Friday, June 10, 2011

BSDCan Trip Report: Thomas Abthorpe

The Foundation recently sponsored Thomas Abthorpe to attend BSDCan 2011. Here is his trip report:

The first time I was privileged to attend BSDCan was in 2009, a generous sponsorship from the FreeBSD Foundation enabled me to attend. Of the many topics I could have reported on, I chose to identify the human aspect of FreeBSD, the people that make it happen, and why the Foundation sends developers to conferences.

To me, people are still the most valuable resource in the project. I have mentored in many committers to the ports tree, and at BSDCan 2011, I was pleased to learn that two of my mentees would be attending. Rene Ladan (rene@) and Baptiste Daroussin (bapt@) would be in Ottawa, and for the first time ever, I would meet my proteges face to face. Julien Laffaye had been collaborating with Bapt, and was here for the presentations. Our sense of camaraderie in IRC made the initial meeting feel like a well established friendship. Our travels around Ottawa became a standing joke, “A Canadian, Dutchman and a pair of Frenchmen walk into a ...”, from this you can make your own joke.

This year at BSDCan, the DevSummit was organised a little different than usuall It was done with break out groups forming into working groups and bringing together like minded people to get together and share ideas. As a porter, and member of portmgr@, my working group was the ports infrastructure. Erwin Lansing (erwin@), took the lead in organising this particular session, uniting porters and other interested parties. He asked me to deliver 15 minutes on the Licensing Infrastructure in the Ports tree.

Other speakers throughout the morning included Ben Haduk, presenting Athena Packing, Peter Losher from ISC with his wishlist for ports, and Will Andrew (will@) sharing his vision for ports. A brainstorming period was hosted by Erwin to illicit feedback from the crowd.

The particular, show stopping presentation of the day belonged to Baptiste Daroussin. Bapt, along with former GSoC student Julien Laffaye, offered to revolutionise the packaging infrastructure with libpkgng. Their reports will follow, I do not want to steal their thunder.

Suffice to say the morning session time that was allocated was not enough time considering the buzz and excitement around libpkng; an afternoon session was added to get all topic material included. More detailed plans were discussed on what would be needed to integrated libpkgng into the src base, along with feature requests and other tidbits of administrivia.

One thing that typifies our Information Age is electronic chatter. The hot topic of conversation during coffee and lunch was libpkgng; this was discussed face to face, in groups, and throughout IRC. There were even emails being circulated, particularly through the portmgr mailbox. A private conversation between Mark Linimon (linimon@) and Erwin declared that Bapt may be a valuable member on the
Ports Management Team, not just for his efforts on libpkgng, but for other ideas he has, including a new means of grouping OPTIONS in a port Makefile. The usual vote was held, and unlike the usual week to take care of business, within 24 hours the tally was in favour of adding a new member to portmgr.

Now that the vote was cast, all that remained was to ask Bapt if he was interested. For geographical reasons, this is normally done via IRC, but we had 3 port managers in Ottawa and this one could be done by an old fashioned press gang. It was agreed during the lunch break the three of us would sequester Bapt, and have the chat. Being the jokester that I am, I thought it would be amusing to instill Bapt with a sense of angst. In IRC, I told him privately that the two of us needed to have a “Man-toMan” chat at lunch. Grudgingly, he accepted. We met him in the hall, and we laid it on the line. Bapt graciously accepted and you can see it as YouTube's least viral video.

From this we had what I am told was a new record, 4 portmgr at one event. Not only was this worth celebrating, but was worth hosting an ad-hoc meeting. With the joys of modern technology, a video conference was setup with Florent Thoumie (flz@), Ion-Mihai Tectcu (itetcu@), and Martin Wilke (miwi@). Yet another first. In this meeting, we were able to share the success stories of the Ports Working Group, libpkgng, plus talk other business.

Every night after supper, I took the opportunity to return to the Hacker Lounge for a time of visiting and hacking. This was a great relaxed venue to just sit back and do as much or as little as you wanted! Human nature what it is, hackers in the lounge flocked together based on their commit bits, src guys there, doc guys there, and ports guys here. One could do an interesting sociological study in there!

Prior to BSDCan, I organised a Facebook event called “portmgr appreciation week”. This was a self serving event to encourage committers to close PRs, perform an act of hospitality for a portmgr or whatever people felt appropriate. Friday night a group of us brought beverages into the lounge and took up a collection. We declared this the “portmgr appreciation week donation fund” and turned over the proceeds at the Foundation Desk Saturday morning.

If BSDCan 2011 had ended on Thursday for me, I could still have considered the event an overwhelming success. But this was just the pre-conference, the real thing was to start on Friday! As usual Dan Langille and friends did a great job organizing the event.

With some assistance from my portmgr peers, we composed a little thank you to the FreeBSD Foundation for their generous grants which brought us together. I would personally like to thank the Board for this wonderful opportunity to be able to travel to Ottawa and participate in this year's BSDCan.

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