OSCON 4.1: Thursday Morning Keynotes

by Geoff Broadwell

Related link: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/os2005/grid/

There were several times during the Thursday morning keynotes that I found myself thinking "Wow. Just, WOW."

Dick Hardt, now founder and CEO of Sxip, gave a rapid fire, absolutely hilarious speech on Identity 2.0 (distributed, user-empowered, secure identity management). It's probably the first presentation on identity management I've ever seen that was actually good -- sadly, most of them are rather strongly soporific, and it's an important issue. It's pretty difficult to describe his speech, but let me simply say that if you have a chance to see it elsewhere, do so.

Robert Lang showed some of the really stunning advances in origami that have occured since computational origami was invented, in which the desired end shape is described to a computer, and it computes the correct folds and folding order.

This resulted in amazing art that can take an entire day to fold by an expert. (Fish with individual scales? Fully realistic insects? Wow.) With the computer in charge, they have even been able to use a laser to score and stress the paper so that a light tap will cause it to fold itself.

The "real world" applications are equally impressive -- a space telescope that has an external lens 100 meters across, which must be origami folded into a small cylinder to fit into a lifting rocket, and a tiny folded blood vessel stint that can be inserted easily and then expanded to force the vessel open.

Nick Gall at Gartner talked about the commonalities between computer networking and containerized shipping, and the lessons that can be learned from both to maintain the practical freedom to change. He talked about spanning layers within protocol stacks that turn stacks into hourglasses, generic enough to have a wide variety of users and apps at the top, and federated enough to have a wide variety of implementations at the bottom.

He claims that any spanning layer only needs to define three standards: an identifier, a format, and a protocol. Examples were IP address/datagram/IP, email address/RFC 2822/SMTP, and so on. With these standards forming a spanning layer, implementers are free to change anything above or below that layer, without anyone being the wiser. This allows freedom to change to be practically true, rather than a dream that dies with a half-life of about 5 years as less open systems become a complex, fragile mess.

David Heinemeier Hansson explained why Ruby on Rails is so popular: essentially they trade away configurability to serve the common 90% better through powerful design conventions. As David says, "Flexibility is overrated. Constraints are liberating." The constraints that Ruby on Rails places on the developer allow the Rails stack to provide a whole lot of implicit magic and sugar, which lets coders concentrate on their own code, not infrastructure pain.

Furthermore, he believes Ruby on Rails should provide all of the needed infrastructure from AJAX code in the browser to database abstraction on the server, with one language used to write all of the tiers. As he said, "The buck stops here."

A very energetic HP representative (Kartik Subbarao) used an extended water:earth :: open:closed metaphor to explain that companies that use open source but don't act like good community citizens are really just making life hard on themselves.

Finally, Nat interviewed Mitchell Baker of Mozilla about the creation of the Mozilla Corporation as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation. Despite trying several times, Nat couldn't tease a scandal out of this; it just appears to be a restructuring needed to allow Mozilla to do the many jobs it needs to do.

Who wanted to see some of those talks again, just because they were so cool?