9 Mar 2005 mbanck   » (Journeyer)


Wow, this one rocked even more than last two. Martin and Dogi weren't around this time, so I was a bit worried at first. But in the end, hanging out with the Hurd hackers like Marcus or Neal was as much fun as expected.


The saga started on Thursday evening at a subway station in Garching near Munich, where I picked up Holger Blasum from the FFII and a random girl which saw my note at mitfahrgelegenheit.de. It turned out that the FFII had just gotten a warning about the EU ministry council wanting to put their version of the software patent directive on Monday's fishery council agenda. During the trip to Frankfurt, Holger vigorously phoned people from all over europe trying to get a confirmation on the issue and also to rally support against this looming agenda item.(Damn. One week later, the ministry council has acked its software patents directive) We arrived at Frankfurt around midnight and while Holger slept at a fellow FFII supporter's place, I spent the night at my parent's house.


I picked up Holger again in Frankfurt in the morning (a little later than I planned) and after some minor navigation errors we were on the way to Brussels. We made a stop in Jülich to visit the Credativ crowd in their office. We arrived just when they had their lunch break, amu (Andreas Müller) had given me directions the previous night and it was pretty easy to find. They are located in the 'Technologiezentrum' vaguely outside of Jülich and have half a dozen of nice bureaus. I talked a bit with Noel and amu and then later had an extensive conversation with Michael Meskes about the current state of Debian with regard to Ubuntu and some commercial aspects of the Free Software world, which was interesting as usual.

We left Jülich at early afternoon and arrived in Brussels at around 5 PM. I dropped off Holger at the university and then tried to find the appartment. It took me some time, but after asking a couple of people on the streets and some extensive studying of a map in a grocery store, I finally found the guys. Neal and Barry had organized two connected appartments only a couple of kms away from the university where FOSDEM takes place. They were really nice and we had a small kitchen (no oven though), a fridge and a dish washer. There were almost enough beds available for everybody, I managed to be able to sleep in one of those.

When I arrived, Sören Schulze (sdschulze), Neal, Marcus, Marco Gerards, Bas Wijnen (shevek), Barry deFreese, Olaf Buddenhagen, Guillem Jover (braindmg) and Ognyan Kulev (ogi) were already there (from left to right, ogi is not on this picture), Jeroen Dekkers (who stayed elsewhere) and Robert Millan (nyu) joined us later on, as well as Neal's wife Isabel. By the time I had unpacked my things, fired up my notebook and read the remaining mails from that morning, the guys had managed to get an outward ssh connection on port 53 through the hotel's WLAN, i.e. free internet for the rest of the weekend...

Neal (with some small help by Barry and me) prepared a very nice dinner and then we hacked for the rest of the night. Barry managed to get Marcus to work on shared memory instead of his slides, and I mostly entertained myself with exploring the possibilities of starting the Hurd console on bootup and looking into using sbuild in a chroot, which turned out to be perfectly usable once you work around a bug in sudo. Totally exhausted, I went to bed at some point between 4 and 5 AM.


Getting up was pretty hard, but breakfast was nice. While the others left for Richard Stallman's keynote, Neal, Marcus and I went shopping in a nearby supermarket to provide pick-nick style lunch for the Hurd developer's room. At about the same time we finally arrived at devroom, the first people started popping in. It turned out the FOSDEM program had a different opinion on our schedule than Neal had, so we had to tell a couple of people to come back later.

Ogi kicked off the devroom with his talk (slides) about extending ext2fs beyond the legendary 2 GB limit. He explained the limitations of the old approach and in which way he modified libpager. He also mentioned his work on ext3fs.

Neal then gave a charismatic and enthusiastic presentation (slides) about the problems of Hurd/Mach and how Hurd/L4 is going to address them. He was very good at conveying how applications should be given the possibility to page themselves and how it is impossible for the kernel to guess the right eviction scheme. He was repeatingly emphasizing his words with his gestures when he talked about pushing stuff out of the kernel and he kept on smiling when he explained his reasons and plans.

    <racin> neal: your code seemed great at a first glance, but now that I see your slides, it seems even greater :)

Marcus was next, he talked (slides) about inter-process communication (IPC) in the Hurd/L4 multi-server context, what different kinds of IPC there will be and what security implications have been considered for the interaction between untrusted servers. He also compared Mach's RPC (very (too) featureful, but slow) to L4's (very basic, but extremely fast) and had some nice pictures to get his points across.

Peter de Shrijver (p2) continued by talking (slides) about the proposed device driver framework for Hurd/L4. He explained the differences between different bridges like PCI or USB, how the bridge drivers would interact with the device drivers and what the interrupt handler would look like.

Marco was last and presented (slides) GRUB2, the next generation all-purpose operating system^W^Wboot loader. They seem to have come a long way and it looks like GRUB2 will be easy to hack on, he cited a couple of code snippets and interfaces to prove this.

All in all, the devroom was really crowded most of the time and the talks seemed to be well received by the audience. After the talks, we finally got a chance to chat with everybody, especially the french (Debian) GNU/Hurd hackers from the HurdFr organization like Manuel Menal, Marc Dequènes (Duck), Gaël Le Mignot (kilobug) and Arnaud Fontaine. Some other people like Yoshinori Okuji (The GNU GRUB maintainer) and Christopher Bodenstein (Physicman, who is helping with the Debian GNU/Hurd port) were around as well and we had an ad-hoc keysigning party. I also met Dafydd Harries for the first time in real life, who shortly visited the Hurd developer room.

We went home to the appartment, which was a bit more difficult than expected, because we could not find the official exit of the FOSDEM parking lot and (like always) just used the entrance. On the way back, Bas voiced his interest in Debian development and Guillem and me explained the necessary steps to participate and what one can do until one has an account. Hopefully, this will mean one more very clueful Debian new maintainer candidate. We only stayed at the appartment for a short while and then met again with the HurdFr crowd at a restaurant nearby to have dinner. I talked a lot to Duck (Marc Dequènes) about Debian, the Hurd and Ubuntu and also to Ogi about his plans in Debian development since he has entered the new maintainer queue. Seems like he wants to maintain his ext3fs work as a Debian package and might also work on porting debian-installer (he is already translating it into Bulgarian), which would be great.

After dinner, we went back to the appartment for some night hacking. Marcus and Barry cooked up a glibc patch necessary for shared memory support and discussed it with Roland via mail. I also had some nice discussions with Neal, Marcus and Guillem about the general direction of Debian's GNU/Hurd port, and contrary to my previous beliefs they still seem to be interested in the Debian port and also acknowledge that Hurd/Mach is still very important today until Hurd/L4 is ready. I spent the rest of the night finalizing the slides for my 'Debian GNU/Hurd' talk I was supposed to deliver the next morning.


Getting up as early as 8:40 AM was even worse than the day before, but with some luck and tough driving we managed to be only 5 minutes late for my talk. However, when we arrived in the Debian developers room, there was no beamer available yet, and I had to start my talk without one. Wouter told me the beamer should arrive any minute, so I decided to leave my notebook turned off to still catch the 'Ohh, XFCE4 runs on the Hurd!' reactions when it would boot up. It turned out that the beamer took longer to arrive than expected and I quickly ran out of things to say from the top of my head, so I had to switch on my notebook nevertheless and look at my slides. This all resulted in the talk being pretty unorganized, but there were a couple of questions afterwards and I was moderately happy how it turned out in the end. (A couple of days later, Wouter popped up on IRC and told me he reinstalled the Hurd, so there was some immediate success from my talk) Right after me, Guillem talked about the porting issues we face and how to prevent them, by not targetting GNU/Linux but POSIX. As a lot of Debian developers were around, I hope his talk had helped to open their mind to think beyond GNU/Linux.

I stayed in order to listen to Hanna Wallach talk about debian-women and Matthew Garrett discuss the Debian Free Software Guidelines. The devroom was packed during Hanna's talk and she did a great job in communicating the aims of the debian-women project to the audience. She also mentioned she recently joined the Debian New Maintainer process, yay. I first met her two years ago at FOSDEM together with Matthew and back then was under the impression she was some sort of BSD hacker too cool for Debian or something, so I was a bit surprised when she mentioned simply having been too intimidated to start joining Debian. I guess the public image of the NM process really needs fixing... Matthew's talk was very interesting but also a bit sad, as the bottom line was that different parts of the developer body have diametrically opposed opinions on almost all aspects of the DFSG and consensus on the current DFSG is impossible (and fixing probably very hard).

After the talks I went back to the info stand with Robert Lemmen (who came in during my talk) and met the others to have lunch. Unfortunately, we did not find a suitable restaurant and had to cope with the sandwiches sold at FOSDEM. Afterwards, we met a couple of Debian-UK guys in the big auditorium and hat some more ad-hoc keysigning there and then listened to Alan Cox talk about stable kernel development. The bit about 'Once you fix the VM for one use case, it breaks for another' part was funny in the light of Neal's talk the day before, where he identified exactly this as a fundamental problem and pointed out how to address it by moving the memory management under the control of the applications themselves. I later listened to the second half of Thomas Langes' FAI talk and then went back to the appartment with Marcus, Olaf, Guillem and Ognyan to pack. When we came back, I met Robert again at the Debian booth and we listened to the second half of the GPL enforcement talk. After that was over, we realized a lot of people had left already. We could not find anybody to go out for dinner with and thus decided to drive home early.

We picked up Paul Sladen and a desktop box, both of which the german guys "forgot" at FOSDEM. I mostly talked to Robert on the way home, he seemed to be interested in the Hurd, so maybe a new developer is born. We also talked about other aspects of Free Software, from Debian over Ubuntu to Java stuff. When we arrived in Frankfurt, it was already pretty late and Paul couldn't reach his contact in Marburg, so he had to sleep at the same FFII activist Holger slept three days earlier. I decided to drive all the way to Munich, which was pretty exhausting and Robert had to tell me lots of different stories to keep me awake. At some point around Würzburg I suddenly realized we still had Martin's desktop box in the trunk, but it was already too late to turn back.

Finally, at 4 AM, I was back home from a blast weekend (and recovering ever since. I met Martin two days later near Nuremberg and handed over his box.)

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