Tuesday, June 5, 2012

BSDCan Trip Report: Warren Block

The next trip report is from Warren Block:

I arrived Tuesday night and met Glen Barber and Benedict Reuschling, my FreeBSD mentors, for the first time in person.  Many well-known FreeBSD Big Names were there already.

On Wednesday morning, the FreeBSD developer summit began.  We split into working groups, and I attended the documentation group.  Hiroki Sato talked about the welcome conversion of the doc repository from CVS to SVN.  We talked about work on a new print version of the Handbook and about ways to encourage translations of the documentation to some of the more popular languages that are missing, particularly Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.  We also talked about making documentation versioned, with different books or possibly just different sections for, say, FreeBSD 8 and 9.  Bludgeoning the projector into submission allowed me to give a live demonstration of igor (textproc/igor), a documentation proofreading tool that aims to make writing easier for documentation authors.  The three-hour session went by quickly.

Wednesday afternoon was a tutorial on PF by Peter Hansteen.  My suspicion was that I was not using it to full potential, and it turns out I was right.

Thursday morning, Eric Crist and Thomas Johnson gave a tutorial on OpenVPN.  This was something I'd been curious about, and the presentation showed that using OpenVPN really was surprisingly simple.

Thursday afternoon, the working groups presented summaries.  Much was accomplished, and time limits frequently cut off the reports.

BSDCan talks began on Friday.  There were four separate tracks with compelling talks in each, and choosing was somewhat difficult. Fortunately, the talks were recorded, both audio and the video output from the projector, and are being put on Youtube.

My half-hour presentation, called "Automated Documentation Proofreading", was about the need, design goals, and use of igor.  In spite of the title, a full crowd showed up, and the presentation went well. Afterwards, Rob Gigliotti suggested using antispam software for analysis of writing, and Jeremy Reed suggested the use of traditional Unix tools like style(1) and diction(1).

Some of the crowd at my presentation may have just been waiting for Bjoern Zeeb's "Kernel Debugging Tricks" talk, which followed mine in the same room.  It was standing room only, and the debugging advice applicable to more than just kernel debugging.

Later that day, Andrew Pantyukhin's "FreeBSD Unified Deployment and Configuration Management" was really thought-provoking.  He has a smart and lightweight approach, worth considering even if you only have a few computers rather than hundreds.

Saturday began with Tom Judge's "Building a FreeBSD based Virtual Appliance", using a combination of methods and technologies that could be really useful to all sorts of FreeBSD users.  Also touched on was the FreeBSD Admin project, the web-based admin code from FreeNAS split out into a separate, reusable component.

Saturday afternoon, Baptiste Daroussin presented a standout talk describing the new pkgng package management system.  I'd heard of it but not tried it.  There were demonstrations of equivalents with the current package system, showing that pkgng really will not have much of a learning curve.  When he showed how packages in a jail could be upgraded easily from outside the jail, the audience broke into applause.  This happened several more times, followed by thunderous applause at the end.

Sunday, another conference was held with documentation groups from FreeBSD, the PostgreSQL project, and other interested parties.  Although there were a few problems with rooms and the availability of network connections, there were constructive discussions on translation software, difficulties checking out the doc tree (to be made easier with svn), encouraging submission of doc bug reports (possibly by "gamifying" them with points or a karma system), keeping submitters involved so bug reports don't seem to go into a black hole, and possibly having a "doc lounge" where documentation committers would help fix doc bugs at FreeBSD events as you wait.  Interaction with other projects can be very symbiotic.  We should do it more.

Throughout the dev summit and BSDCan, a "hacker lounge" was available where people could get together and just work on things, and they did, often skipping sleep.

Meeting so many FreeBSD dignitaries was amazing.  As Ivan Voras (who I also met) says on his blog, "It is very close to an ideal meritocracy."

My thanks to the FreeBSD Foundation for their assistance with a travel grant, and to Benedict Reuschling and Glen Barber for patiently enduring my endless questions.

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