lca2008 — big honking wednesday summary

A few notes on Wednesday…

Bruce Schneier keynote address today. Cool stuff, although nothing groundbreaking (due to years of reading Crypto-Gram and his blog). Some important security concepts

  • security is best viewed via an economic lens; specifically, we are in a lemons market, aka information asymmetry.
  • in this market, we are all security consumers, making economic tradeoffs (should I wear this bullet-proof vest today? no, it’s kinda hot, and besides, it would clash with my belt)
  • the concept of feeling secure vs. being secure is quite important; divergence between the two is where all of our security problems come from essentially
  • society (broad term to include social conventions, technology, etc.) is evolving faster than our species. human brains aren’t equipped to be good judges of risk anymore.
  • the only way to get out of the current mess is by disseminating more information, and reducing the information asymmetry

I went to Jonathan Oxer’s Second Life talk, and was a bit disappointed, although this was entirely my own fault. I was hoping to get an explanation of why a sane person would care about Second Life. Jonathan’s talk was predicated upon the assumption that one already cared about Second Life and he explained how to do insane things with it.

I should have read his abstract closer, because it was all there. Regardless, it was still quite an entertaining talk (Jonathan is an excellent speaker) and amazingly his demo worked on the first try! Yowza!

Oh, you want to know exactly what insane things he was talking about, probably. Well, the talk mainly focused on attaching a programmable Arduino board to various appliances to your house so that when a real life switch is flipped, it triggers an event on the Arduino which sends some http request to a web server somewhere that then kicks off a Second Life script that then makes a Second Life object do something.

For instance, Jonathan has hooked a switch up to his real life snail mailbox so that when letters are placed inside, lots of magic happens, and then in his Second Life world, his fake mailbox’s flag raises up and it looks like it’s stuffed with snail mail. Someone from the audience suggested hooking up a scanner to the mailbox so he could actually read the mail in Second Life, and of course this idea was extended to then pipe the scanned text through some OCR tool and then run a spam filter on the scanned text so you could actually do automated Bayesian filtering on your real life snail mail.

Like I said: insane.

Next talk was Jonathan Corbett’s Linux World News “State of the Kernel” talk. Jonathan is a good speaker too, but I really shouldn’t have gone to this talk considering I already read lkml, and I was the wrong audience. Oh well, my fault again. I did notice that HP was not one of the top 20 organizations contributing to the kernel (as measured in changesets). Boo.

I attended Jim Gettys’ OLPC talk. Again, poor talk selection on my part because he was preaching to the choir (me). It was interesting to hear the emphasis that the number one inhibitor for laptops in the third world is power. They’re exploring the use of solar panels to replace the hand crank (he had demos of both), but power issues dominate the technical difficulties for actually deploying these things.

By the way, have you noticed that power consumption happens to be a huge issue in “normal” laptops right now? Oh, and in the data center too. As jwz would say, intertwingularity! It sounds completely ridiculous, but theoretically, a motivated kernel hacker who sits down with PowerTOP could do more to save the world than Al Gore ever could. A geek can dream, right?

Last talk of the day was the best. HP’s own Bdale Garbee gave a great talk on peace, love, and rockets. It isn’t every day that you get to hear a CTO of a $100B company talk about the difficulties in getting JTAG working on the ARM chip which he surface-mount soldered onto a two-layer PCB that he designed himself. Fascinating stuff, and I’m pretty sure that as a company, HP most definitely wins the “My CTO has a bigger um, dongle, than your CTO.”

Ok, enough! This entry has dragged on long enough, and I need to sleep.