Reflections on EuroBSDCon 2004

by Dru Lavigne

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This past week I experienced two major firsts: my first trip abroad to Europe and my first speaking engagement at a conference. Now that I'm back from EuroBSDCon, I have the chance to reflect on my experience and to share it with the various user groups who are anxiously awaiting my report.

Back in May when I wrote about BSDCan, I touted the many advantages of conferences: the chance to rub shoulders with developers and other users, to put faces to names, to keep abreast of the latest developments--all in an informal atmosphere. Add to that the opportunity to be a tourist in a gorgeous part of the globe and to see how your favourite operating systems are doing in other parts of the world.

Attendees at this conference represented about 20 different nationalities. And while I won't turn this blog into a travelogue, Germany really is gorgeous. I already miss the pastries and coffee (and for those of you who prefer cooler beverages, I hear the beer is pretty good too...) I certainly miss the weather as it is hovering around freezing and snowing out my Canadian window as I write this.

This conference featured a full day tutorial followed by two days of 22 talks divided between 2 tracks. I had the opportunity to attend Greg Lehey's tutorial on "Debugging Kernel Problems". I was able to follow along pretty well. It helped that David Maxwell had introduced me to gdb when he was contributing to "BSD Hacks" and that I had made it about half way through Kirk McKusick's "Design & Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System" during the plane trip. I see that Greg has put up some pictures on the diary portion of his site.

Breaks on Friday and Saturday morning were rough. I'm shy by nature and don't exactly look forward to mingling in a crowd of strangers. Out of the 200ish attendees, I counted 2 other registered females and a handful of spouses. My attempts at conversation fizzled out shortly after "hello". During the talks, noone would sit in my row and the seats immediately ahead of and behind me were embarrassingly empty. I was starting to wonder if I was suffering from a bad case of BO.

The talks themselves were interesting. Emmanuel Dreyfus discussed the problems NetBSD encountered adding binary compatability for Mac OS. Alistair Crooks gave an excellent talk regarding pkgsrc

I just missed Martin Husemann's talk as a test run of my laptop with the projector failed miserably. It took several geeks mucking about with X for half an hour to realize that we weren't going to achieve a resolution better than 640 x 480. Meaning that only the first 2 letters of each of my slides would be all that would be visible! (If anyone knows the solution to this for an IBM Thinkpad, please let me know).

Fortunately, I teach for a living and am used to carrying on despite technical disasters. (It never fails, the day you want to show a class how something works is the day it doesn't work). I did discover though that 45 minutes is not enough time to give a non-technical talk that invites participation. I'm thinking of giving a modified version of the talk at BSDCan 2005 and will ask for a double time slot.

For those of you who either saw the talk and missed the slides or who missed the talk all together, I've uploaded the PDF to my web site's BSD Resources section. Yes, I know the site is ugly. It's a feature.

Interaction improved after the talk. Several people came up to introduce themselves and to thank me for delivering a non-technical talk aimed at users instead of developers. I also made some good contacts regarding BSD education and common criteria certification.

Sunday's talks were most informative. As an educator, I was looking foward to Hubert Feyrer's talk on sysadmin training. I was very pleased to learn that there is a working virtual Unix lab at the University of Applied Sciences of Regensburg. I will definitely be writing more about this as I find time.

This was followed by Jan Schaumann's talk--a success story regarding NetBSD. Jan is the sysadmin for 2900 users using over a 1000 applications; yet he manages to keep both OS and applications up-to-date! If you're a sysadmin, you definitely want to view his slides and scripts once they become available.

I also had the opportunity to meet Federico Biancuzzi, a BSD advocate from Italy. He maintains a BSD presence at the Italian Linux magazine and coordinated last year's BSDCon Italy.

Oh, I almost forgot. Saturday night, we were all treated to a personal walk-through of Luigi Colani's exhibition. Being a car enthusiast from an early age and an appreciator of design, I must admit that most (okay, all) of my vacation pics were of cars, buildings and statues. I'm the wrong person to send to a conference with a camera. I didn't get one picture of a person!

All in all, I think the organizers of EuroBSDCon are to be commended for a job well done. And I'm definitely looking forward to a EuroBSDCon 2005.