Tuesday, June 4, 2013

BSDCan Trip Report: Warren Block

The next trip report is from Warren Block. He writes:

A two-day developer summit was held before BSDCan itself began.  On Wednesday, there were presentations to the whole group on the security incident last year and how NetFlix uses FreeBSD.  It's interesting to note that somewhere around 20% of North American internet traffic is served by NetFlix systems running FreeBSD.  Individual group meetings began in the afternoon, and I attended the UEFI boot session.  Beyond the topic of UEFI booting and FreeBSD, I found some people to help with creating a man page for gptboot.

That night, we had our first session of the "doc lounge" proposed last year by Dru Lavigne.  The concept was for a doc sprint, but also to be available for users and other developers who either wanted to see a specific correction to the documentation, or to have an introduction to start working on documentation themselves.

Thursday morning, I met with Peter N. M. Hansteen, author of the famous "Book of PF".  Several years ago, he submitted a patch to include a PF tutorial in the Handbook.  He mentioned it to me at BSDCan last year, and this year, we completed integrating it.  It will be committed to the Handbook after the upcoming release of FreeBSD 8.4.

That afternoon, the doc developer summit was held.  The biggest issue was ongoing work on a new print version of the Handbook.  Dru has done a tremendous amount of good work on this so far.  There is more to be done, and technical and social issues to address.  On other subjects, we also talked about important FreeBSD killer features that have not been well-documented or publicized in the Handbook or other documentation. Also mentioned were the need for more doc people and more translators.

On Friday and Saturday, the BSDCan presentations were given.  As usual, there is always a conflict with scheduling where multiple talks are held at the same time. Fortunately, the slides are online.  Even better, the good people of FOSSLC again recorded the talks, and they will be showing up on Youtube.  If you could not attend in person, this is the next best thing.

All the talks were good, but two in particular stood out for me.  The first was Allan Jude's talk on using Puppet to manage multiple FreeBSD systems.  Even if you are a fan of CFEngine or Chef, it's worth seeing for comparison.  If you aren't already using one of these automation systems, it's a great introduction.

The second talk that really made an impression was a summary by Justin Gibbs of what the FreeBSD Foundation has planned for the future.  Besides the phenomenal success of their fundraising in 2012, he detailed plans for the Foundation's expansion with more staff and more projects.  One point that I had not really understood before was what they meant when they said individual donations were needed, no matter the amount.  A few large corporate donors are fine if it's just about the total amount of money needed.  But the number of individual donors is also a way to tell hardware vendors the relative popularity of FreeBSD.  That's why every FreeBSD user should donate to the Foundation, even if it's just $5. Half-joking, I stood near the Foundation table and reminded people walking past without the "I donated" sticker that they should donate. To my surprise, every single person I talked to actually did stop and donate.  There was actually a sort of traffic jam at one point.  The Efika ARM notebook running FreeBSD--another Foundation-funded project--also attracted a crowd to the table.

The Friday night doc lounge was canceled due to a scheduling conflict with a BSDCan social event, but we had another session on Saturday night.  For me, that was the most successful.  Again, we had people with no experience with FreeBSD documentation show up.  The level of interest and the dedication shown was very interesting.  Clearly, people care, and we need to make it as easy as possible to contribute new content or patches for existing documents.

In many ways, I found the doc lounge to be the most valuable and educational part of the trip.  Trying to help a new person get the doc tools installed and working showed places where there is room for improvement, and there is always important feedback when working with people trying to use those tools for the first time.  There is also the "what's that?" factor, where one user sees another using a tool or technique they had not known about before.

BSDCan 2013 was hectic and packed full of content.  As always, it was well worth the trip.

People and groups to thank:

The FreeBSD Foundation, sponsors of my attendance at BSDCan this year.

Dan Langille, the person responsible for BSDCan.

Peter N. M. Hansteen, for his patience and help in getting the PF tutorial section for the Handbook completed.

FOSSLC  and Andrew Ross for their recording of presentations so those who could not be present have a chance to see them.

And finally, thanks to all the great people who attended.

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