Minutes of the FOSDEM 2020 conference

A cake for FOSDEM 20 years

The FOSDEM'20 (Free & Open Source Developers’ European Meeting) conference is:

a free event for software developers to meet, share ideas and collaborate

It took place last week-end at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and I had the chance to attend it.

Sincere thanks to my employer, oui.sncf, for financing the accommodation & transport!

The following are some frugal notes on the talks I've seen there.

Saturday 10:00 How FOSS could revolutionize municipal government - Danese Cooper

FOSDEM talk description

The has a bio on Wikipedia.

A quote that I liked:

Open Source is Art. We're attached to our creations the way painters are.

Some city experiments mentioned:

Participatory budgeting :

Many things mentioned in this talk are follow-ups of Open Sources 2.0 - The continuing evolution - 2006, book chapter "Public Administrations & Libre Software".

Saturday 11:30 Doomed are the dinosaurs! - David Heijkamp

Naturalis history museum interior

FOSDEM talk description

Deploy & manage an entirely new natural history museum: Naturalis in Leiden, Netherlands

Infra based on OpenSteck & Ceph, some workloads on Kubernetes (at some point), analytics with Sensu, ELK and Grafana

  1. Built on existing infra & know-how
  2. Use high quality open source components
  3. Apply 'infra as code' & devops to infrastructure & museum

Diagram: Ansible in the center

Diagram: The scope of automation in the museum

A quote that I liked:

Turning on the museum is done through AWX every morning by someone working at the security.

Saturday 12:00 Civil society needs Free Software hackers - Matthias Kirschner

More and more traditionally processes in our society now incorporate, and are influenced by software. Processes that decide for example: Who will be able to go to which university? Who will be invited for a job interview? How long does someone have to go to jail?

FOSDEM talk description

Matthias Kirschner is FSFE's president :

Examples mentioned:

  • Parcoursup en France : website - Framagit
  • CVs filtered by proprietary software before being looked by any human, in many countries inc. UK
  • USA's Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), used to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of re-offending to be released on bail (more info in an article on theguardian.com)

Saturday 12:20 A tool for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) management, OpenOlitor - Mikel Cordovilla Mesonero

Web-based tool to facilitate the organization of Community Supported Agriculture groups.

The name means "Open gardeners", it's from latin.

Saturday 12:40 What's in my food ? Open Food Facts - Pierre Slamich

Open Food Facts logo

FOSDEM talk description

I especially liked this slide, describing the percentage of fruit in Fanta drinks sold in different places around Europe:

Fruit percentage among different Fanta drinks sold across Europe

All data is under Open Data License

They are extending their initial idea:

OpenFoodFacts also improves accessibility, e.g. allow blind people to know what there is in the food they buy

Info on how to contribute: https://world.openfoodfacts.org/development

Come Play With Food!

Saturday 13:00 Web3 - the Internet of Freedom, Value, and Trust - Bruno Škvorc

FOSDEM talk description

web3 foundation website

Our ultimate goal is delivering Web 3.0, a decentralized and fair internet where users control their own data and markets prosper from network efficiency and security.

Web 3.0 is:

  1. Linked data
  2. Distributed data
  3. Add a layer of trust on the network (through blockchains)

That's all we want: Transfer messages from anywhere, to anywhere

Saturday 14:00 The Hidden Early History of Unix - Warner Losh

FOSDEM talk description

A truly fascinating talk about programming archaeology, recounting the tale of how the very first Unix build systems!

Jurassic Park meme: it's a UNIX system, I know this!

PDP-7 sources have been recently recovered, and at the time, the "userland" was limited to ~25 commands (I only recognized cat, check & chmod), with init, ln, ls, mv & sh newly written!

A LCM+L PDP-7 booting and running UNIX Version 0... with a typewriter serving as output!!!

As a side note, pdp-7 emulator won became IOCCC 2018 winner!

The growth of the number of computers running Unix is quite interesting:

  • for Unix 2nd edition (June 1972), there were 10 installations
  • for 3nd edition (February 1973) : 16 installations
  • for 4th edition (November 1973) : 20 installations
  • for 5th edition (June 1974) : above 50 installations
  • for 6th edition (May 1975) : over 100 sites

Warner Losh also dwelves into a few interesting questions: What was the first fork of Unix ? What was the first Unix running under an hypervisor ?

And finally, there is one of the very first Unix fan-arts picture!

Drawing of small red demons around a mainframe

Saturday 15:00 A best practices guide for FLOSS community managers - The Open Source Way v2.0 - Karsten Wade & Shaun McCance

Purely illustrative event cover image

FOSDEM talk description

Two speakers from Red Hat presented a project they are starting : a collaboratively-written, community-driven, guide for FLOSS community managers:

a (somewhat opinionated) guidebook for anyone interested in managing open source communities. It collects best practices for initiating, nurturing, growing, and maintaining groups of passionate contributors.

Following a question, it was clarified that such guide is only needed at the point where the number of contributors reach a certain point, where self-organizing does not work / something more structured is needed.

This birds of feathers (BoF) was mainly an exchange of questions & reflections on this project, hence difficult to summarize.

A provocative idea, but one I found very interesting, was to have a TESTAMENT.md file explaining how a project is planning to "retire", if ever it "fades out", e.g. due to a lack of motivated contributors / finance: would it get archive ? Donated or merged to an org ?

Saturday 16:00 Journalists are researchers like any others - Anne L'Hôte & Bruno Thomas

FOSDEM talk description


The room was full, so I wasn't able to assist to this talk. Thanks to FOSDEM video recordings, I'll watch it soon!

It made me discover this interesting initiative though: the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists "Leak to us" page:

[We] ​encourages​ ​whistleblowers​ ​to securely​ ​submit​ ​all​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​content​ ​that​ ​might​ ​be​ ​of​ ​public​ ​concern​ ​-​ ​documents,​ ​photos, video​ ​clips ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​story​ ​tips. We​ ​accept​ ​all​ ​information​ ​that​ ​relates​ ​to​ ​potential​ ​wrongdoing​ ​by​ ​corporate,​ ​government​ ​or public​ ​service​ ​entities​ ​in​ ​any​ ​country,​ ​anywhere​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​We​ ​do​ ​our​ ​utmost​ ​to​ ​guarantee the​ ​confidentiality​ ​of​ ​our​ ​sources.

Saturday 17:30 Creating Sustainable Public Sector Open Source Communities - OSOR team

FOSDEM talk description

OSOR = Open Source Observatory

Description from Wikipedia:

online project launched by the European Commission to support the distribution and re-use of software developed by or for public sector administrations across Europe.

This was a collaborative group thinking workshop, and probably the most interesting FOSDEM event of the day for me!

The goal was to have a reflection on guidelines for open-source projects to adopt across Europe, that would improve their sustainability. They stated that they wanted to initiate

a discussion on the key elements that contribute to OSS communities’ vibrance, governance and sustainable finance.

The OSOR team constituted of Monika Sowinska, a European Commission project officer, Dr Maha Shaikh, and several consultants from the Wavestone cabinet.

They told us they were planning to draft, this year, some official guidelines along those lines. They should get back to us through email, so I'll include more information here when I'll know more.

Note: because OSOR main page is on Joinup, it made me discover this european "software solutions" catalogue catalogue.

EDIT [2020/02/24] : on February the 11th, an email was sent to the participants, with enclosed a Power-Point presentation (sic) including the slides they showed us during the workshop, and the "Brainstorming session results".

Those slides can be found online at the bottom of this article on Joinup: Workshop on sustainable OSS communities in public sector at FOSDEM20

As for myself, I took part in the brainstorming group about "Governance". I am glad they included pictures of the post-its board in the slides, as they accurately reflect the output of this short session. However, I have to say that I am surprised on how some of the ideas expressed at the workshop have been transcribed. I certainly do not recall anyone suggesting anything even close to those "results" from the slides:

Governance should be enforced because hierarchy does not always happen naturally

Projects have three core phases that are better facilitated through the enforcement of governance standards: 1. Maintenance 2. Deployment 3. Operation

While this "group brainstorming" format was really interesting to generate discussion and exchanges of points of view around those thematics, I fear that a large part of interpretation has been done on the resulting post-its boards: I sincerely think that the "brainstorming session results" from this workshop do not properly reflect the opinions of the participants.

Finally, I am a bit disappointed that the survey they sent us is only addressed to members of open source community managed by the public sector link to the survey. They do not seem interested in consulting members of other open-source communities.

EDIT [2020/06/02] : I missed that before but the OSOR has a newsletter.

It is also redacting interesting Intelligence reports on the use of open source software per european country.

Sunday 11:00 Is the web rea11y for all? - Ioana Chiorean

FOSDEM talk description

Slides on GoogleDocs

Sunday 11:55 Cognitive biases, blindspots and inclusion - Allon Mureinik

FOSDEM talk description

Sunday 12:55 Bringing back ethics to open source - Tobie Langel

FOSDEM talk description

Link to online slides: https://speaking.unlockopen.com/8bsoum/bringing-ethics-back-to-open-source

Really inspiring talk, despite the technical difficulties !

I loved the speaker idea to imagine where we would be if from the start, OSD licenses would have been created with ethics like human rights in mind.

What kind of inspiring uchronia could we imagine there ?

A few random thoughts:

  • would it have slowed down OSS adoption ? I'd say no, because most projects would likely not object to pro-human-rights clauses... It could actually be an attractiveness factor for contributors: we can assure you that the code you willingly write under this license will never be used to anti-human-right activities.
  • would some kind of failsafe systems be embedded in software, so that a democratically elected body could disable OSS systems used in against human rights ?
  • is this subject linked to transparency of OSS usage ? Should OSS usage be registered ? I have strong doubts here...
  • there is also the subject of classifying which OSS is "dangerous" to human rights, or definitively not.
  • how would you control the application of those licenses terms ? How would you enforce rules at a worldwide level ? (legally, but also very likely by political "force")

A "strong concept word / image", similar to the term "copyleft", could be useful to express this idea. Human-rights-enforcing licenses ? Probably not catchy enough...

EDIT [2020/02/14]: a similar idea to prevent oil and gas companies to use software under a specific license: https://github.com/climate-strike/license

Sunday 15:00 File sharing & storage for human rights organizations - Allon Bar & Abigail Garner

FOSDEM talk description

Also a very interesting talk!

One thing I found interesting: they had to write a Memorendum of Understanding to clarify their goals and to reassure their partners about how they do not want to legally bind them.

They mentioned that one of the existing solutions in use by human right organizations was https://cryptpad.fr

After the talk, with a friend of mine also present at the FOSDEM, we wondered what what the use of a distributed system in that case? Supposedly the hosting could be done in "safer" countries, having less to fear from criminal governments, and hence not really at risk? We also wondered if existing technical solutions like PGP were considered, and if so why they weren't adopted ?

Sunday 15:30 Design contributions to OSS: Learnings from the Open Design project at Ushahidi - Eriol Fox

FOSDEM talk description

An interesting talk, building bridges between the Open Source community and the designers community: what they can learn from each others, and what the speaker learned from her experience to make both worlds work together.

I hope a video recording will be uploaded.

Sunday 16:00 NGI Zero: A treasure trove of tech awesome - Michiel Leenaars

FOSDEM talk description

It was difficult to take notes of this very fast lightning talk, but there is a lot of information to be found on the FOSDEM event description.

Sunday 16:20 European Software Engineering funded research - Luis C. Busquets Pérez

FOSDEM talk description

Same here, note much notes taken, also getting a bit tired by the end of the week-end 😉

All those inspiring talks about open source gave me an urgent feeling of "I want to code!", so I started coding on a new Pelican plugin instead of paying much attention to this last talk...

Conclusive notes

The event was awesome! Everybody felt very friendly, but it was also quite crowded (slightly a bit too much for me).

It felt to me there was a higher proportion of female participants than in other conferences, which is great!

Thanks a lot to the event organizers for putting up a "Dualstack" Wi-Fi hotspot (IpV4 compatible): I too would like everybody to use IpV6, but with my employer-provided Windows laptop, I couldn't have accessed Internet at all during this week-end 😁

The number of talks and subjects covered was huge! IMHO, there were just a bit too many "visionary" talks about "the future of the Internet" 🙄

I'll conclude with an interesting read for French-speaking people that are not necessarily into programming & systems, but are still interested by the ethics & goals of Libre & Open Source software: débuter dans le Libre (sans avoir rien à coder) - Framablog.