats so attendees could plug in their laptops.

  • Ubuntu Linux was everywhere. There were a lot of sessions involving Ubuntu in some fashion.

  • Managing Ubuntu in the enterprise is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Network installers, automated installers (preseed, kickstart, automateit), seamless AD integration, setting up firewalls, ssh, FTP, NFS, Jabber server, etc. - it was all a lot easier than I thought. Being that my only experience has been desktop setups via the regular Ubuntu installer and a Ubuntu JeOS project I’ll write about later, this was a real eye-opener. If you suspected your IT shop was giving you the scared-of-new-things-run-around about Linux but didn’t know enough to confirm it, consider it confirmed.

  • Use subversion. Use subversion. Use subversion.

  • Dtrace is, without question, the coolest debugging/monitoring tool ever. A typical server might have 40,000 sensors for dtrace to tap into. Too bad some licensing problems are keeping it out of Linux. It requires kernel level support right now, although somebody is working on a solution that would run without kernel support.

  • I went to an open source virtualization technologies session. It looks like VMware is still the reigning champ if “free as in beer” is enough freedom for you. Xen, KVM, and even VirtualBox are all still lacking in comparison (though I like VirtualBox for my desktop virtualization needs). VMware announced the day before the session that ESXi is now free. Free VMware hypervisor?! That’s a big deal.

  • If you need to do some simple animation and looking at Blender‘s interface scares the pants off you, check out Synfig Studio.

  • “Open source is the single most important invention and innovation modality to come into being in the post-industrial era.” That was from a keynote speech on intellectual property issues. I read it twice, wrote it down, and read it again a few times. It’s a very powerful statement, and after some reflection I have to agree.

  • I watched a lady working at the Information desk at the convention center desparate to help somebody. She had wandered away from her desk and tried to make eye contact with anyone that walked in, hoping someone would stop and ask her something. After five minutes of this, I walked over and asked her where the light rail stop was, even though I walked by it four times already and used it once. She positively beamed when she told me where it was and gave me a transit map. Sometimes there just aren’t enough people that need help.

  • A couple of interesting keynotes talked about women in open source software, which right now represent ~2% of FOSS developers (looking around the room that seemed a little low, but not too far off). A keynote after that talking about using open source software to teach programming to elementary school kids said the gender gap wasn’t what we think it is - the 10-12 year old girls were actually much better programmers than the boys. I wonder what’s going on there.

  • “Cloud computing” was one of the big themes, particularly Amazon’s offerings. This is something our group will probably look at soon (particularly since our IT shop is charging us $25/GB for SAN storage/backup).

  • Must learn Django. Must learn Django. Must learn Django.

  • I have to give props to the Microsoft guy for showing up and giving a good talk. I actually felt bad for him when the Q&A session started and he was summarily eviscerated.

  • A crazy number of ATM’s run Windows. Think about that - the bug-ridden, insecure software you’re most likely looking at right now is in charge of your money. I hadn’t thought about it before hearing this in a keynote and seeing pictures of ATM blue screens and interesting Windows dialog boxes. This scares the pants off of me.

  • If you think you deal with big data sets in GIS, think again. I saw a talk about PostgreSQL where the company had a 16.8 TB database that grows at a rate of 10 GB daily. The largest table is 1.8 TB, and the largest index is 411 GB. Yahoo! actually has a single Postgres instance with a 2 petabyte database that handles 24 billion events per day. Lesson: PostgreSQL is a beast and can handle anything you can throw at it.

  • NASA uses a lot of FOSS, in particular Linux, PostgreSQL, and Perl. Their image archive grows at a rate of 3.2 TB per day. Check out their new NASA Images site.

  • Portland is a really nice city. Lodging is reasonable, the light rail system can get you anywhere you need to go, and there are hippies everywhere. Hippie watching is great fun. One hippie had a glass ball he could roll all over his body without dropping. It made me wonder what kinds of feats I would be capable of if I didn’t have a PlayStation.


To this day, the mere mention of callsign “Bob” will make a Kilrathi’s whiskers stand on end.