With this year's <a href="http://fosdem.org">FOSDEM</a> conference finally over, I'm back to Serbia, and I've finally managed to get some time to put down my impressions after resting a bit.
I've flown into Brussels on Friday, February 4th, and checked in a nice little hotel called <a href="http://www.beausitebrussels.com/">Hotel beau Site</a>. It was quite a pleasant stay there, with clean rooms and polite staff, and it's highly likely I'll return there again next year. Got a continental breakfast (self-serve style) and free WiFi included in the price (which proved to be an excellent idea).
After settling in even before the official check-in (kudos to hotel staff for that), I've unpacked my gear and tried to figure out where to go next for some food and sight-seeing through the <a href="http://www.openstreetmap.org/">OpenStreetMap</a> service. Another useful thing I've done with regards to getting around is setting-up my <a href="http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Neo_Freerunner">Neo Freerunner</a> and <a href="http://www.tangogps.org/gps/cat/News">TangoGPS</a> on top of it with the map of Brussels downloaded in Belgrade already. Those three have proved to be of great help throughout my stay at Brussels, navigating me for the entire trip.
Most of the Friday afternoon was uneventful since I've opted to stay at hotel due to some bad weather. There was just a hint of rain falling, but I'm paranoid enough about the rain not to risk getting soaked. Otherwise I was planning on visiting some nearby cathedrals and a park I failed to take photographs of last year. The evening was followed by now traditional pre-FOSDEM <a href="http://www.fosdem.org/2011/beerevent">beer event</a> filled with - yes, you've guessed it right - BEER! This year around I decided to try out more types of beer than last time, so this time I've tried something like four types of beer at the <a href="http://www.deliriumcafe.be/">Delirium Café</a> where the event was held. My highlights of the evening were the red beer with taste of cherry and some kind of dark beer, with very nice strong taste to it.
During the event I've met an Oracle developer from Germany who is part of the OpenOffice.org team and who's working on the accessibility features, primarily exposing the interface to the screen readers. We've had quite a nice chat about different topics, both technical and non-technical. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to catch his name, but still, kudos to him for his work on the accessibility features.
The beer event had ended without any problems for me beyond the fact I've had to walk back to hotel (by both preference for sobering up a bit and lack of public transportation at night). The GPS was very helpful to this end, and I've been back at hotel before 1am.
After a nice night's rest, I woke up without any hangover whatsoever, which is a good thing, since I was due to have an LPIC-1 certification exam later in the day. After having a nice breakfast, I've packed-up the essential stuff and headed over to the conference. Like during last year's conference, I've decided to make a donation to FOSDEM this year as well, getting a t-shirt and a book from O'Reilly (<em>Erlang Programming</em>) in the process. The opening talk was made by the FOSDEM staff, and like the last year they decided to have some fun with dancing. This year's spotlight was entirely on them, with the audience supporting them with clapping and banging the desk with our hands. It was nice and fun, of course.
The opening talk was followed by a talk from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eben_Moglen">Eben Moglen</a> related to the ongoing political unrest in some of the countries and the requirements for a Free and uncontrolled means of communication stemming from some of the recent actions made by certain countries (like shutting-off the access to the Internet etc). He made sure, though, to warn people of problems coming from both western governments as well, which is a good thing. Lots of people in the West are lulled in the fake feeling that they're safe from all the wrongdoings of political and economic leadership of their own countries.
To this purpose, an interesting project has been set-up by Eben Moglen called <a href="http://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox">Freedom Box</a>. The basic idea behind it is to build a small <em>plug-computer</em> that would be easy to use and set-up your own web-site or social network at. The hardware at hand should be something light-weight like an ARM CPU, with low power usage. The idea is to remain in full control of your own data and avoid spying of big companies like Facebook or Twitter. After the talk I've asked Eben on his opinion of the possibility that the back-doors can be implemented trough hardware as well, and although aware of it, he thinks that we should be taking a single step at a time. The only concern I have with this is that at some point we might find ourselves lagging behind when it comes down to privacy and control of what we do with technology again. All in all, I've been rather impressed by Eben's verbal skills and he certainly is a great asset to the Free Software movement in general, even though he's less concentrated on development and more on politics and promotion.
I've skipped the next keynote lecture in order to mingle around a bit, planning to hear the talks in the <em>Security & Hardware Crypto Room</em>. Unfortunately, the room was already full by the time I reached it, so I mostly spent some time looking at stands, having some pasta for lunch, then heading off for the LPI exam. The exam went excellent, and finishing it up, I once again headed over to see if I can get into the above-mentioned devroom. I've failed again, and missed the talk about the <em>EJBCA nd OpenSC</em> integration, which was quite annoying to me since I use EJBCA both at work and at home.
I've finally managed to squeeze myself into the devroom at third attempt, and stayed there until the end, listening the talks related to unification of access to PKCS#11 modules (which included an interesting mention of using a URL-style string for selecting a token from smart-card), a more standard way to store trust information through PKCS#11 (trust assertions), a short presentation on SystemTap system which can be used for changing the behaviour of applications and kernel through direct manipulation of library calls (jokingly presented as a way for BOFH to mess with the users). The finishing talks were about a two-factor authentication by using simple password-generator tokens (including an application running on top of Android) and future of OpenSC and general discussion amongst the participants. Afterwards the devroom organisers have called everyone to join them in an Italian food restaurant for a meal and discussions. I've dropped off my bags at hotel, and once again using my faithful GPS ended-up at the restaurant where we talked about both life-related topics, and some topics related to PKCS#11, cryptography, security, and trust models in general. All in all it was a very pleasant evening, and I always enjoy talking with geeks at any time, especially in case of similar areas of interest.
After the dinner I've headed back to hotel with another fellow geek (we went in the same direction for the most part), and hit the bed in order to get up early tomorrow.
The Saturday took off a little bit slow for me, but I was able to make it in time for my second LPIC-1 exam, and although I'm not sure I'll pass that one, I think I still have a big chance (pity I didn't manage to prep it up the same way as the first one, all I was missing was some finishing touches on the subjects covered). Still, I believe I've made good investment of money.
After the exam I've headed for the <em>Configuration & Systems Management Devroom</em>, which has been interesting to me due to a big number of stations I've had to maintain in one of the projects at work. Once again the devroom was quite full, so I opted to have lunch during the wait, missing a talk about configuration management for development environments (which would've been interesting to me since I maintain a clone infrastructure at work, mostly by hand currently). Afterwards I've managed to squeeze myself in for the talks on Geppetto, an IDE for the <a href="http://www.puppetlabs.com/">Puppet Labs</a> automation suite, based on the Eclipse for the most part, but also supporting some console-based utilities.
Afterwards I've also tried having a look at some talks at the <em>Virtualization Devroom</em>, but I failed to get in, missing the talks I was <em>very</em> interested in on a new remote-desktop-like protocol and USB redirection over the network. I was very interested in the second talk, but alas, I missed it. I've had at some point tried usbip module from staging kernel, but no idea if this talk was directed at it. Hopefully I'll find some kind of review or videos from that devroom.
In the meantime, I've done some collecting of free stuff from the stands (CD's, stickers etc), supported three projects by getting some t-shirts and a mug (<a href="http://www.libreoffice.org/">LibreOffice</a> and <a href="http://mageia.org/en/">Mageia</a> t-shirts and <a href="http://fsfe.org/">FSFE</a> mug), and also had some talks with people at stands. I really hope the Mageia project manages to kick off and create another usable community-based distro like Debian.
While passing by the LibreOffice stand I've also noticed there was an OpenOffice.org stand almost right next to it with some pretty bored people. Unfortunately, the recent Oracle moves seems to have had bad influence on the way community perceives the OpenOffice.org project, and I think the worst thing here is that all these devs now working for Oracle have been much more influenced by this than the Oracle itself. I'd still like to pass my best wishes to all those developers and managers at the OpenOffice.org, and I certainly hope that Oracle will see its errors and try to amend itself (although I'm a bit pessimistic on this).
In the end I've tried yet again visiting another talk about configuration management for developers, and failed to get in again. As a replacement I've listened to talk on userland namespaces in the virtualization devroom, which proved to be a bit boring to me (sometimes I feel that we lack more good presenters in the Free Software communities in addition to highly skilled and technical people). In addition I've talked with some fellows from Estonia who were working on a project called <a href="https://www.manpremo.org/redmine/projects/manpremo/wiki">Manpremo</a> for computer system management capable of executing custom tasks as well allowing a person to boot different operating system by rebooting the machine and setting-up a task for it. I'm hoping to make some further contacts with them in order to offer them a hand at integrating X.509-based client authentication into the project if I manage to get some time.
At the end I've finally managed to get in into the configuration and systems management devroom and attended the talk about <a href="http://fusioninventory.org/">FusionInventory</a> and <a href="http://www.glpi-project.org/spip.php?lang=en">GLPI</a> projects (for asset tracking) and their integration. I've noticed that GLPI, although supporting LDAP-based authorisation, actually implements this by syncing its database with the LDAP, and I'm starting to wonder why most projects seem to do it that way. I'll need to investigate this a little in order to make the final call on it though (my guess being that it could be related to performance, especially in case of PHP apps).
After the FusionInventory and GLPI talks were finished, I rushed to the ending keynote held by Jonathan Corbet about problems which occur during kernel development and possible solutions to those problems. The problems described were both of technical and social nature, and they touched on a number of issues which happened throughout years related to inclusion of different code into the mainline kernel and problems associated with it. The talk was both entertaining and useful to hear about, and I think that it actually might be applied to a number of larger Free Software projects out there.
As <em>another</em> great thing for me at this year's FOSDEM conference, I've also actually won a <em>prize</em>, being a donor to FOSDEM. I've obtained a nice little <a href="http://www.fosdem.org/2011/news/donation-draw-winners">Linksys AP</a> with <a href="http://openwrt.org/">OpenWrt</a> pre-installed. I've been very surprised when I realised my name was read before the final keynote began (especially since I don't play lotteries etc, and therefore never expect to win anything).
After the conference ended, I headed back to hotel once again, rested a bit, then went out for a glass of beer (which proved to be a standard industrial one, so I was a bit annoyed by it), then had some Lebanese fast food, and went back to hotel for a nice sleep.
The next morning I got up, had a shower, went off for breakfast, then got back to room to take care of packing my bags. Since I was supposed to check-out by 12:00, I've decided to make a small sight-seeing tour of one of the churches I visited last year but didn't manage to take photos of, as well as a very nice little park/garden nearby. I've also visited one of the city's squares and had some photo-shooting there as well. Then I rushed back to hotel for final preparations, and finally checked-out.
Since I had at least three more hours to kill, I've left my luggage at the hotel and went to take a look at the Ixelles Ponds nearby (along with another church at the beginning of the bigger one, just across the street). After making a small circle around the ponds, I headed back to hotel, and went to a nearby restaurant/tavern called <em>La Regence Stella Artois</em>, recommended to me by one of the hotel staff. There I've had some nice beef stew (seems to be a very good national dish, I've tried it last year as well), an <em>excellent</em> beer called <em>Bon Secours</em>, cappuccino, and some nice chocolate mousse as dessert. The lunch was excellent and not too pricey (cost me 20 euros). I'd certainly recommend the place to anyone visiting Brussels, especially considering their staff is very polite and helpful as well (the waiter made good recommendations when it comes down to selection of food and beer).
After finishing-up the lunch, I headed back to hotel to pick up my baggage and got on my way to the airport. I arrived there without any problems, checked-in, and headed to the flight gate. I've had a minor inconvenience during security check since I couldn't get the small transparent bag for a hand-care creme (the vending machine accepted only 1-euro coins, and I had something like 2x50 euro-cents - at Belgrade airport you can get those for free during check-in), but the security officer just told me it's ok if I put the creme into separate box.
The last thing I had to take care of in Belgium was to get some chocolate, of course. I bought two boxes of chocolate for the family back at Belgrade (totalling at 1kg in total :D ), and two plane boardings and 4.5 hours later I was back in Belgrade. Bro, his wife, and my little nephew came to pick me up, and we headed back home where we had opened one of the chocolate boxes to give them a try.
Once bro and his family went back to their home, I took care of the unpacking and headed for the bed, tired but very glad about my overall experience in Brussels.
Finally, I've made a promise to myself to participate as a developer or at least an integrator/sysadmin on the next conference I visit, and most certainly for the next FOSDEM conference (even if it's just a lightning talk). I've already set my eyes on several targets where I want to contribute to the Free Software community, and it's mostly revolving around the X.509-based certificates and PKI integration in general.
As a final thought, I certainly recommend anyone who's capable to visit the FOSDEM conference next year. It's certainly an event to enjoy for any techie out there, with both interesting talks, people, beer, and excellent organisers who deserve every word of appreciation.
Bye, FOSDEM, and see you next year as well!