Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marathon Weeks, Post 2: FOSS Fair

Most of these fall under "interesting notes to self", but hey, it's actually getting something written down.

Here's the run-down of Monday, February 2nd:

9:35 AM, first FOSS fair session, decided to attend a section called Predicting Vulnerabilities with Software Metrics. This was a bit dry and awkward - my Software Engineering instructor was overseeing it, and the people running it were her grad students (one of which was "Andy Programmer" of iTrust fame). If you know Dr. Williams at all, you know that she's actually pretty well known in the field for writing research papers on software methodologies, pair programming, and other things that most of us find a bit dull. Trust me, though, it's important and respected. My biggest issue with this section is that it felt too much like an abstract for an academic paper - it covered some findings, information about using metrics, but no actual metrics. I would have preferred to see some code instead of just hearing statistics about what was discovered when open-source software was analyzed (OK, the graphs were a bit intriguing - but again, not really something practical for someone like me coming in with no real knowledge of the subject).

In spite of all the other events during those few weeks, I attended all my courses regularly. So I still went to my "course" which featured my classmates giving updates on our big Senior Design Projects. I was really disappointed that this made me miss some of the more exciting FOSS Fair sessions (at least they sounded exciting to me from the descriptions on the site), and frankly, my classmates aren't that good at presenting and didn't have much to say. Sorry, but c'mon, nobody really wants to hear undergrads go on for 5+ minutes each about how they're just starting to work on something. Let me know when something interesting's already been done. Again, I'm not trying to be rude here, but note how I haven't said anything about my own project for that course yet either - I know nobody wants to hear it.

After lunch, I made it to another FOSS Fair session - this one an overall look at the benefits of open source. This was fairly interesting, with some discussion of major projects and how things fit together, but it was ultimately just a well-presented version of the sort of thing cranky Slashdotters are always saying. I was a bit surprised by a slide near the end that listed ways open source is changing the world - I hadn't really thought OLPC as an open-source project before (another interesting point, about open government policy under the Obama administration, is one I've made myself in an earlier blog post here).

The next FOSS Fair thing I was able to make it to was focused on Cloud Computing. I didn't really know much about Cloud beforehand, and this worked as a good introduction. There was some unforeseen technical issues, though, that kept the "simple" demonstration from working on campus.

The night went a bit long for me - I visited with a potential employer for an info session on a training program I ultimately did not get into, and after that I got a chance to catch up with the local amateur robotics club. This was a bit wonky for my tastes (big emphasis on discussing designs on the white board), but interesting nonetheless. I need to properly join the Yahoo! Group for that still. I briefly discussed my 'bots that I had shown up at UNC the previous weekend, and one person even asked a bit more info about LUG's (needless to say, most of the people there knew a little bit about Mindstorms already). One thing that sounded pretty interesting to me (not for the immediate future but for potential use in months to come) was that the group was talking about moving the meetings off-campus to a place in Durham that would allow people to rent metal-working machines. That has some serious potential for some larger robotics projects (not that I'm ready to give up on Mindstorms, but once you've tried building a musical project, you start to notice the limitations of LEGO parts and the presence of gear lash...)

Overall, an exciting day, and I'm hoping to make it to the next FOSS Fair (whenever that ends up being) and to catch up with the amateur robotics crowd more frequently. I'm also planning on looking into the other robotics groups on campus more - it looks like I'll have a good time to try out the UAV club next week.

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