Linux Northwest 2007 Wrapup

Long time no blog. Feeling a bit down lately, busyness, stress, life, work etc all sucking, so I’ve been pretty quiet. A nice change from that was Saturday myself, Dana, Wim and Tammie and Clayten went down to Linuxfest Northwest, the yearly geek fest down in Bellingham. Definitely not a place for non-geeks though… there was lots of heavy heavy geeking out going on šŸ™‚

We were a bit late getting down there due to border traffic, so I missed the Xen presentation given by Reverend Ted. I chose to be a complete bastard and not go to Dana’s presentation on strong authentication, and instead went to the Production Grade Scripting by Brian Martin. Quite a good presentation, though the first half was a bit slow. I was impressed with the way he set up his scripts and how output was filtered, and the shell of the script has all the fun stuff already set up to go.

Next on the list was OpenID which was kinda meh. Lots of interesting discussion about security afterwards, but since OpenID is still relatively new, and hasn’t really found it’s place in the world, it’s sort of hard to address what it does right and wrong when no one really knows where it’s going or what it’s trying to do (or rather, where it should be going).

Last and best IMHO was Stuart from Real networks talking about scaling web services, especially in relation to their Rhapsody online music service. Stuart was a really good speaker, no powerpoint, just him talking passionately about what he does, lots of joking and very high energy, moving from hyperbole to reality and then back to hyperbole again. A few things gleamed from the talk was:

  • “The same is better than better.” – IE: having a computer that is the same as the rest of the computers in the data center is much better than having one or two that are tweaked, or different in anyway. Obviously exceptions are going to happen, but if you’re rolling out 30 webservers, do you want them to be built automagically from script / PXE all exactly the same, or each one built by someone different with a slightly different configuration?
  • “A reactive sysadmin is better than a contemplative sysadmin.” – IE: Someone who has lower knowledge / training but who knows that when condition X happens hit button Y is better to have than someone who sits with his feet on the desk wondering why condition X happened….
  • “Document startup and shutdown procedures.” – Everyone needs to know how to take down a server, what it will affect, and what else needs to be done before after to it or other systems… nothing sucks more than “ooops, so that was tied into that system!” šŸ™‚
  • “Documentation sucks!” – Both hyperbole and truth. It’s written for the wrong reasons for the wrong people by the wrong people.
  • “People are idiots. You are an idiot.” – Ain’t that the truth! And knowing that, make sure that everything is scriptable so that you don’t have to rely on anyone knowing anything other than “hit this button when that happens”.
  • “Script everything!” – Similar to the ideas of Extreme Programming, where devs just need to hit a button and get a “everything ok” or “something wrong” indication. Since everyone is an idiot, no one should ever log into a server and type anything, and if they do it should be a script. I assume that at Real they have scripts run from web pages or something. Obviously way more important in larger scale installations of course.
  • Testing environments suck. – IE: you can spend $15m on a complete duplicate of your web service, but is it worth it? Basically all testing environments suck, and it sounds like at Real they basically poke at it and say “yup, it should work ok….”, then swap from test environment to production, and swap back the second that anything goes wrong.
  • … much more….

We also ran into a guy from the One Laptop Per Child project with a real OLPC laptop. Looked like a fisher price toy (or like the original iBook), but was super cool. Semi-sucky hardware (128mb ram, 100mb flash disk, geod processor) but it also has some neat stuff. High resolution screen, built in camera, wifi (with cute little ears) and the display has a black and white mode that is actually more readable the brighter it is outside (ie: you can use your laptop outside in the sun). It’s also running a stock (ish) fedora Linux distro, so you can even play around with it if you don’t have the hardware (which hardly anyone does) via LiveCD. It also sounds like the price will be about $175 USD, which is pretty cheap for a cool toy to play around with and hack on. There was a rumor that there was a “buy 2, get 1” deal where you pay for two OLPCs, got one and the other goes to someone who needs it, but that’s just a rumor.

Other than that the day was pretty uneventful. Other than a mishap driving home (apparently if you keep going north on the I-5 you don’t get to the 264th border crossing šŸ™‚ it was all home and I was back for a yummy dinner cooked by my loverly lady.