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LinuxConf Tasmania 2009: Devils, Schoolgirls, Never Reboot Again, Geekcars, and More

Klingons, Sugar, Accessibility, Computing Without Electricity

January 29, 2009

This is your faithful correspondent, reporting from LinuxConf Australia (LCA) in Hobart, Tasmania, where it's been an eventful week packed with Linux information.

The week started with two days of "miniconfs" on topics ranging from kernel development to system administration to gaming to women in Linux. Miniconfs are less formal than the main conference, and they usually include good discussion sessions.

On Monday, I divided my time between the kernel miniconf and the LinuxChix miniconf. The kernel talks included good discussions of details like the difficulties of parallel programming and the problems involved with ACPI handling. Over at the LinuxChix miniconf, we listened to useful talks like Jacinta Richardson's "On Speaking", a discussion session on how to get more schoolgirls involved with computers, and a seminar on "Geek Parenting." LinuxChix and Google also hosted a barbecue lunch. I also heard lots of good reports from the System Administration miniconf.

Miniconfs continued on Tuesday. Again, I heard good reports from the sysadmin miniconf, and there were also miniconfs on topics including multimedia, virtualization, and "Free as in Freedom", the last including talks on copyright law, how to convince outsiders of the benefits of free software, citizen reporting and how to avoid getting sued, and the problem of freeing geographic and mapping data.

The regular conference talks began on Wednesday. Keith Packard reported on improvements in X since this time last year: there have been a surprising number of improvements, including a new mechanism called GEM to help in sharing data between X and the kernel. It isn't usable on all graphics cards yet, but if and when it is it should help performance quite a bit. Packard's co-worker Carl Worth followed up with a highly useful discussion of how to debug the Linux graphics pipeline.

For those not interested in the gory details of X, a talk in the same time slot by Thomas Sprinkmeier on "Remote Management System. Really Remote" discussed the problems of communicating with computers in locations so remote that they lack not only internet access but also power. He solved the power problem by setting up a generator that could be turned on from a signal over a 3G modem, kept powered by a solar panel.

Jonathan Corbet gave a talk on how to get involved with the kernel development process and what stages a change goes through in order to get included in the mainline kernel. The day also featured two Firefox talks: my talk on hacking Mozilla code and Jason White's talk on a web accessibility framework called Orca. On Wednesday evening there was a followup BOF ("Birds Of a Feather" meeting) to discuss what the Mozilla Foundation should do with its money.

Thursday opened with talks on Sugar, the software environment used for the One Laptop Per Child XO laptops, as well as better user documentation and AIO in the kernel. But I couldn't resist Paul Fenwick's talk on The Art of Klingon Programming, which turned out to be about a new and useful error trapping mechanism for Perl.

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