FOSDEM 2018 Diary

This was my first year attending FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developer’s European Meeting, that has been happily welcoming Open Source software enthusiasts and professionals since 2001. The schedule is simply huge, and features no less than 689 events over 8 main courses and 40+ developer rooms! Hopefully, all talks and conferences are filmed and later available at videos.fosdem.org (review status) so you can watch them later at home.

Overnumerousness. Yes, that is a word, and the joke does make sense!

Getting started – Getting around – Getting lost?

FOSDEM is hosted by Université Libre de Bruxelles, which can be reached easily by public transportation (STIB, Villo!), bipedal mammals and avian carriers.

FOSDEM 2018 ULB Campus Map

Beware, it’s easy getting lost! ‘specially when hanging around the U building; note also the European floor numbering.

You were here. Now you are lost.

Saturday

Though I initially planned to spend most of my time in developer rooms, this turned to be near-impossible (unless being an early bird) for some of them for which there was high demand: Containers, Go, Data Science, Monitoring and Cloud, etc.

Nevertheless, I made a quick detour to the cafeteria and grabbed the first coffee of a long series before joining the Mozilla room, where Gloria Dwomoh talked about the importance of creating inclusive teams where contributors feel welcome, notwithstanding their cultural or professional background. She showed several ways one can leverage cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence to establish a common ground between coworkers and encourage communication and sharing.

Next was Python Time™, with two talks focusing on getting high performance programs while keeping all the good syntactic sugar and high-level flexibility of the language.

Serge Guelton reviewed his last six years contributing to Pythran, a Python-to-C++ compiler that relies on annotations to turn Python modules into highly efficient native programs. He also reflected on how it feels to maintain Pythran over his free (and academic) time, while keeping it a fun and motivating experience for both contributors and users.

Still using ctypes to get your Python code to interact with native libraries? Come meet Cython, the optimising static compiler that turns Python code (and the Cython superset) into C code that is only waiting for your favourite compiler to bake it into nice native binaries! Stefan Behnel showed several examples of how Cython is used at TrustYou to build a review aggregator and recommendation platform, and demonstrated how much performance can be gained by moving from 1) a plain Python program, to 2) a plain Python program compiled with Cython, to 3) an annotated Cython program with static C type declarations (video, slides, Jupyter notebook).

~  ~  Lunch break  ~  ~

Digital Archaeology: the title of Steven Goodwin‘s talk sounds just like a cyberpunk, Information Age, Indiana Jones movie… and subtly suggests that despite the overwhelming growth of information technologies and the breakthroughs made since the last centuries in related fields, there still are some bits of our modern history that keep getting lost along the way -sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident. What about that piece of proprietary software that targeted a specific platform that’s no longer supported? Or those damaged, maybe near-unreadable data tapes? Steven discussed several ways of (re)discovering and preserving our digital heritage: reverse engineering, writing emulators, documenting everything, relying on Open Source standards. Bonus points for mentioning the missing Doctor Who episodes 😉

Elasticsearch, the full-text search engine based on Apache Lucene, has quickly turned into a major searching solution over the last few years, and its ecosystem has been evolving quite fast too: the Logstash log parser, the Kibana dashboard engine, the Beats data shippers, etc. -now known as the Elastic Stack. Philipp Krenn talked about the Elasticsearch (R)Evolution, or how Elastic (the company behind the software) and the community are managing the growth of both the platform and the variety of use cases Elasticsearch now tackles (slides).

ELK Stack! Get it?

Sunday

Did you follow LibreOffice‘s evolution since it was forked from OpenOffice, and the Document Foundation was created? A tremendous number of improvements and additions were brought to the office suite by its very active community: extensive code coverage, support for new document formats, quality assessment campaigns, and so on! Michael Meeks from Collabora Office highlighted some of the issues one might encounter when working with, and restructuring a giant, ancient codebase for new platforms: how to deal with spaghetti code written in mixed programming languages and toolkits, and aimed at targeting a variety of platforms and environments? (2013 event, interview, slides and video, 2015 presentation, 2018 event and slides)

~  ~  Lunch break  ~  ~

A couple years ago, Frank Karlitschek first announced he was leaving ownCloud, before unveiling the creation of a new project and company: nextCloud. The fork and accompanying announcements led to a number of speculations, discussions and interrogations among the community and user base, followed by a progressive exodus of the community towards nextCloud. At FOSDEM, he talked about the main motivations to fork his own project and company, namely: the importance of the community for a successful Open Source project, the ethical stakes in maintaining a self-hostable cloud solution, and how to get sustainable funding.

Michael Downey of the Digital Impact Alliance‘s Open Source Center talked about the efforts made to ensure sustainability of Open Source solutions, to help federating communities in developing countries, in domains such as healthcare (slides).

Pierros Papadeas from the Libre Space Foundation recalled the story of UPSat, the first Open Source satellite to be successfully deployed from the International Space Station; he went through the different steps involved in the making of UPSat: conceiving the hardware and software, prototyping, testing, manufacturing, and the final launch and deployment of the satellite (video, slides).

The closing keynote was presented by Jon Masters from Red Hat, and focused on the recently disclosed Meltdown and Spectre computer micro-architecture exploits, and how they are mitigated in the Linux kernel with the newly introduced retpoline construct (video, slides).

Impressions

Flying abroad to attend FOSDEM was a nice experience, I’m ready for next year! Now I have a ton of videos to watch for all those talks I didn’t attend 😀

Now going to be best friends with videos.fosdem.org