What to See at OSCON 2008

By chromatic
July 21, 2008

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OSCON 2008 begins today. As usual, there's too much to see and to do and too many people to talk to for anyone to cover everything. O'Reilly News interviewed Allison Randal, co-chair of the conference, to get a sample of what she considered interesting as she put together the program.

We're here talking today with Allison Randal, co-chair of O'Reilly's Open Source Conference going on in Portland, Oregon. We're here to get some idea of what's going on in the world of Open Source, what to expect from OSCON and what's interesting to Allison.

Allison, what's interesting with OSCON this year?

Some of the biggest thing's we tried to catch were mobile technology. That's very big in Open Source right now, well not just Open Source, in the world at large. But, in Open Source there is a lot of action in using Linux as the embedded...

The driver for embedded platforms? Like on the OpenMoko phone, Maemo devices, maybe Android, and things like the iPhone?

And things like Intel's MID. Ubuntu has launched their own mobile-embedded distribution.

Probably called Ubuntu Mobile, right?

I think they're calling it Ubuntu ME.

That's a terrible name.

Yeah. Its targeted at mobile devices; not particularly at phones, because the Intel Mid is not a phone appliance; but it is a portable internet appliance.

Like the Nokia tablets, the N800, or the Asus Eee PC?

The small portable devices with connectivity of some sort, whether they include a phone or not. They are huge right now. We actually added a full one-day event specific for all technology. It's going to be on Monday of the conference.

Did vendors give you any cool swag for that?

I don't know. I don't pay attention to swag.

Maybe you should get swag.

They probably did.

What else? There was a nice hardware hacking track last year. Do you have something similar this year?

Yes, we have a tutorial on Arduino — which is ...

$90, easy to program, cool stuff!

Yeah, hardware kit in a box. There is also a session on RepRap, which is a company built on top of Arduino, hardware printing essentially.

Hardware printing, like 3D printing and fabs?

3D printing of components.

You can feed in your own materials and it prints a circuit for you?

No, it's not that level of printing. Printing out components for using in machines, that sort of thing. Not metal yet, plastic.

Filled with resistors and diodes?

They're filled with plastic. They will have it so you can fill it with metal. Right now you just fill it with a stick.

Okay, it's just a 3D printer, basically a machine without having to do molds and mold injection, the convergence of software and hardware. What's interesting in the world of software in terms of broad themes?

We have the usual tracks that are divided by language, a strong Perl track, Python track, Ruby track, PHP track, those four are all — so we have two full days of content for each of those languages. We also have a Linux track, one day is devoted more to desktop Linux and the other day is devoted more to internals of Linux administration versus topic s like virtualization.

Did you pull the Linux track from the Ubuntu conference?

No! We have two full days of Linux content and we also added, three full days (Friday is a half day anyway), one room dedicated to the Ubuntu content that we pulled from the Ubuntu Live conference. It actually gives us five days of Linux related content.

Crammed into three days!

Again, with Ubuntu it's one day that's more desktop related; one day that's more related to using Ubuntu in the enterprise and Ubuntu users across multiple systems throughout a large company installation.

You added a Java track, last year or the year before. Is that still in place?

We do have two full days of Java content as well. We have a session on comparing Groovy and Ruby; Groovy and JRuby.

Two similar language implementations running on the JVM.

A session on Spring 2, about some of the latest features in Spring.

A programming framework for Java web applications.

And also SimpleJDBC development with Spring and MySQL.

Anything on open source Java? It looks like something's about to finish opening the source to Java.

Yes, we have Dalibor Topic's session on JDK, but we don't have a general update on Java.

Open Java, or open Java processes, or things like that? What about some of the other languages, what topics are interesting to you, and you accepted sessions for them, say Perl, Python, Ruby, PHP?

Ruby has a couple of interesting things on Rails; but we focused a lot this year on the new stuff in Ruby. Metaprogramming is very interesting. We have several sessions on metaprogramming in Ruby.

I bet you had dozens of submissions to talk about metaprogramming in Ruby.

We did. We picked the best tutorial, so that's like a half tutorial, and we picked the best session on metaprogramming. There are a couple of interesting cross-topic Ruby talks. One on controlling electronics with Ruby and one on real-time computer vision using Ruby.

Sounds very interesting. Who's giving that one?

[Jan Wedekind]. Also a couple of State of talks on what to expect from Ruby 1.9 and on IronRuby.

Do you have John Lam talking about IronRuby?


Last year, some of the best sessions were on Haskell. Do you have Simon Peyton-Jones this year?

Not Simon. We have . . .

Bryan O'Sullivan?


Excellent. He's one of the co-authors of our upcoming Real World Haskell as a matter of fact.

Yes. There was a method in the madness. We have several unusual talks along those lines. We also have a tutorial on Erlang.

Is that Joe Armstrong?

Francesco Cesarini.

Is it a general introduction to Erlang, something specific like using Erlang with Mnesia, everything you should know about Erlang, but take back to your own language or something else?

It's a basic introduction, specifically on sequential and concurrent aspects of Erlang.

Is it tutorial or session?

That's a tutorial. We also have a session on beautiful concurrency with Erlang with Kevin Scaldeferri from Yahoo!

I've seen that talk. It's good. That leaves our main standards, which are Perl, Python, and PHP.

Let's do a quick review of Perl. We have the obligatory Perl 6 update with Larry Wall and Damian Conway.

By Christmas?

Some Christmas.

We won't tell you which Christmas it is.

A good tutorial on mod_perl 2, Perl Security Practices, that's interesting, and Strawberry Perl.

Strawberry Perl, for those of you who don't know, is a new Perl distribution for Windows users. It includes things like a minimal compiler so you can install and compile XS modules on Windows, and use CPAN like those of us who are fortunate to use Unix-like systems. Adam will give a good talk on that. If you're lucky, I think it will be off the device, so you don't have to install it on your hard drive. You can install it on Windows.

That will be cool! Also some talks on Moose, sort of an overlay object system for Perl.

Sort of the best ideas of the Perl 6 plus some interesting techniques stolen lovingly from other object systems.

Then Patrick Michaud [and Jerry Gay] will talk about Rakudo which is Perl 6 implemented on Parrot. Tim Bunce, famous developer of DBI will talk about [Perl code profiling], and of course the Perl lightning talks.

The most fun lightning talks anywhere!

The best ones I've seen, except possibly for _why the lucky stiff.

Did you have him here back this year?

No, not this year.

That's unfortunate; that was possibly my favorite OSCON talk ever. I can't say I've learned a lot, but it was very entertaining.

Have to keep a little variety.

Any other puppet shows this year at OSCON?

No guarantee.

Maybe for the lightning talks. Sign up now.

For PHP, we have Rasmus Lehrdorf talking about architecture, scalability, and security. That one is a half day tutorial. That should be interesting.

Do you know if he's going to show off the security scanner that he's been working on at Yahoo?

I don't know, I hope so. And Laura Thomson is talking about writing beautiful code in PHP. That's the general theme of OSCON, of not just techniques for writing, but how to become a better programmer. Not just in PHP, but in all languages. Top Ten Scalability Mistakes, by John Coggeshall, is one of our most popular sessions so far.

He used to write for me. He's a smart guy. He knows his PHP backwards and forwards.

And then Wez Furlong is going to talk about creating Cocoa apps with PHP, another cross-over open source in the mainstream. Python, I have an introduction to Django tutorial which is very interesting.

Probably well attended? Seems to be one of Python's biggest applications these days.

Another talk on design patterns in Python by Joe Gregorio from Google. Anthony Baxter, also from Google, is going to be giving a talk on Python 3.0 which is the upcoming major release they're working towards right now.

They're supposed to be releasing a new beta around the time of OSCON.

That would be perfectly timed.

With an eye towards a general release of a September/October timeframe. It's a good time to brush up on Python if you want to upgrade to Python 3.0. What about keynotes this year? I know some of them have been hit and miss in previous years? But there've also been some great ones — Steve Yegge last year on branding and marketing for geeks.

That was hilarious. That was even better than we expected.

It was great. It was mostly off the cuff because his slides didn't work!

Dick Hardt a couple years ago talking about identity and why that matters. Anything you think might come up this year? r0ml?

Tuesday night, which is the opening session for OSCON, is open to the general public. Anyone can show up for that. We have Shuttleworth, and r0ml, and Damian Conway.

Do you have any idea of what they're going to talk about? I can imagine Damian Conway will talk about Latin or ancient history or dead software. Mark Shuttleworth--no idea. r0ml, the entire history, possibly vegetables.

r0ml is exceptional at explaining embrace error.

Damian's is a mouthful. Temporally Quaquaversal Virtual Nano-machine Programming in Multiple Topologic Connected Quantum Relativistic Parallel Time Spaces Made Easy.

He's using Perl 6 for that. We added an operator for that, just the other day.

The one character operator.

What about Mr. Shuttleworth?

I don't know what he's going to be talking about actually. It should be interesting whatever it is.

What about the morning Keynotes? What's worth waking up and going to downtown Portland early in the morning for?

I'm just going to go through it one day at a time. Wednesday, the first day, Christine Peterson who works for the Foresight Institute....

She's the person who coined the term Open Source.

Exactly. And she's going to be talking about Open Source physical security as well as a little bit about the history of how open source got started.

And that's interesting because the Foresight Institute is really interested in Nano-technology. I imagine physical security is interesting to people who don't want the Gray Goo situation.

On Intel, we've got Imad Sousou talking about Moblin. Again, hitting on that mobile technology. Moblin is Intel's Linux for mobile devices.

It's also the name of one of the enemies in the legend of Zelda if I recall correctly. That's an interesting coincidence.

Tim O'Reilly is going to interview Monty Widenius and Brian Aker.

From MySQL.

Also from Sun now, if I understand correctly.

One of the topics is going to be the merger and how the company is going now, and what we can expect to see from MySQL in the future.

Brian proposed this talk. I saw his proposal. He said, "There's a big debate here", which is a classic understatement for, "you don't want to miss this session." There's going to be a big argument. It's going to be very interesting I think. Not necessarily between Monty and Brian, but there are definitely going to be some interesting topics.

I expect so.

I'll set my alarm for Wednesday morning at least.

On Thursday morning, we've got Keith Bergelt, who's the new CEO of the Open Invention Network. that is a group that is taking a contribution of patents from a variety of companies like IBM and Red Hat and [creating] a portfolio in the defense of Linux.

Any Open Source software developer is free to use these patents royalty free. But if a business decides to sue a user or developer, then we have these other patents we can use defensively against them?

Basically, although at the moment they're only granting the patents specifically for Linux. It's not for other Open Source projects. They're starting with a focused zone and they're working their way up from there.

I heard there was some controversy over that. It'll be interesting to see that talk.

Yeah. So come prepared with your questions for Keith and ask why they're not supporting other Open Source projects yet. We've got Peter Salus, who is involved with all the early days of Unix. Peter is a linguist and a historian. He's currently writing a book on the history of Unix and Linux.

That could be a sleeper talk, like the George Dyson talks of a couple years ago.

Sleeper as in your 15 minutes to rest during the morning keynotes?

Sleeper as in, the talk title didn't give me any indication that this is going to be a great hit. It's going to be a wonderful talk.

Anniversaries. He calls it anniversaries. This is going to be the 10th anniversary of the term Open Source.

Well it's the 10th anniversary of OSCON anyway.

It is! The first OSCON was in the fall and the term was coined at a meeting in early spring. They're talking a little bit about technology as it developed.

Like I said, it could be the sleeper hit of the conference.

Danese Cooper talking about why whinging doesn't work.

That's "whining" for us Americans.

Yes. It's not quite like whining. Whining implies a high pitched voice. Whinging is just complaining in an excessive way. It may not be in a high pitched voice.

She gave a different version of it at SCALE, the Southern California Linux Expo, and in that particular talk, it was for the Women in Open Source Panel, just complaining about why things don't work, or complaining about not getting the respect you deserve and not really doing anything. The important thing to do is live as if the future is here today.

Sort of a categorical imperative for people who really can change the world?

Something like that.

That's interesting. This moment of Kantian Philosophy brought to you by the letter Q and the numbers 3 and 7.

On that note, the final talk of the day is Nat Torkington, on spawning the next generation of hackers. He's been doing a lot of really interesting things teaching children, the ages of 8-10, teach them to program using Squeak and he also used some online programming interface which I cannot remember at the moment.

He's writen a couple of times on the O'Reilly Radar about this, so if you look back at his archives you should be able to see some interesting information. What's on for Friday?

Benjamin Mako Hill, who's helped on Ubuntu and OLPC and various other interesting projects...

Creative commons...

Free Software Foundation. He currently lists himself as affiliated with the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. Mako's talking about advocating software freedom by revealing errors.

Sounds like a call back to r0ml.

The theme of anti-patterns has been a strong one this year: the idea of learning from mistakes or knowing by example what you shouldn't be doing.

Showing by bad example.

Then Dawn Nafus, who is an Anthropologist who works for Intel, explores the ways that our culture predisposes us to not see opportunities. Or to not see how technology can and will be used in third world countries and even in first world countries as they develop and change.

That's the attitude that some people have. Why are you spending millions of dollars to send laptops to Libya? Why don't you send them food anyway? Which is sort of a wrong kind of attitude because there's not really widespread starvation in Libya.

I don't think she would say that's her particular area. I'd say her area is more "Why do certain kinds of cell phones sell better in third world countries?" Sam Ramji from Microsoft talking about Open Source heroes. I paired Sam up with Dawn intentionally. Sam has a degree in cognitive psychology and has some very unique perspectives on the use of technology.

Tim Bray is going to talk about why dynamic languages are going to take over the world. Dynamic languages would be Python, PHP, Perl, Ruby, Lua.

Then, Jeremy Ruston from British T Design telecom is going to give a talk on learning from airports.

Also learning from errors and failures.

Anti-patterns again.

Is he responding to Heathrow?

I'm guessing so.

Poor guy.

Those are probably the big topics. There's a few one offs. NASA and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory talking about searching for neutrinos with Open Source.

Open Source software in satellite science data processing at NASA. Essentially some of the ways that NASA is using Open Source software internally.

I heard they actually have a modified version of Eclipse that lets the schedule processing jobs and decide which mission components to run at various times throughout the day, with things like the recent Mars Phoenix mission.

Creating Open Source electronic hardware with open source software.

Who's giving that?

Tom Anderson from Agilent. Oh! Here's an interesting session. Zak Greant is going to talk about greening the conference circuit, so ways that we can make our conferences more environmentally friendly.

I heard he's actually whittling a kayak to haul himself all the way from Europe over to Portland for that. He needs to be leaving right about...

Two years ago, though actually I think he lives in Canada.

We've got a session with Cliff Schmidt and a few others about using Open Source software, open content, open hardware, and open curricula in education.

Is that education in the US, or in other countries?

All of the world. That's hardware and content combinations. Very inexpensive hardware. We're not talking $100 laptops. We're talking MP3 players, and very inexpensive hardware that can be used to promote literacy around the world.

Let me ask you a procedural question then. How do you and Edd decide what to feature? Do you go out and search on topics? Do you look at all your submissions and say "Huh, everyone did something cool last year and they want to talk about how not to do this again this year?" Do you chase down people? Do you get suggestions coming in--I don't want to give a talk but you should really go talk to this person? How do you do that?

the bulk of the talks do come in in the initial proposal round. We get over 700 proposals every year to fill about 150 to 170 spaces.

There's a one in five chance of getting accepted. That's pretty good.

It's pretty good. From the initial proposal round we pick the talks that are just the best in general—Speakers that are known to be really good, proposals that you know, you read through it and you're just like "yeah, we've got to see it that talk." We start there and then we also look for particular trends that are currently going on, Either things that we've tracked through the O'Reilly Radar or just things that we know are particularly hot right now. We scan through the proposals and pick, if we have a good talk on a topic that we want, we'll pick it from the proposals. If we don't have a good proposal on a particular topic, then we'll actually go out and we'll ask people that we know are involved in that project or connected to that general issue or topic.

If we don't get a good proposal, then we will request a talk from someone that we know is qualified to give a good talk on that subject. It usually ends up being about 75 percent of the talks come from the proposals, and about 25% we request for a specific topic. You do kind of get, I mean aside from our own trend-tracking activity, you do get a sense from the proposals that come in...you start to get a sense of, this is what is on people's minds in the open source community this year. Like the fact that this year meta-programming and anti-patterns are two things that we got way more proposals than we could possibly use. You could almost fill a whole conference on meta-programming or a whole conference on anti-patterns just because of it. But, we picked the best talk representing something that's significant to people's minds right now.

You could almost create a conference called, "You're doing it wrong?" I'll leave that to our listeners and readers to decide whether that means metaprogramming or anti-patterns.

I don't think people would pay to go to it, but an entertaining Bar Camp, a you're doing it wrong camp.

FAIL camp.

FAIL camp! Oh, I like that.

What really really surprised you this year? What came in and you said, "Oh my goodness. We've never had this on our agenda. We have to hear about this." PHP and Cocoa? That's kind of weird.

That is. That's an interesting one.

That's kind of a cool hack.

We have one on PLUTO: PL/SQL unit testing for Oracle, that looked fascinating. It's something I've never run across before.

David Wheeler, who lives here in Portland just enabled PL/SQL testing with PostgreSQL. He ported some of Perl's testing tools for his PL/SQL or PgPL/SQL. I've seen him give a talk on that and it was pretty amazing. You write your tests in SQL. You run your tests in SQL, but you use the same protocol, you use the same formats, you use the same tools that you use to manage your tests in Perl and all of a sudden you've used that much more of your application. Really interesting. There are also PHP and Java Script ports of these tests and protocols as well, so it's not just Perl and it's not just PostgreSQL. I wonder if this is similar to that. It'd be very interesting.

Call that a general trend right now. Actually unit testing your SQL code, which is a good trend. Jesse Vincent's talking about Prophet. That should be an interesting one. It's a peer to peer distributed database.

He's been very reticent about that.

It'll be be a revelation because there's not a whole lot of public information about it, but it's a very cool idea.

He and a coworker, I think CLKAO, hid themselves out for two weeks to write this system. I want to talk about it.

There's a lot of stuff on Open Source and the international market. Talks on Open Source in China...

China, India, Brazil...

We have one panel called Open Source/Open World. Danese put that together, and it's a whole bunch of people from Open Source all over the world describing what's going on. NPR is going to be talking about an API that they've developed, driving NPR.org.

In the United States. That's really interesting, because you can see Auntie Beeb in the UK doing something similar.

They're developing Open Source software and releasing it back out into the wild.

Interesting. Things like Django actually came out of Adrian's desire to actually have more participatory journalism and to bring programming to journalists. Do you think that's an interesting trend that will accelerate? Media companies becoming more open and participating in the development of free software?

I think so. For one thing, to see the successes of BBC, NPR and the New York Times, I think it will give other media organizations more confidence to come out.

Don't forget about the whinging, of course. The BBC's putting its video content online in a way that everybody who's using Windows can view and nobody who's not using Windows can view. If I were paying a TV tax and I couldn't watch my TV, I might be a little upset. There are two sides to that. You have to engage with the community, but if you do it wrong, they'll tell you.

That actually stands to the advantage of the media company. If they can get feedback from users, you know in general, they seem to benefit from going ahead and releasing their software and getting public to come and donate to... I don't know how many contributions they get back. I suspect, not that many.

Like any open source project. Obviously.

Users are always a much higher percentage. Another interesting trend this year, which isn't surprising considering this is an election year, is quite a lot of submissions for Open Source Software in the political process. Moveon.org, one from Benjamin Mako Hill on voting, open source voting software, and another one from PudgePerl for Political Campaigns.

Remember, he stuffed the ballot box years ago, so maybe we'll have to have to FEC come to watch that talk for him, or at least Jimmy Carter.

I got distracted by his talk description. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that not all tools are created equal. That we are endowed with certain useful tools, that among these are Perl, MySQL, and Mac OS X."

Well he's 2/3s right anyway, right?

Open Solaris and Intel — greybeards no more!

Who's giving that one?

Dave Stewart from Intel.

I thought Dave did have a gray beard.

We have some stuff on Hadoop that's interesting. Hadoop with EC2 and HDFS.

Hadoop File System?

File System, yes.

Is that implemented in terms of FUSE or something else?

That's an interesting question. I can't tell you. You'll have to ask Sanjay Radia from Yahoo.

Hadoop of course is the Open Source rendition of Google's famous MapReduce algorithm. Which isn't really Google proprietary really, it's something people already knew before then, but they made it really famous. Or famouser.

By using it on very large scale data.

Any closing thoughts, you want to have our listeners and readers keep in mind as they think about going to OSCON this year? Or curse the fates for not allowing them to go to OSCON this year.

It's going to be a huge party, a big celebration for our 10th anniversary.

Now something to tell our bosses so they can all get permission to go?

If you can only go to one conference this year, go to OSCON, because it is the best of all Open Source conferences.

How about "Open up your brain with a crowbar and stuff in as much information as you'll hold and then we'll sew you back together and send you on your way like some deranged, demented Frankenstein--with 20% more productivity."

I'm sure their bosses will love that.

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