linux.conf.au 2014 – January 7

I’m (sporadically and with much delay) blogging my yearly pilgrimage to linux.conf.au 2014, this year being held at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Tuesday Keynote

20140107_085514Today’s keynote was given by Kate Chapman from the Humaritarian Openstreetmap Team. It was awesome. I’d heard of OpenStreetMap previously but not really paid much attention to it either as a technology or as a community. I was impressed by both. On the technical side it’s great to have a map that can be easily edited by anybody, Wikipedia style, and has as much information as you could want on it. On the community side, I was really impressed by how they went from a bare outline of Haiti just before the earthquake there to a complete map of pretty much everything only a few weeks later.

I immediately installed JSOM, the OpenStreetMap native editor and started adding points of interest I know exist around my suburb. It was surprisingly easy to use and the near-instant results proved satisfactorily addictive. I hope to get into this more in the future.

Open Programming Miniconf

I spent a large portion of the day in the open programming miniconf. There were several highlights:

  • Katie Miller’s talk on OpenShift was hilarious, mostly because of a moment involving two tissue boxes:

    (the people pulling tissues out of the box were racing the OpenShift setup process to see which was faster).
  • Adam Harvey’s talk where he wrote a PHP microframework in 15 minutes in front of the crowd, partly to prove it could be done and partly to prove that you shouldn’t bother. I’ve always been dubious of frameworks for small peices of code, simply because PHP provides most of what you need (which is Adam’s point). I guess the problem comes when this one-page script evolves into a full application before anybody realises, and using a framework from the beginning would have saved a lot of headaches down the track. It’s a tricky one to judge.
  • Tom Eastman’s talk on serialisation formats. I’d never considered some of the problems with these formats that means that even in formats such as YAML or JSON there are security vulnerabilities that are continuously overlooked. Unfortunately I had to leave in the closing minutes of this talk to attend to an emergency, so I missed some crucial information. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one when the talks are released for download.

Walking into Perth

20140107_182451For dinner tonight we decided to walk into Perth via King’s Park, which proved to be very pretty. We also ended up walking back via the foreshore along Mounts Bay Road, which was a bit of fun since (for some reason I can’t quite figure out) we decided to run part of the way back. Turns out running is fun if you’re in good company. Who knew. The total distance was just under 12km, so I probably even burned off the energy from tonight’s dessert, a sticky date pudding from the British pub in Murray St (good stuff, though a bit dry).

Now the miniconfs are over, and the conference proper starts tomorrow. For delegates it’s a fairly unnoticeable difference (only real difference being that the talks aren’t grouped into rooms by subject anymore), but it marks almost the halfway point. There’s also the penguin dinner to look forward to, which this year looks to be an upscale picnic on the Matilda Bay foreshore.

New OpenPGP Key

Over the new few months I will be slowly transitioning to a new OpenPGP (GPG) key. The reasons for this are as follows:

  1. In light of the recent information regarding the NSA, GCHQ, ASIO and other spying on citizens of the world, I believe a larger key size will increase security against attacks (even if the increase is small).
  2. I read about a patch to GnuPG to allow creation of larger key sizes and wanted to try it out.
  3. I wanted to have a clean slate with completely separate subkeys and good key hygiene (in regards to how the private key and revocation certificates were stored).

I have created a new 8K-length certification master key (0xB341C361CE04C603) with the following subkeys:

  • 4K Signing key (for signing documents and emails)
  • 4K Encryption key (for encrypting files)
  • 4K Authentication key (for logging in to systems, though in practise this isn’t really useful yet)

The reason for the 8K (for the uninitiated, this is a huge key that is overkill for current technology) separated certification key is so that I can keep that key safely on my home systems protected from the wild, whilst still being able to carry my signing, encrypting and authentication keys around on my laptop without too much trouble. Since the certification key is used for signing other keys and being signed by other keys (i.e., building the web of trust) it is a good thing if this key is both well protected and doesn’t change much.

The authentication key is interesting – in theory the underlying key data is such that you can use it for SSH logins, but it is such a pain in the arse to get the key data out and into a format that the SSH client can use that nobody bothers.

My old key (0xF3EABD1AAC83D520) no longer has a valid encryption key and I will be revoking the master key within the next few weeks.

You may also be interested to read my OpenPGP policies.

linux.conf.au 2014 – January 6

I’m (sporadically and with much delay) blogging my yearly pilgrimage to linux.conf.au 2014, this year being held at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

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Keynote

We begun the first day of the conference with the morning keynote, which was presented by Suelette Dreyfus. She talked about some of the statistics around people’s feelings towards privacy, whistle-blowing and government surveillance. The thing I found most interesting was that the ordinary citizen supports whistle-blowing and doesn’t support government surveillance. Which leads to one of two conclusions:

  1. The government will soon have to start actually listening to citizens and do something about all this.
  2. The government is actually entirely controlled by the spy agencies and we’re all screwed.

Yay for freedom and democracy! :/

Rocketry & Radios

The next talks I attended were from the open radio miniconf, where Bdale Garbee and Keith Packard talked about the hardware and software they are using for rocket to ground radio communications on their rockets, and which they are successfully selling through their fully open-source business. I found a few points interesting:

  • RF circuit board design is hard. There is some serious smarts going on with designing those boards to not have everything interfere with everything else (especially in such as a small package, with two radios within a centimetre of each other).
  • Here is yet another FOSS small business that is clearly surviving and not a complete drain on the pocket (one assumes, you can never be sure). That’s good news, as the world needs more businesses to cross that divide between open-source and the commercial world.
  • Rockets are fun!

The Sysadmin Miniconf

Between lunch and afternoon tea I sat in on the sysadmin miniconf (there’s a mantra at linux.conf.au: if you’re in doubt as to what to see, tend towards the left hand side of the schedule). The most interesting talk for me was from Elizabeta Sørensen on RatticDB, which looks a pretty cool password management tool that would have been amazingly useful in my last job (where I worked as a sysadmin rather than being a programmer like I am now). Despite being immature software, it has a lot of promise and I’ll definitely be trialing it for my own uses.

I also found the talk on Husk by Phillip Smith to be very interesting. Writing iptables rules is a pain, and writing them twice (once for IPv4 and again for IPv6) is a complete pain. So Husk looks great because it gives you extra power in simply being able to write-once for both network stacks and being able to re-use variables and rulesets. It’s basically SCSS for firewalls.

Modems

After afternoon tea I went to the talk given by David Rowe on modems and how they work in a basic sense. Unfortunately I was completely out of my depth and I had no idea how the modem algorithm fit into the stack of hardware and software. Is the mixer hardware or software? Where is forward error correction done? No idea. More reading for me to do!

Crash!

20140106_182003By this stage I was pretty exhausted, having not got much sleep the night before. I therefore retreated to the dorm room and had a quick nap, a cup of tea and a shower (Perth is hot!) before dinner. I went out with a few friends (new and old) to a great pub we’ve found nearby that does good pizza and amazing crème brûlée. Hopefully an early night tonight so I don’t get too exhausted before the week is out.

linux.conf.au 2014 – December 31 to January 5

I’m (sporadically and with much delay) blogging my yearly pilgrimage to linux.conf.au 2014, this year being held at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

The week before linux.conf.au has been spent with my partner’s family in Fremantle, doing touristy things (because we are tourists). Here are some of the highlights:

The Perth Mint

I had a great time at the Perth Mint, mostly because I got to see a gold bar being poured – it was worth a quarter of a million dollars. Apparently when they last cleaned the roof they found $40,000 of gold dust. Impressive stuff. No pictures unfortunately, since in some places you couldn’t take photos, and where we could I forgot. I also couldn’t afford anything in the gift shop (and I really couldn’t figure out why somebody would pay $60,000 for the smallest diamond I’ve ever seen).

King’s ParkDSC00348

We also went to King’s Park (more specifically the botanical gardens) and went on a guided tour given by one of their volunteers (thanks Denis!). There are a number of cool things in the park, but by far is the 16m tall footbridge they have… just because they can. It’s quite a similar experience to the Tahune Airwalk in Tasmania, but in a much different climate and ecosystem.

Shipwreck Museum

DSC00285Near the Fremantle coastline there is a museum of shipwrecks and maritime history. I went in slightly dubious (it is a museum after all) but came out fascinated and full of facts. The wreck of the Batavia was pretty cool, having survived 300 years in pretty rough conditions and still intact enough to make a good display.

We also visited the Fremantle Arts Centre, The Maze, several different beaches and snorkelling spots, various pubs and restaurants, as well as a rally to try and stop the shark cull in Western Australia. It was pretty impressive seeing thousands of people who were pretty fired up about something. And it is a big something, so I hope to write a more detailed blog post about that at a later date.DSC00382

I’ve now settled into the dorms at Trinity College, caught up with a few friends (many more to see yet!) and await the beginning of the conference tomorrow. Tomorrow’s schedule is full of “mini-confs” dedicated to particular subjects. I’ll probably start the day at the open radio mini-conf, because a talk on rockets is pretty much a must-see. Since I work as a web developer on a team that uses agile techniques, a lot of the talks in the continuous integration mini-conf will be informative (though the lack of rocketry will be sad). Very exciting!

linux.conf.au 2014 – December 30

I’m (sporadically and with much delay) blogging my yearly pilgrimage to linux.conf.au 2014, this year being held at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Today was the flight from Hobart (HBA) to Perth (PER) via Melbourne (MEL). After a morning waiting (both my girlfriend and I had both already done most of our packing the night before) we had a fairly uneventful flight from Hobart to Melbourne (737-800, seats 29D and 29E). Bit of turbulence but nothing unexpected from economy class on Virgin.

20131230_165309The flight over to Perth was on one of Virgin’s two older (ex-Emirates apparently) A330-200 aircraft (seats 9J and 9K). This was slightly disappointing as these two aircraft don’t have in-seat power, a nice extra on a 4-hour flight (which is about as long as my laptop battery lasts). The TVs were pretty blurry picture-wise and the sound was choppy (not that I cared, I had my laptop to watch). Chicken-based meal wasn’t too bad, but my girlfriend’s vegetarian meal was… very average. You can tell these planes have been in use for a while. That said, the flight was smooth, fast and safe… so I can’t complain too much! Other than that it was a pretty nice flight.

I have to say I’m really looking forward to this year’s LCA. All the usual great speakers are there, including some of my favourites (Matthew Garrett, Katie Miller and Adam Harvey to name a few). As well as this, it is the first LCA trip I’ve managed to drag my girlfriend along to (which is the real reason we are going a week early, as she has family in Perth). Hopefully there are more of these trips to come!

I imagine we won’t be coming back to Perth for a while (unfortunately trans-continental flights are quite expensive), so there are a few sights we want to see. I really want to visit the Perth Mint and see the minting of gold and silver bullion coins (yeah, I’m weird). My partner wants to go to Nottnest Island and do lots of swimming in some of the marine parks around the Perth/Fremantle area.