July 7, 2015
For several years now, BSDCan has been known in the FreeBSD universe as the place to be. It features great talks, is attended by many people FreeBSD core developers, some who usually don’t make it over to one of the European conferences, as well as the largest FreeBSD developer summit. In 2010 I was lucky to have the FreeBSD Foundation sponsor my trip to BSDCan. This year I was fortunate to have the Foundation sponsor my trip again.
I arrived in Canada some time before the conference to see a bit of the country, and to shed any sign of jetlag before the start of the developer summit (a lesson I learned from my previous BSDCan trip). At the “Goat BoF” the day before the start of the developer summit I met many familiar faces, and was able to meet some people I knew by name but had never met in person before.
The next day was marked the start of the devsummit. It’s hard to find a better place to get things done than in this inspiring atmosphere, single-mindedly focused on FreeBSD. Uninterrupted FreeBSD time is something I usually lack, so I managed to make a progress on a few of my long-standing TODO items, most notably the export of the OpenBSM repository from the FreeBSD Perforce server to git. The issues this presented on previous attempts were still there, but this time I was able to get it done and, after some more work after the conference, the repository has finally moved to GitHub. Another thing I explored was using BHyVe as a provider for Vagrant, a popular tool for creating reproducible development environments.
On the second day of the summit, I participated in the documentation working group. It was great to finally meet some of the most active people in the last few years. We had a productive day with Warren Block as ring leader, discussing topics ranging from translation, over the doc toolchain, to manpages. A special treat was the presence of Ingo Schwarze from the OpenBSD project and maintainer of the mandoc package, as well as Ryan Lortie from GNOME. Having outside experiences definitely benefited the discussion. One of my goals was discussing moving the release documentation from the source repository to the doc repository, to allow us to make corrections after a release. It was a good discussion, and Hiroki Sato explained some issues I had not considered beforehand.
The conference itself was a fantastic. It does not happen every day that you have people like Stephen Bourne, Andrew Tanenbaum and Kirk McKusick under the same roof. There were many great talks, however the most interesting one for me was “Molecular Evolution, Genomic Analysis and FreeBSD”, given by Joseph Mingrone. I’m a graduate student in cancer genomics (the analysis of genetic data from cancer patients), which is a closely related field with many of the same issues and tools. Biological and medical research is dominated by Linux, with the problem that scientific researchers usually don’t write the best and most portable code. This makes it more difficult to use FreeBSD, as oftentimes one wants to try out software from the latest research paper. Combined with the fact that biological/medical datasets are oftentimes huge, performance really matters, ruling out virtualization. As it turns out, Joseph had the same experience but found that bhyve appears to have low enough overhead to make this feasible. My hope is that we can work together to make FreeBSD a better platform for this kind of research.
In the evenings, I spent time in the hacker and doc lounges where the discussions and the work continued.
All in all, the conference and the devsummit were a great success for me. I learned a lot, and it’s always astonishing how seeing the cool stuff other people have been working on motivates me to work on FreeBSD better myself. Thank you to the FreeBSD Foundation for making this trip possible!