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LinuxFest Northwest 2019

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Introduction

2019 is the 50th anniversary of Unix and the 25th anniversary of Linux. Last weekend, I attended the 20th LinuxFest Northwest 2019 show in Bellingham at the Bellingham Technical Conference. A great celebration with over 1200 attendees and 84 speakers. Most of the main Linux distributions were represented along with many hardware, software and service companies associated with Linux.

I attended many great presentations and learned quite a lot. In this article, I’ll give a quick survey of what I got out of the conference. In each time slot there was typically ten talks to choose from and I chose the one that interested me the most. I tended to go to the security and overview presentations.

Computers are Broken

The first presentation I went to was “Computers are Broken (and we’re all going to die)” by Bryan Lunduke. This presentation laid out the problems with the continued increase in the complexity of all software. How this is slowing down current development, since programming teams need to be much larger and understanding what is already there is so difficult. He gave his presentation running Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Powerpoint 4. His point was he can do everything he needs with this, but with way less RAM, disk space and processing power. Lots of arguments on how software gets into everything and how hard it is to test, it is getting quite dangerous. Just look at Boeing’s problems with the 737 Max.

50 Years of Unix

Next I went to Maddog’s presentation on “50 Years of Unix, the Internet and more”. Maddog has been around Unix the whole time and had a lot of great stories from the history of Unix, Linux and computers. He spent most of his career at DEC, but has done many other things along the way.

Freedom, Security and Privacy

Then I went to Kyle Rankin’s talk, which started with a slide on Oxford commas and why there is only one comma in the title of his presentation. The Linux community has some very paranoid people and maintaining security and privacy are major themes of the conference. One of the most hated items by the Linux community is the UEFI BIOS and how it gives corporations and governments backdoors into everyone’s computers. If you can, get a computer with a CoreBoot BIOS which is open source and lacks all these security problems. One claim is that security in Linux is better because there are so many eyes on it, but he makes the point that unless they are the right eyes, you don’t really gain anything. Getting the best security researchers to test and analyse Linux remains a challenge. Also people tend to be a bit complacent on where they get their software, even if it’s open source, they don’t build it themselves, leaving room for bad things to be inserted.

Early Technology and Ideas for the Future

Jeff Fitzmaurice gave a presentation that looked at some examples from the history of science and how various theoretical breakthroughs led to technological developments. Then there was speculation on what developments in Science happening now, will lead to future technological developments. We discussed AI, materials science, quantum computing among others.

Ubuntu 19.04+

I went to Simon Quigley’s presentation on Ubuntu. Mostly because I use Ubuntu, both on this laptop and on my NVidia Jetson Nano. This talk covered what is new in 19.04 (Disco Dingo) and how work is going towards 19.10 (note the version numbers are year.month of the release target). I’ve been running the LTS (long term support) version and I was surprised to find out they only do a LTS every two years, so when I got home, I changed my configuration to install any new released version. It was interesting on how they need to get open source contributors to commit to the five year support commitment of the LTS.

People were present that work on all the derivatives like Kubuntu and Lubuntu. Most of the work they do actually goes in the upstream Debian release, which benefits even more people.

The Fight for a Secure Linux Bios

David Spring gave this presentation on all the evils of UEFI and why we need CoreBoot so badly. He has a lot of stories on the evils done by the NSA, including causing the Deepwater Horizon disaster. When the NSA release the second version of Stuxnet to attack the Iranian nuclear program, it got away on them. The oil industry uses a lot of the same Siemens equipment and got infected. Before the disaster, Deepwater Horizons monitoring computers were all down, because of the NSA and Stuxnet. If not for the NSA, they would have detected the problem and resolved it without the disaster. For all the propaganda on Chinese and Russian hacking, the NSA employees 100 hackers for every single Chinese one. Their budget is huge.

Past, Present and Future of Blockchain

My friend Clive Boulton (from the GWT days) gave this presentation on the commercial uses of blockchain. This had nothing to do with cryptocurrencies and was on using the algorithms to secure and enable commercial transactions without third party intermediaries. The presentation covered a number of frameworks like Hyperledger and Openchain that enable blockchain for application developers.

Zero Knowledge Architecture

M4dz’s presentation showed how to limit access to application data, for instance to stop insurance companies seeing your medical records. Zero knowledge protocols find ways to tell if you have knowledge without getting that knowledge. For instance if you want to know if someone can access a room, you can watch them open the door, you don’t need to get a copy of the key. Similarly you can watch a service use a password, without giving you the password. These protocols are quite difficult, especially when you get into key recovery procedures, but ultimately if these gain traction we will all get better privacy.

Linux Gaming – the Dark Ages, Today and Beyond…

Ray Shimko’s presentation covered the state of Linux gaming from all the old console emulators to native ports of games where the source code has been released, to better packaging of all the layers required to run Windows games (right version of Wine, etc.). There are a lot of games on Linux now, but sadly the newest hot releases lag quite a while before showing up.

One interesting story is how the emulator contributors are trying to deal with games like “Duck Hunt”. Duck Hunt came with a gun, you pointed at the TV to shoot the ducks. The way this worked was that when you pressed the trigger, the game would flash the screen white. One a CRT this meant the refresh would scan down the screen in 1/60th of a second. A sensor in the gun would record when it saw white and by measuring the time difference, the software would know where the gun was pointing. The problem is that modern screens don’t work that way, so this whole aiming technique doesn’t work. Evidently a workaround is forthcoming.

Q&A

The conference ended with a Q&A session hosted by Maddog, Kyle Rankin and Simon Quigley. The audience could ask whatever they wanted and perhaps got an answer or perhaps got a story. Lots of why doesn’t Linux do X and how can I contribute to Y.

Summary

Hard to believe Linux is 25 years old all ready. This is a great show and in the spirit of free software the show is also free to attend. Lots of interesting discussion and its refreshing to see software developing where users really want, rather than what you see under various corporate agendas.

When you buy a new computer, make sure it uses Coreboot BIOS and not UEFI.

 

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Written by smist08

April 30, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Life

Tagged with , , , ,