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FISL wrapup redux

Filed under: General — Thomas @ 10:41


(to counter the flood of GUADEC posts, I'm finishing off my FISL wrapup from two months ago...)

img_0049.jpg Brazilians find guns as yummy as Americans (3c)

It's hard to try and describe everything that happened at FISL, so I'll just go through some of the things I remember quickly before it's too late.

The streaming went south on the first day. Obviously the network people kept blaming the software, Flumotion. When someone dragged me in to take a look at it, I noticed that the first machine outside of the building on the route to the online server had 30% packet loss. I was completely puzzled at how network people can even claim it's not their problem when the first test one does catches them with their pants down.

The next morning, packet loss to that server was up to 90% ! I don't know what most people expect from software to do live streaming, but I definitely don't expect it to overcome 90% packet loss. So we moved the server to http://stream.fluendo.com and that fixed the packet loss.

At least all the archives turned out fine, and now they're being edited and downsampled.

My room mate was Han-Wen Nienhuys, the author of LilyPond, music notation for everyone. While my preference would have gone to someone who only speaks Spanish, just for practice value, beside that I couldn't have done better than Han-Wen. It's nice to just speak in your mother tongue (well - close - I did the typical clean-up of my language as usual when around actual Dutch people), and we got along well.

Han-Wen, meet caipirinha img_0193.jpg

My second talk, about Flumotion, went very well too. In both my talks I ended up putting too much stuff in, as usual. I really should learn to remove slides after writing a presentation. But all the demos worked and seemed to convince people, and I even made the correct demo segfault precisely at the point I said it should segfault.For my Flumotion talk, I had shown off a basic picture-in-picture component that Pablo asked me to do the day before, and I did it in about half an hour. He said it was enlightening to have me code it up while explaining every step to him. Really, the only problems I had with my Flumotion talk preparation where the damn kernel drivers for webcams not working again as they should. The pwc ones were giving me "Protocol Error" and "Invalid multibyte character" (wtf ? It's a webcam !), and the qc-usb drivers didn't even compile anymore, in either the latest release or CVS version (which I fixed after figuring out what old macros they were using)

For both of my talks, I got a bunch of people outside asking questions about things they'd seen. Most questions were about Cortado (a lot of people are setting up some video sharing service, most notably the Estudio Livre people), Elisa (the demo seemed to have impressed quite a few people), and about some of the Python stuff we've done in Flumotion.
Since Richard Stallman was there, I wanted to see if I could figure out if our free mp3 plug-in is Free Software. The plug-in is MIT-licensed, which is considered to be a Free Software license. However, it comes with the additional feature of allowing both us, and our partners (which is really anyone that signs a simple contract with us), to build "the product", which is the binary version, and have the patent license Fluendo negotiated apply to it. It is definitely not easy to talk about these things with Stallman - you're at a very obvious and strong disadvantage given how he eats and breathes these things all day, while I have to make do with the very little time I ever get to spend to think on Free Software and licensing.
Sadly in the course of our discussion I ended up getting him very angry at first, which was not the goal at all. I was trying to understand how he would feel about this simple MIT-with-a-twist, so I could form my opinion. I was so exasperated that I was about to walk away on the spot, but I managed to go on, apologize for upsetting him, and he apologized for getting upset. It ended up being an enlightening talk about some of the finer points and some ethical questions related to Free Software. I may not agree with everything though.

In particular, he made the point that a license alone does not decide whether something is Free Software - what others do with that software also affects its Free Software status. He made the example of someone taking BSD-like code and distributing it without source - effectively that binary version of the code is not free software. So, in our case, distributing the binary makes it be non-free. He compared to splay, a program shipped with debian, that he uses to play mp3's, and licensed under the GPL. I don't agree with his assessment - to me a piece of software is Free Software on its own, without regard of what other people do with it (though the GPL allows for terminating the GPL license for a piece of software as soon as you're not allowed to distribute it anymore with all the freedoms as before).
We also discussed whether it is the right thing to do at all to even support playback of mp3. How can a Debian user know, when given the choice to install both an Ogg/Vorbis and an mp3 player, that the Ogg/Vorbis format is the more ethical to pick ?

RMS to me is like the North Star - it may not be where I want to end up in the end, but he's sure pointing the right way.

img_0098.jpg Richard Stallman, on being presented with Ubuntu install CD's, loaded them up in a computer, found the binary-only NVIDIA drivers on there, and put his opinion about Ubuntu's freeness on display at the FSF booth. (To be honest, I have to agree with his position here - I would never have expected Fedora Core to end up being more free than Ubuntu, but there it is)

FISL was excellent for a number of reasons. Meeting up with old friends, like Johan (Second Fluendo Employee), Kiko, Miguel, and meeting new people, like Lucas Rocha, Han-Wen, Harald Welte, Pablo Lorenzzoni (who organized the stremaing), and a whole bunch of the FISL/ASL crew, too numerous to mention by name.

Harald seems to be one of the original hackers - he bought and hacked a Motorola phone that runs Linux, analyzing the whole thing, and started replacing the included 2.4 MontaVista Kernel with the latest kernel, replacing every proprietary module with a GPL one. He's not done yet, but he seems dedicated to finishing it. I may actually have to buy such a phone. It is probably worth having just for the /dev/vibrator entry alone - which alledgedly you can ioctl() to make it do its thing. Besides that, he does a lot of GPL enforcement and training work. On the last day he was telling some stories about the CCC, very interesting to hear how their real-world hacks are done carefully enough to not cross over legal boundaries too far, held close by their sense of ethics.

One of the nicest things about conferences is how you get to talk to a whole number of hackers with different interests and areas of work, finding out things and being able to ask about stuff you would otherwise never get to ask because the internet is so big. You can ask silly questions about OpenGL and driver support to Keith Packard, or ask Greg Stein questions on how to implement a certain program I've written (more later) that uses Subversion, or have Miguel try and convince you to switch languages to Mono.

At the last day of the conference I still had only eaten either bad meat or only a little bit of good meat (though for a good price). So that night I really really wanted to go to a good churrascerio. Keith had been riding me all day about me being cursed and that teaming up would just lead to none of us having decent meat. The closing ceremony dragged on, and then the Cab Ride From Hell took forever, but somewhere after 10 we finally arrived at a place called Heaven.

And more caipiroska !

The day after the conference we got invited to a breakfast barbecue. It started at 10 in the morning and lasted until 9 in the evening, and again there was an unlimited supply of caipirinha and caipiroska. I don't know how these people keep up, but they do. Next day, a short walk around Porto Alegre to at least have seen *something*, and then back on the plane, with Han-Wen. Save for missing our Lisbon connection, everything went well and I was happy to arrive back home in the arms of my dearest.

FISL was great - hope to see you again next year.

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