FOSDEM, or Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting. A conference to which I’ve tried to go since at least 2014. And finally in 2019 I’ve managed to get my arse to Brussels thanks to Marcin (vel hrw). Also, thanks to my wonderful wife who decided to join us on this trip! I was a bit afraid that she will be bored to death. But it wasn’t an issue at all!
FOSDEM starts on Friday in a Delirium pub, where you can have a beer. Or seven…
Near the entrance, you’ll find organizing team selling tokens for beers (5 pieces for 20€). It wasn’t cheap for a poor Polish DevOps guy, but beer is really tasty. And strong.
Thanks to excessive use of beer tokens, most of the Satuday was gone for me. Seriously, don’t overdo it.
Anyway, I’ve started at 13:00 with a crepe with Nutella. And felt that I’ll be alive soon and ready for some sessions.
First I’ve visited sponsor stands… to grab some stickers! Well, but to be honest I was curious, stickers were a secondary objective here.
I’ve bought a t-shirt though!
Most of the sessions I looked forward to join were around privacy, security and cryptocurrencies. First one I’ve managed to see was “Enough: How journalism can benefit from free software” and was led by Veronika Nad.
Enough is a plaform for journalists, human rights activists and whistle blowers. It provides private and secure communication. At the moment you can send some files through it (think Google Drive or Dropbox). Enough implements servies in a way so they’d be understandable for non-technical people who doesn’t have extensive knowledge on cryptography.
Additionally to a ready SaaS (Software as a Service) solution, Enough provides also extensive documentation and full source code so anyone can install their software on their own servers. You can see the recording here in mp4 format, or here in webm.
Netflix and FreeBSD
I was planning to see some talk covering Terraform, but I went to a Netflix session provided by Jonathan Looney who is an Engineering Manager in this company. And it was pretty interesting too.
Main topic of the presentation was how Netflix is utilizing FreeBSD to stream (sending a lot of data, like audio and video, over encrypted channels) and how they’re managing changes in such setup.
Spoiler alert: They’re using unstable version of FreeBSD.
Looney also touches very close to my heart topic closing oneself in a vicious circle (Of Doom And Despair!) which is preventing team to advance in development.
There’s a story that is coming to my mind every time about a guy looking at construction worker who is running around with an empty barrow. When he asks the worker about it, worker responds: “There’s so much to do I don’t have time to load it!”
Since Netflix is patching FreeBSD with its own code, updating only stable versions of the OS was very hard and took a ton of time. Thanks to use of unstable version, updates are much more frequent (4-5 weeks), it’s easier to apply changes to their own code.
And great side effect of it is Netflix is giving back to community some portion of their code. How great is that?!
Russian cryptographic algorithms
I’ve started Sunday strong, with crypography. Dmitry Eremin-Solenikov showed GOST algorithms in OpenSource libraries. First part of the presentation he was focused on deconstructing stereotypes grown around these algorithms.
GOST is a symetric encryption algorythm (from Gousudarstviennyj Standard, means State Standard). Algorithm was a state secret until 1990, in 1994 it got released to public. According to Wikipedia, encryption is considered broken since 2012. Though it still require a lot of computation work to guess the encryption key, see document outlining the attack.
In spite of that vulnerability, GOST is being implemented in OpenSource libraries as GnuTLS or LibreSSL. Read more about this on an official project website.
Hey – Blockchain Social Network
Blockchain is being recognized in mainstream basically and most of the people connects it to Bitcoin or more general – cryptocurrency. For some it’s something that shouldn’t have any value. For others it’s a ground breaking technology.
Thanks to distributed nature of blockchain and Ethereum with its smart contracts, there is a possibility to create applications (see: dapps). Also, games! See CryptoKitties
During FOSDEM, in one of the Developer Rooms, I’ve sumbled upon a project named Hey. I’ve been waiting for another talk, but I’ve found this very interesting. Why?
Hey is basically a communicator poweredy by blockchain. Yes, but bare with me here.
You can put Hey on your web page, but communicator is actually a browser plugin and communication is accomplished by peer-to-peer instead of going through some server.
Users can gain karma points that are being recalculated to a crypto token. The magic is being done in a sidechain (out of main blockchain network), but output transactions will be back in main network.
What could it be used for? I found at least one use case: to reward users for helping each other with issues they’re having with your project.
Or for AMA sessions – great questions would be rewarded.
When I’m writing this article (March 2019), the app is still in development.
P4: Private Periodic Payments Protocol
There was one session I’ve forgot to save anywhere, but it was a great one.
P4 is a set of (Open Source) software used to process periodic payments that would be secure and anonymous. It’s using a set of different projects including Tahoe-LAFS (decentralized storage), Tor network and Zcash. See P4 project page for details.
P4 is being developed by a German company Least Authority
So, should I go to FOSDEM?
Short answer is: YES, GO.
It was my first trip to Brussels. The conference itself is very dynamic, a lot is going on. People always moving somewhere. During the day you can encounter bucketful of geekiness at every corner and people are very aproachable and friendly.
Did I mention beer?
You basically need to use an official mobile app, or you won’t find anything. Yes, that many talks are going on at the same time. It can be overwhelming, so it’s useful to have some purpose going there (like I’ve focused on crypto and privacy). Otherwise you’ll just want to see everything which basically leads to FOMO and you won’t enjoy it.
I think you should go at least once. Just to see how it feels. Odds are you’ll make it mandatory conference every year.