Rusty on LCA talks and other stuff…

As email is *sooo* non-“Web 2.0”, i reply in blog form….
Rusty’s Bleeding Edge Page talks about a “Writing an x86 hypervisor: all the cool kids are doing it!” session that sounds really cool (better not be on at the same time as my talk… :)

I don’t (currently) intend to be one of the cool kids though.

He also mentions a session entitled “First-timer’s Introduction to LCA”. A couple of possible suggestions (or thoughts, and stuff I’ve seen):

  • be careful if you intend to bitch endlessly about a piece of software – it’s quite likely you’re talking to the person who wrote it (or a chunk of it)
  • sometimes it can be really good to just listen and ask a few good questions to understand. there are a lot of really smart people about
  • you will (at some point) ask a really dumb question (that you’ll only realise is dumb a few months later). Don’t panic – we all do it.
  • Don’t be scared – nobody bites too hard.
  • when staying in the halls, odds are the coffee isn’t that good – be prepared to bring your own or go out every morning.
  • do not be afraid to go up and start talking to people – it’s a great way to meet interesting characters and cool hackers.
  • wash
  • use deodorant
  • encourage others to do the above 2
  • read the summary of a session, not just the title. sometimes you can be misled by the title (for example, not everybody thinks of the same thing when “hacking BLAH” is the title of a session)
  • especially if talking, bring backups, backup (without erasing old backups) and backup. Also, be sure restore works.
  • While a lot of people do enjoy downing a few (or more than a few) Ales, it’s not compulsary. There are people attending LCA who don’t drink (and who may/may not join others at the pub even though they don’t drink alcohol). It’s also okay to not drink too much – in fact, it’s often recommended.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people who they are, what they do etc. Even if you then immediately recognise the name, it’s good to put a face to the name.
  • You will never see everything you want to.
  • do join the IRC channels – great way of meeting people and organising groups to go do things (like get food, go to pub etc).
  • do talk to people around the dorms – great way of meeting people
  • expect to want a day of rest afterwards
  • there are some “in” jokes – but don’t be afraid to ask what they’re about, strange traditions are part of the LCA experience

I wonder what should/could be written about going all fanboy/fangirl over favourite hackers? and taking/asking to get taken photos?

The last thing Rusty talks about is the “Hacking in groups” tutorial. I really liked his and Robert Love’s tutorial in Canberra (Kernel Hacking – where you wrote a PCI driver for the excellent Love Rusty 3000. A device with real specifications, coffee cup stain and all). I’ve had a bit of a mixed feeling about it from Rusty since then, but I reckon it was seriously one of the best tutorials I have ever attended. I also took the hands-on approach as great inspiration for various MySQL Cluster Tutorials I’ve given since (and people have commented on how the hands-on part is great).

I guess the thing about the kernel hacking tute was that not everybody in the room was at the same skill level (which is something you totally run the risk of with hands-on). Also, if you hadn’t done the prep material, you were probably going to be in trouble.

But anyway, the idea of having 20 talented coders with 5 people in the tute for each of them and working on some project could be interesting – although rather ambitious. I worry that people without a good enough skillset would rock up and not get much out of it. Although those with adequate skill would do well.

Picking a project that could be doable in a handful of hours (or a day) is tricky – as it’d probably be an extension to some existing project, which requires learning of it. Or, starting something from scratch can be equally as hard (to end up anywhere useful).

Some ideas for projects could include:

  • linux file system driver (perhaps read only) for a simple file system (mkfs provided)
  • MySQL table handler for some simple format (indexes get trickier… but maybe simple bitmapped index… or just an in memory table handler)
  • fsck for some file format/file system format

These have the benefit of being able to run existing good test suites against the software and see how well people did. They’d probably also help people land jobs :)

Another interesting one would be implementing a library for journaling writes to a file. i.e. instead of write to temp, sync, rename – do journaling.  This would let people easily write apps that did safe updates to large files. You could then use this to implement other things (like a really simple crash-safe storage engine, FUSE file system or something).

I’m just not sure how much “cool tricks” could really happpen in that time (instead of just getting the job done). 20 coders talking about their neat tricks would probably make a good book though…

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