Delan Azabani

linux.conf.au 2014, day 1: a torrent of knowledge

The first day of my first technical conference has been one of the most truly humbling and illuminating experiences I've had. It's rather late and I'll need sleep very soon, but I can't simply buffer these thoughts for later. Every speaker and attendee I met had something to share, in a true display of community wisdom.

Opening linux.conf.au was Dr Suelette Dreyfus, a researcher and journalist in the field of surveillance and whistleblowing in the digital era. Formalising public sentiment surrounding disclosures of governmental abuses of power, the statistics clearly showed that the average citizen was in favour of actions by whistleblowers in private and public organisations alike.

Although she suggested pathways for action by the populace, her startlingly poignant speech left me with a troublesome question: how do we continue to resist current and future invasions of our privacy, while also encouraging the integration of disparate government services for our convenience, when each step is a potential opportunity for misuse?

I had to take a raincheck on that thought afterwards, as the miniconfs delivered an overwhelming five hours of content across a range of topics I was often unfamiliar with, but had heard of their uses in the past. Now I'll need to look into Puppet and Chef, as well as Jenkins, Vagrant, systemd, OpenStack and more. Indifference towards modern tools and best practices seriously takes its toll, after a surprisingly short period of time.

One of the talks that stood out was Alan Robertson and the Assimilation project. In between references such as "Resistance is Futile" and "The One Ring" was a neat way to audit an entire network of workstations, servers, switches, routers and other devices without constant network traffic.

All of the Puppet and Chef talks woke me up to the world of automated deployment, something that I hadn't touched beforehand, while Rodger Donaldson's The Six Stages of systemd opened my mind, previously resistant to letting go of System V init, to a declarative service management system with no boilerplate and useful features such as support for automatic cgroups.

Honourable mentions must also go to Thomas Schöbel-Theuer, whose work on the MARS block device replicator makes a huge leap in reliability over DRBD, Julien Goodwin, who completely destroyed my incorrect understanding of Quality of Service, and Phillip Smith, who demystified the arcane syntax of iptables through his natural language wrapper, husk, while bearing the same Hurricane Electric IPv6 shirt as I was today.

However, the talk that took the cake for me was the final sysadmin miniconf by Steven McDonald. To paraphrase, thinking inside the box is what you want 99% of the time, except for that 1% where time is of the essence. Solutions for your client are now in, and purity of those solutions is out. Just be sure to replace your ugly hacks once the storm is over.

Did I just mention nearly all of the miniconfs on the sysadmin track? Sorry about that. I did manage to end this sweltering Perth summer's day with a "Birds of a Feather" meeting for practical cryptography, which in a sense connects back to the opening keynote.

Tomorrow I'll have a very difficult time choosing between the Open Programming and Linux kernel miniconfs, but at least I have the PGP key signing party to look forward to.