I attended BSDCan 2019 in Ottawa, Canada this year. I’m sadly no longer particularly familiar with the BSD world because most of my work for customers revolves around Linux, but there was an exception recently, and I hope that won’t be the last.

The event began with the disappointing news that the full-day OpenBSD porting workshop was cancelled due to force majeure.

I had signed up for Peter Hessler’s BGP for non-experts tutorial on the second day because of the explicit “non-experts” in the title. I’ve used ping a couple of times, so I thought I’d be fine. :-) Not only could I follow, but I actually enjoyed it and learned a lot. One technical detail about the infrastructure used in the presentation impressed me: Peter’s OpenBSD laptop runs around 60 VMM machines onto which we all logged on for lab experiments; Peter has a slide deck describing parts of the setup.

The conference proper was on the third and fourth days, and I attended a number of talks.

  • In building an accessible OpenBSD laptop Stefan Sperling speaks of how he proposes OpenBSD for his friend Maurice, an actor who survived a brain hemorrhage. In between recounting the Maurice’s impediments, Stefan details some of the software and hardware issues he experienced on building the laptop and some solutions. At the end of the talk, Stefan set up a live video conference with Maurice which was cute. All in all I had the impression that Stefan went to a huge amount of work and stumbled over lots of software problems for this particular task.

  • unwind(8) by Florian Obser interested me because it proposes a solution which will offer road warriors and most workstations DNSSEC resolution directly on the device. I haven’t had the opportunity of using unwind productively yet, but I get the impression it does a bit more than DNSSEC Trigger does in attempting to provide seamless DNSSEC resolution to the workstation.

  • The talk Diving and OpenBSD given by Kristaps Dzonsons was brilliant. He’s a good entertainer, and he explained how he uses specific programs on OpenBSD to process pictures and other data from multiple underwater computers and cameras. A very entertaining presentation with sensational underwater pictures projected onto the big screen.

  • In OpenBSD network-booted Workstations, Jan Klemkow explained how and with which methods they have OpenBSD boot on up to 250 workstations. I enjoyed the topic because I used to do a quite a bit of remote booting back in the days when we did that. I actually thought it’s a foregone technology, but it appears it isn’t; good.

I took a break and skipped the last slot of the day, preferring some peace and quiet and the chance to let the day’s impressions settle. That evening I went out for a rather mediocre Thai meal with half a dozen people, but we had fun making fun of the restaurant, and after the last beer for me at the Royal Oak, I took a bow.

Day two, for me, consisted of these talks:

  • Bob Beck did a loud and clear (and I mean this very positively: being hard of hearing, loud and intelligible audio is important to me, and BOB IS VERY LOUD :-) presentation on Unveil in OpenBSD in which he explained the intricacies of the unveil(2) system call which basically “hides” portions of the file system. I think I now know everything I ever wanted to know about that; very well done. unveil(2) is a system call other Unixes and Linux would profit from (as with pledge(2) which is likely much more complicated to implement). Both of these make me as a programmer think about what I believe my program should be permitted to do / see and have the program crash (in the case of pledge) or file operations fail (for unveil) if the program attempts to exceed the self-imposed limitations.

  • syspatch(8) is used to fetch, apply, and revert binary OpenBSD patches, and Antoine Jacoutot gave a very good and comprehensive overview of what the utility does, how it works, and how patches are actually created on OpenBSD. Of particular interest to me was his “war story” on how he came about to make this happen. (Real life stories are what I most enjoy hearing about at conferences.)

  • I listened to Philipp Buehler speak about adding OpenBSD VMM support to “packer” which is an open source tool for creating identical machine images for multiple platforms from a single source. I’m not familiar enough with packer to fully grasp what he’s doing but it sounded sound.

  • I had a very entertaining breakfast with Ollivier (who shot the conference photos) and Aaron Poffenberger, and one of the talks I’d marked as “must see” was Aaron’s Road Warrior Disaster Recovery, and I was not disappointed. Aaron covered various strategies available to us to ensure our laptops are secure, synchronized, backed up and ready to recover. Lots of food for thought for me. I gave it a rating of “my vote for Best Talk at BSDCan 2019”.

As to my own talk, I had a hell of a time with my demo: the university of Ottawa prohibits WiFi routers, so the demonstration I wanted to give with equipment brought across the Atlantic was in danger. With the help of a few people who lent me bits and pieces (thank you all, again, for switch and cables) I was able to convert most of my demo hardware to cabled access. Simply the Wemos-D1 had to remain on WiFi so I risked it, plugging it in a mere minute before I needed it and crossing fingers it wouldn’t be remotely de-authed. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the Raspi with the #blinkenlights to work; very sad.

official feedback

Even so, i got good feedback for my own talk, MQTT for system administrators (and for the IoT) which came across with quite a large audience and many interested and interesting questions at the end.

The final and closing talk at BSDCan2019 was moderated by Dan Langille, and it was hugely amusing. I’ll say just one thing: an auction for a good cause. :-) This was followed by the closing social event which gave me a chance to chat to a number of interesting people. It also gave me the chance to receive quite a bit of praise for my MQTT talk.

I’d like to thank the BSDCan committee for inviting me to speak and attend the conference; you may do that again. :-)

bsd and conference :: 22 May 2019 :: e-mail