lca2008 — thursday summary

Thursday started off with a keynote by Stormy Peters titled “Would You Do It Again For Free?” Some interesting things came out of this talk. First, open source developers are mainly motivated by internal factors. Second, studies show that giving external rewards to people who are doing an activity and later removing the rewards tends to lead to cessation of the activity. Put the two concepts together, and all of a sudden, the idea of, “are companies killing open source by paying for it?” whacks you across the face like a 2×4.

Unfortunately, Stormy shifted focus slightly during this talk, and started talking about how company processes tend to squash developers’ creativity, thus demotivating them, which is still an interesting topic, but not the one she started with. The idea here is that companies need to figure out how to balance traditional corporate process with the creativity and individualism needed to develop software.

I did shoot off an email to Stormy about the topic shift and we ended up chatting for a bit later that evening at the networking event, and we agreed that both topics were interesting, but she was really focusing on the latter.

I skipped the tutorial sessions because I couldn’t build a kernel for Ubuntu that had lguest and wireless both working at the same time. I only mention lguest because that’s the session I’d wanted to attend; I’m sure my personal problems were all contained in ipw2200.

During the afternoon, I went to Nick Piggin’s NUMA pagecache replication talk, and came away with mixed impressions. In a nutshell, it’s a performance feature that replicates a cache coherency algorithm in the operating system rather than in the hardware, and at the page granularity rather than cacheline granularity. So not a groundbreaking concept, but it does take serious hacking-fu to implement it correctly (in other words, please don’t think that I’m trying to detract anything from Nick at all).

My impression was that getting it all working correctly was really hairy and complicated, and that scared me. I’m not entirely convinced that it will actually lead to performance gains at least not in the world I typically inhabit, that being large ia64 SMP machines, but may help on smaller x86_64 machines. Nick doesn’t have any performance numbers yet, so it’s all somewhat up in the air as to how well it’s all going to work, and it’ll be interesting to see where it all ends up.

Next was HP’s own Doug Chapman (drc) doing a kickass demo of his autonomous rockhopper robot to a packed room. All sorts of cool hackery was demonstrated, including streaming live video from his workshop in New Hampshire to Melbourne (with an assist from his neighbor Paul). At least one audience member remarked that it was perhaps the best talk of the conference that he’d seen. Cool beans!

I went to davem’s “Linux on Sun logical domains” talk but didn’t get anything out of it. The fault was mine, not his, but in any case, I checked out kinda quickly.

Last talk of the day was conceptually the most mind-blowing for me. Vik Olliver presented his RepRap which is essentially an open-source rapid prototyping machine, aka a 3-d printer. The printer itself was kinda cool, but more interesting were the concepts around the ability for basically everyone to own a universal fabricator. Think about it — all of a sudden, a lot of problems go away if you can just make stuff on demand, on location.

No more holding inventory, no more transporting finished goods around, different tax implications (people aren’t buying stuff anymore, they’re making stuff for themselves), no ability to embargo or prohibit goods, etc. etc. etc. The implications are powerful.

One last note on why LCA is seriously cool — my G1G1 OLPC was having some problems with the control key getting stuck (a known issue) so Jim Gettys just swapped mine out for a new one. Schweet.