Linux Lunacy in Alaska

by Don Marti

Editors' Note: This article has been updated since its original posting.

Disclaimer: Linux Journal is a cosponsor of Linux Lunacy.

Doc Searls will fill you in on the social and networking opportunities available to attendees of the third annual Linux Lunacy cruise. And Holland America Lines certainly has the floating hospitality thing down. Think of the ms Amsterdam as a Las Vegas hotel with lifeboat drills.

But smoked salmon for breakfast, whales to the starboard and aurora borealis in clear skies are not exactly going to sell our more serious-minded readers or their management on the idea of sitting on a boat in Alaska for a Linux conference. More important is the content of the technical sessions. A lot of the prepared material seems to be on the introductory side, but the speakers have the depth of knowledge needed to give detailed answers to more complicated questions.

Linux Lunacy has two tracks going at once for most of the days at sea. School is out during port calls. Because there are more talks than one actually can attend, we missed the full day of "Introduction to the Linux Kernel" by Theodore Ts'o, which is an updated version of the tutorial we covered last year at the Usenix Technical Conference.

Ted also did a talk on "More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Filesystems", which balanced an overview of filesystem design with some practical advice for sysadmins who choose and maintain filesystems. Your best way to keep an ext2 or ext3 filesystem defragmented and running its best is not to fill it up all the way, or as Ted put it, "Overprovision like mad." Although it's difficult to come up with a benchmark that fairly measures the performance of a filesystem that has been in service for a while, the Postmark benchmark provides a good simulation of a running mail server, he said.

Mick Bauer, Linux Journal's security columnist, is another speaker on the cruise. If you've been reading Linux Journal for years, why go see Mick live? Because if you have questions about your own security situation, he's good at addressing them with, "That's a really interesting question" and hitting you with a detailed answer.

Mick's talk on "Paranoid Penguin's Choice: Outstanding Linux Security Tools" covered many of the same tools he has been writing about in his column, but he added more material and pointed out, of course, that Carrie-Anne Moss ran nmap in The Matrix Reloaded.

Besides the tool-oriented material he covers in his column, Mick covered more security policy issues in person. For example, you don't have to leave ports open willy-nilly to have a flexible security policy that lets users get their jobs done. Simply make sure that people who need a port open come to you, and open it if they need it. "If they haven't talked to me, I generally want to block it", he said.

And, the comment field in Firewall Builder is there for a reason. Remind yourself of the reason why you decided to allow something.

If you think you travel light, try comparing luggage with Bruce Perens. His goal is to keep everything he needs for a trip in his backpack, so that he can run to a meeting without having to drop baggage off at a hotel.

Bruce's enabling technology for world travelers includes a GSM phone and a tiny laptop. You can get your mail anywhere with GSM service, but there's a charge per kilobyte. If you're traveling only in the US, check out the unmetered service from Sprint.

Greg Haerr, author of Microwindows, did two talks on the C programming language, including one introduction and one, called "C Programming Tricks of the Trade", on good habits to develop when working on C projects.

Although Greg certainly was clear on the fundamental doctrine that you should write code to be clear and correct first, then come back and optimize critical sections if you have to, there are some decisions where both clarity and performance win. For example, a freestanding:


is sometimes faster than:


And, because they're equally easy to read, you might as well use the former.

If you know that a variable is never supposed to have a negative value, declaring it as unsigned keeps the compiler from having an excuse to do unnecessary sign extension before working with it.

Greg also covered effective debugging with assert and everyone's favorite debugging tool, printf.

Future events include the first public performance of the SCO version of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" and a talk by the self-proclaimed king of not preparing for talks, Linus Torvalds. And yes, there's a Linux Professional Institute certification track and more technical tracks, including dueling Perl and Python tutorials. Fundamentally, however, the Linux Lunacy cruise compares well to other Linux-oriented conferences.

Linux Lunacy doesn't have the diversity of speakers or topics of a large event such as the Usenix Technical Conference, but the percentage of technical content is as high as you want. Plus, not counting the cruise environment and the opportunity to meet speakers outside class, the small class size means that you have more time to ask questions.

Don Marti is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal.

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