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June 14th, 2015

SELF Saturday: Linux Under a ‘Carolina Blue’ Sky

The SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) was packed on Saturday, meaning that Jeremy Sands (who told me that day two is always much busier than opening day) knows SELF. Maybe I should’ve asked his advice when I was booking my room in Charlotte. Here’s what I learned on my own: There’s a big difference between a Red Roof and a Red Hat. The later is dependable. The former took three tries to get me into a room that was kinda/sorta what I’d reserved — with Wi-Fi that didn’t work more often than it did.

Francois Dion

Francois Dion giving his presentation as Jupiter Broadcasting handles live streaming in the foreground.

Back at SELF, the place was hoppin’ when I arrived at 8:30 in the morning, and the first presentation was still a half hour away.

Francois Dion’s keynote, “Team Near Space Circus: Computing at 80,000 Feet” was nothing if not fascinating, and I was happy to get filled in on the details of a story I knew a little about because it happened in my backyard, meaning the Winston-Salem, N.C. area (in Mocksville, if you’re planning to take the test).

He told the story of how a bunch of Python geeks put together and launched a helium filled high altitude balloon, filled with seven Raspberry PIs and eight cameras, and sent it up to the edge of the atmosphere — sort of like neighborhood geeks doing NASA on a shoestring (the whole thing cost only $1,500).

Indeed, the story sounded like something straight out of Apollo 13, as something went awry during the short flight, causing them to lose contact with their craft for a while. All ended well. Eventually the craft started talking again and they found it safe, sound and on the ground in southern Virginia, roughly fifty miles from the launch site.

David Nalley SELF

David Nalley giving his talk on the lack of proper maintenance of some important software projects at SELF 2015.

Next up for me was David Nalley’s talk, “The Tragedy of Open Source,” which was a little on the disturbing side. Remember Heartbleed, the OpenSSL vulnerability that had everyone worried last year? Nally started his talk by pointing out that when news of the vulnerability broke, there was exactly one person, and one person only, maintaining the OpenSSL code. Remember Shellshock, last year’s bash vulnerability? Want to guess how many folks were maintaining the bash shell when that broke out? If you guess “one,” you are correct. Do you see a trend developing here?

It seems that keeping the code we depend on maintained has come to resemble how we deal with our highways. We love to build new highways and bridges, but keeping the ones we have properly maintained and safe, not so much — it’s not sexy. Evidently this isn’t just affecting small projects. Nalley pointed to Git, where a single person has written 50 percent of the code over the last two years. Or Perl, where three people are writing over 50 percent of the code.

Luckily, something’s being done in the form of the Common Infrastructure Initiative. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.

After that, it was break time for me, so I roamed the halls and visited with some vendors. I stopped by the Linode table, a company that has been a SELF sponsor for years now, and got acquainted with Stormy Mayersky, a personable young lady the company had sent to work the table. I told her I’d be sure to give the company a plug in FOSS Force today, hoping this would help the suits who run the place see that investing in community events such as SELF is a good thing with a positive payoff. She gave me a really cool T-shirt, which I guess makes this paragraph a paid advertisement.

Speaking of which, high quality T-shirts seem to be the swag of choice at SELF this year. In addition to Linode, shirts are being handed out by Xenserver (really nice, with a three masted sailing ship logo), OpenNMS and Fossetcon (which will be having it’s second ever conference in Orlando in November). Anyway, I won’t have to spend any money at the Hanes’ store this year — at least not for T-shirts.

After lunch, I couldn’t help but attend “Raspberry PI Hacks,” even though I don’t really have much interest in the devices. So why did I attend? Because the presentation was being led by Ruth Suehle and Tom Callaway, and with those two it doesn’t matter what they’ll be talking about — you’re going to be entertained. Of course, it helps that the pair are experts on the Raspberry, having written the book Raspberry PI Hacks.

Then it was off to sit-in on Deb Nicholson’s workshop on software patent litigation. As expected, she was full of facts, with figures to back them up, of many of the dirty tricks employed by the trolls in their attempts to keep software unfree. Did you know that in Marshall, Texas, home of the infamous East Texas district court where juries nearly always side with patent holders, that Samsung has built for the fine people a public ice skating rink with their name all over it within site of the court house? Ah, what a wonderful, civic minded company, eh?

One fact offered by Nicholson that I found particularly interesting: While judges rule for patent holders in less than half the cases they see (even in Marshall), juries side with patent holders 66 percent of the time.

What’s up for Sunday at SELF? There are a few things that catch my eye: Clark Tomlinson with ownCloud will be making “A Case for Leaving Data Where It Is.” Also Red Hat’s David Cantrell will be recounting what I’m expecting to be a fascinating story in a talk called “Amateur Radio at the Boston Marathon.” Then there’s Brian Proffit’s presentation mentioned yesterday, “It’s Metaphors All the Way Down.” From what I gather about this one, it’ll apply Gertrude Stein’s observation that “there’s no there there” to the cyberworld.

There are other things going on Sunday too. Check your local listing.

If you couldn’t make it to this year’s SELF, you don’t have to feel left out. Videos of each and every SELF presentation are available online, thanks to hard work by the people with Jupiter Broadcasting.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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