Over the weekend, I attended the eleventh annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE 11x) at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport. I’ve been to this event a handful of times and always thoroughly enjoy myself. The hard-working folks that volunteer to run this conference outdo themselves every year.
The Expo Floor
I didn’t spend much time on the expo floor, walking through it only a couple of times. I’m not currently looking for anything to use at work, I’m not on the job market, and nothing captured my interest.
In retrospect, one thing I wish I had done was Rackspace’s breakfix challenge, which they were using as a recruitment tool. The idea behind it is that you are seated at a computer on which things are broken and are given some fixed amount of time to accomplish a number of tasks to bring the computer back to health. On Monday, my boss came into my office to enlist my help tracking down a strange bug in the way some shell initialization files were being sourced. This had been bugging (heh) them for a week and has caused some stoppage of work. After making his head spin for a few minutes, I found the problem and hacked up a workaround. So yeah, I kind of wish I’d tried my hand at the challenge.
I won’t attempt lengthy descriptions of the sessions I attended (there are probably dozens online already, and I think many of the sessions were recorded and will be put online). Instead, I’ll try to comment on what, if anything, I took away from each session.
Saturday Keynote: The Secure Boot Journey (Matthew Garrett)
The staff at SCALE did a great job in lining up this keynote. It was entertaining and educational. The real fear of not being able to boot Linux on commodity hardware was palpable, and I was left impressed by the efforts put forth to ensure user freedom in that respect.
I also learned that, if drinking doesn’t solve the problem, try drinking some more. If that doesn’t work, wait for the hangover to wear off, then cause trouble. Also, standards are wonderful, if you’re on the right side of them. Microsoft used the UEFI standard to defend their position on Windows 8 and secure boot. The speaker made the point that 5.56x45mm NATO is a standard, but few people on the receiving end are appropriately happy for that.
Scaling systems configuration at Facebook (Phil Dibowitz)
This session convinced me that Chef is very cool, but also very scary. It reminded me of the adage, stated by Doug Gwyn, “Unix was not designed to stop its users from doing stupid things, as that would also stop them from doing clever things.”
As a programmer, I like the idea that a configuration management system is simply a set of objects on top of a full programming language. If it doesn’t do exactly what I want, I can hack it to do so, as was demonstrated in the session. However, the thought of then handing the ability over to junior (or even senior) system administrators leaves me with no small amount of fright.
Free to be a kid (Keila Banks)
I love that SCALE had an entire track dedicated to the youth in our community. A lot of us have had, or will have, children. This is a great way of introducing younger audiences to our hobbies and fostering that curiosity and creativeness that got us started. In fact, one of the friends I attended SCALE with brought his son, who attended the two-day Linux Beginner’s Training Class.
This session wonderfully highlighted that curiosity and creativeness. Presented by the 11-year-old daughter of one of the SCALE organizers, we learned about all of the fun and useful things she does with Open Source software. From playing games to writing blogs and publishing her class’s weekly newsletter. She is exactly what I hope my daughters become.
Checkpoint, Restore, Live Migration and beyond (Kirill Kolyshkin)
I found this session interesting from an academic standpoint. It’s cool that this is being done at the kernel level, but I’m not sure how useful it is to me. The overhead of running KVM is less and less noticeable every year, and it already provides a lot of (if not all of) the capabilities already. There was some discussion about working with NFS mounts, which did pique my curiosity, but that came up during questions after the presentation. By then my eyes had already glazed over.
Practical Application Troubleshooting using strace (David Rodriguez)
I didn’t actually pay much attention to this session. From what I could gather, it was a great introduction to the strace command, and the presented case studies were quite useful. I use strace a lot at work, and I don’t recall noticing anything new during the session.
The reason my memory is so fuzzy is that, early in the session, I got the itch to clean up and post the strace-pstree script I wrote a while back. So I spent the hour doing that. Yes, I know it needs better documentation. It’s on my to-do list.
Sunday Keynote: Practical 3D Printing and the Open Source Community (Kyle Rankin)
Rather than stuff myself into the overcrowded and stuffy keynote room, I viewed it from the overflow room. While the environment was far more comfortable, the camera was only focused on the presenter, so I didn’t see any of the slides. I don’t know that it mattered much, but I did miss some of the jokes.
One of my fellow attendees took a pass on this keynote, stating that he didn’t want to listen to a bunch of mumbo jumbo about how cool 3D printing is and how it’s going to change the world. While I admit to not having paid too much attention to the talk (I foolishly had my laptop open), I don’t recall too much about changing the world. Most of what I caught was about the history of hobbyist 3D printing and what may be coming in the near future.
This keynote, in keeping with current events, also digressed into firearms. The printable AR-15 lower receiver was mentioned, along with its ability to only handle a few rounds of ammunition before failing. Based on reactions, it was difficult to judge the prevailing attitude among SCALE attendees. I’d say it was evenly split between anti- and pro-firearm people.
Your Baby Can Hack (Jenn Greenaway)
Actually, as was immediately pointed out, your baby can’t hack, and shouldn’t. It’s not healthy for babies to spend time in front of computer screens.
Of all the sessions I attended, this was my favorite. A lot of information was conveyed about the appropriate ages at which children can start using computers for different tasks. As anyone who has so much as spoken to me knows, since having children, I’ve developed a keen interest in evolutionary health and fitness. This session fit right in with all of that. My children are still young enough that I can immediately apply what I learned.
In perhaps the best demonstration ever that children are far smarter than we give them credit for, One Laptop Per Child ran an experiment, which resulted in Ethiopian children hacking Android. This should come as no real surprise to anyone who has watched their offspring learn to use an iPhone.
GTD with Emacs (Dennis Kibbe)
I’ve been using Vim, and prior to that, vi, for a cumulative 18 years. Between the muscle memory, my sizeable ~/.vimrc, and the Vim plugins I’ve written, I’ve never had any desire to learn emacs. That said, I’m always interested in seeing how people think and the things they’ve done to make their environment work for them.
This session did not disappoint. Dennis’s demonstration of org-mode was incredibly compelling. So much so that I immediately installed a mostly-compatible version for Vim. I’m not sure if I want to spend time playing with the Vim plugin or devote the time to learning enough about emacs to use org-mode. To track my time at work, I wrote some Vim macros and Perl scripts, but it could prove useful to determine how I can take advantage of org-mode to accomplish the task.
Hacking Your Health (David Uhlman)
As I wrote above, I’ve taken a keen interest in evolutionary health and fitness. As a geek, this session jumped right out at me. It didn’t disappoint. After a brief introduction to what the various measurements on a blood test mean, we were given a plethora of information on how to go about having tests run ourselves. The speaker has been involved in the health care industry, from various angles, for a number of years and spoke of the ins and outs of the system. He came off as quite knowledgeable and there was no shortage of questions from the audience. Now I know how to have a blood test run without the hassle of finding a doctor. Also cool: obtaining the raw data from a 3D body scan and using it to 3D print your own body parts.
The more amusing part of this session was the blood-alcohol guessing contest. Two volunteers were asked to have their BAC level tested, immediately consume an entire beer (beer is debatable: one drank a bottle of Corona, the other a bottle of Heineken), and finally test again after 45 minutes. The audience was to guess their final BACs, and a couple of lucky winners would receive health testing kits. One was an at-home blood type testing kit, the other was a hackable blood sugar tester. Apparently the latter is the only tester with Linux drivers available for it. For the curious, the final BAC for each volunteer was 0.00, though with the error margin for the testing device, it could have been as high as 0.02.
Honorary Mention: logstash – open source log processing and analytics (Jordan Sissel)
While I didn’t attend the logstash session, I find it worth mentioning, because seemingly everyone else did attend and afterwards it was all they could talk about.
After hearing the excited and constant flow of ideas from my colleagues about what they could do with logstash, I can’t say I blame them. My day job uses Splunk, I’ve become quite familiar with using its API, and it’s unlikely to be replaced anytime soon, so I have no real interest in logstash at this time. However, I’ve made note of it, just in case I do find a need for it in the future.
The Fun & Games
Instead of making the not-so-fun drive from San Diego to LAX, I take Amtrak from Oceanside to Union Station and the bus from there to LAX. The Hilton is a quick shuttle ride (or walk) from there. Besides avoiding traffic, this gives me the opportunity to have a few drinks on my way to the conference. This year, my selection included a four pack of Oaked Arrogant Bastard.
Once everyone had arrived at the hotel on Friday, we walked to the Proud Bird, where I enjoyed a rare prime rib. The meal left me full well past lunch on Saturday. This actually helped me avoid the overpriced buffet at breakfast on Saturday morning.
For dinner on Saturday, we continued our now-four-year-old tradition1 of walking to Aliki’s Greek Taverna for dinner. I highly recommend the lahanodolmades, the pronunciation of which I usually stumble over. Being the only meal I’d consumed that day, I was left a bit hungry. When one of my friends, who did not join us for dinner, expressed a desire for fries at Carl’s Jr., I jumped at the chance for a burger.
If I’d known that food and beer would be available at game night, I may have opted for that instead. As it turns out, street-style tacos were being served. There was a beer line, but I never found out what was being served; I ended up in the hotel bar for a couple of pints instead (Sierra Nevada). Later, I did go back to game night. Once we kicked some people, playing Just Dance, off the Wii, a few of us played Mario Kart until the rented equipment was packed up.
After all was said and done2 on Sunday, we headed home, stopping at the Yard House in Irvine for dinner and drinks. After the beer over the weekend, I opted for two pints of Woodchuck Amber cider.