This is what I found at FOSDEM

FOSDEM

FOSDEM is considered the best European conference about open source. I knew that before I participated first time this year, but still was impressed. This year’s edition had an astonishing number of 22 tracks. Most of them (though not all) last for one day, and having a look at the schedule might give you a headache.

After a weekend spent on talks, discussions, and waiting in line to squeeze into the more popular devrooms, I prepared a digest of what I found interesting. (or where I managed to squeeze into) Fortunately (and impressively!) FOSDEM talks (a bit over 510) were recorded and should be available at http://video.fosdem.org/ soon.

Chef’s Sean O’Meara gave an overview of configuration management. It was a good refresher for those more advanced and a useful introduction for people with less experience. Sean talked about the difference between convergence and idempotence and stressed to use these two terms correctly, showed the importance of writing configuration in the correct order (to make sure the code is idempotent) and reminded to always pull, never push. Sean’s presentation and recording aren’t online yet, but you can check out code he wrote for FOSDEM to illustrate his points here.

You might enjoy the „The classification problem” talk by Marco Marongiu. Marco shared his experiences of the pitfalls of internal classification, how exceptions are the unavoidable norm and talked about CFEngine.

Michael Ducy from Chef talked about cross-distro automation. He showed how delivering everything together while abstracting away from the implementation is the way to go.

I did not manage to grab a seat at the „Metadata ocean in Puppet and Chef” talk, where Marc Cluet from Rackspace presented best practices of organizing metadata, so I’m looking forward to the video.

Peter Chanik’s lightning talk might interest you in syslog-ng, a tool that customizes log messages (but that’s putting it very simple, you should probably visit their website).

James Turnbull of Docker shared results of his observations of OSS communities during his „Software Archaeology for Beginners” keynote. Being a seasoned member of the OS community, you might not experience the problems he touched on as often as people new to OS, sometimes overwhelmed by existing trolling and not-always-transparent decision processes or poor documentation. He advised to get to know a community before submitting any changes, to ask contextual questions, to over-share (dumps and logs!) and keep comments as positive as possible, as this easily isolates trolls and bike-shedding. He also suggested that the biggest help might not always come from developing a new feature: fixing broken tests or updating outdated or scarce documentation might be even more welcome.

Florian Gilcher talked about unicorns: those mystical creatures that exist, just like good, article-style technical documentation. Florian asks interesting questions and goes through a few solutions.

What I found positively surprising was a whole track committed to building more energy-efficient software. Looking for ways to minimize the energy consumption of a device was always considered to be a domain of the „hardware people”. Jeremy Bennet from Embecosm and Kerstin Eder form the University of Bristol talked about initiatives aiming to raise awareness and conducting research to support innovation in energy-efficient software. The energy-efficient computing devroom hosted some noteworthy talks. You should check out MAGEEC and ENTRA.

The FOSDEM conference wouldn’t be possible without a hundred volunteers, a team of organizers and sponsors. Participating was a last-minute decision for me and I’d regret very much if I decided not to. It was impossible to see everything I found interesting (for example the legal-policy issues track), so video recordings are invaluable. Summing up: watch out for next year’s edition!


A brief look at Eurucamp 2013

Starting a day after jRuby conf and held by the lovely Müggelsee lake in South-East Berlin, this year’s Eurucamp was a well balanced mix of talk and play. Kudos to the lovely organizers team for an extended lunch break that made it possible to enjoy the (probably) last days of summer.

The conference was opened with an inspiring keynote by Joseph Wilk. You can see the slides to “Can Machines Be Creative” here. Wilk showed numerous examples of teaching computers to do things humans would consider creative if they were done by other humans, raising important questions about the role of technology in art, and beyond. Other conference talks quite evenly touched on technical, abstract and community issues. Here’s what I picked:

Michael Grosser encouraged using the airbrake_tools and air_man libraries to debug more effectively. Both of them log, prioritize and trace exceptions. Additionally, air_man allows to run airbrake_tools constantly, sends emails about exceptions and assigns people to them, so nothing gets lost and not taken care of. Michael also showcased his library request_recorder for effective and friendly logging. Request_recorder sits in your application’s stack and stores the full log; it also comes with a Chrome extension. You can see the whole presentation here.

As far as logging is concerned, Matthias Viehweger shared some useful tips. Most important message: never raise your log level globally — you’ll start treating everything as noise faster than you know it.

Arne Brasseur talked about web linguistics and why we should stop using strings to handle structured data. You should check out the slides for valuable insights into web security (and refreshing graphic representations).

If you’re striving to be a better programmer, Eurucamp gave you the opportunity to listen to three inspiring talks. Joanne Cheng, who’s a developer working at Thoughtbot, talked about how Ruby Processing helped her become a better programmer. Her talk is not online yet, but if you’re a beginning or intermediate programmer, always wanted to be an artist, or you just like seeing the effects of your work straight away, you ought to learn about Ruby Processing and go make some art. You should also visit the Processing website.

Ellen König presented most effective learning techniques. We all know that learning is important and that all of us should develop our skills constantly, but picking the right thing we’d like to get better at, setting goals and getting there may not be as easy as we think. Fortunately, Ellen got that covered. Watching Floor Drees‘ talk “What I learned learning Rails” is a good wrap up. You can watch the slides and/or read her talk.

Also worth checking out: Drew Neil‘s “Modelling state machines with Ragel”.

I’d like to finish with linking to a great Eurucamp talk made by Ashe Dryden. Ashe spoke about diversity in our programming community and quoted some powerful statistics. In her talk she goes through some important concepts that we should keep in mind. Did you know that women make up for only 3% of OSS contributors, but at the same time they’re 73% of Bulgaria’s computer science students? Read Ashe’s slides to learn more and find ideas to make your community more diverse.