FOSDEM: First impressions of a free software event in Brussels, Belgium

11 Feb

I attended the FOSDEM 2010 event that took place on 6-7 February in Brussels, Belgium. It was quite an experience and I’m glad to have participated in such a lively event. It took me about an hour and a half to get to Brussels from Antwerp (including the trip from home to Antwerp central train station). Lucky for me, on the first day of the event, that is Saturday, the weather was very pleasant and not so cold. And except for the law school students from USA on the same train, I had a fairly smooth train trip (their usage of their native tongue never failed to amaze me, nearly all of their sentences started with one of those: either “You know …” or “He was like … you know … and then I was like but you know she was like …”, I’m not exaggerating, believe me! :)).

Hackers: please dont forget to fflush(wc_out);

Hackers: please don't forget to fflush(wc_out);

It was not difficult to get to the venue of the FOSDEM, UBL (Université libre de Bruxelles, not to be confused with its Dutch counterpart Vrije Universiteit Brussel where they do some very serious Lisp hacking, among other things), from the central train station of Brussels. FOSDEM organization provided very nice maps on the website and it took me about 10 minutes to get there. I was a little bit surprised because I expected a much nicer looking university. Maybe this was due to my experience of having worked at a private university in Istanbul for about 9 years. I mistook the entrance of the FOSDEM for the entrance of a construction site, dusty nylon stripes were hanging from the top of the doors. Inside of the place, there were dark and too crowded corridors which made standing at various stands a very unpleasant experience. I can’t blame FOSDEM people for the architecture of an old university, they can’t change that but at least I hope they choose a better place next year. Oh, and I do believe free software people deserve better catering than having to wait at a queue for about half an hour in order to get just a hamburger and some French fries and then eat without being to able to sit anywhere (yes there was a cafeteria which provided a covered space but again with a long queue and not much variety, and if you didn’t like this you had to go hunting for some restaurants which were far away). Frankly, I wouldn’t mind paying 10 or 20 Euros for a better place and food. (And I know that even without asking for money from participants, it is possible to provide a better atmosphere as Istanbul Bilgi University is doing for many years during its Free Software Days event).

Notwithstanding the bad physical qualities, FOSDEM provided an unbelievable number of presentations, seminars, talks and lectures. I think this was one of the rare moments where I really wished I could clone myself and be at 4 different places at the same time and keep the communication among my clones live and ticking. And I think I came close to realizing my dream with the help of RepRap and SIP Communicator 😉 If there was a place in Europe where hardware and software hackers met it was definitely the FOSDEM conference.

FOSDEM: Main entrance

FOSDEM: Main entrance

I think the most entertaining talk was given by Richard Clayton: Evil on the Internet. His take on the evil and stupid schemes of various phishing sites was hilarious. Clayton’s talk was frequently interrupted by applause from the audience, especially when he used Google Maps and StreetView to investigate the addresses found on the “Contact Us” sections of those phishing sites 😉

A phishing site

A phishing site

Criminal ecosystem

Criminal ecosystem

One of the surprising stands for me was the O’Reilly stand. I knew they were one of the sponsors but I didn’t think that they would bring so many new books to FOSDEM. They were one of the most crowded attractions and I don’t know if special-for-FOSDEM discounts on the book prices was one of the factors which led to to it. I had to restrain myself from buying about 10 books in a frenzy but when I tried to buy one of the Scala programming books next day I was sorry to hear that it was simply sold out. I guess Scala is really gaining popularity.

There were many developer rooms but one of the was very special for me this year: Mozilla developer room. Among all the wonderful talks, it was great to meet one of the mentors of Jetpack for Learning Design Challenge, Brian King, and talk about latest stuff on Jetpack, ClozeFox plug-in, Firefox and having a live short-demo of Firefox mobile on a N900 Nokia phone:

Brian King and I: talking about Jetpack and Firefox

Brian King and I: talking about Jetpack and Firefox

The last day of the FOSDEM had a very famous gues, Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum, of MINIX (and lots of other projects) fame, gave an enlightening talk on the latest developments about MINIX 3 operating system: MINIX 3: a Modular, Self-Healing POSIX-compatible Operating System.

Tanenbaum: before talking about MINIX 3

Tanenbaum: before talking about MINIX 3



Tanenbaum gave a wonderful talk with lots of sharp geek humour starting with the history of UNIX and the bloated situation of Linux (quoting the words of Linus Torvalds). The architectural and operational details of MINIX 3 seems very strong and now that Tanenbaum received about 2.5 million ? for implementing his ideas for building reliable, self-healing sytems, I think we may have the chance of seeing a lot of development in this arena. One of the most interesting parts of his talk was where he presented a job ad and said something like: This is your chance to hack an operating system kernel as a full paid developer. I also need another programmer for another but related project. This sounds like a good time to read “Operating Systems: Design and Implementation” (3rd Edition). I remember having read the title (I guess the first edition) about 12-13 years ago so a refresher with up to date information would be nice.

I’d like to thank to FOSDEM staff for their hard work. I think I’ll be attending FOSDEM 2011, too.


Posted by on February 11, 2010 in Programlama



2 responses to “FOSDEM: First impressions of a free software event in Brussels, Belgium

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