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Conferences, Conferences, Conferences: OSL Staff Out and About in March

Conferences, Conferences, Conferences: OSL Staff Out and About in March

March is proving to be a busy month for OSL staffers at various technical conferences, and we wanted to bring the community an update about our past and upcoming adventures.

Deborah Bryant, our Public Sector Communities Manager, led a panel discussion at the 3rd Annual Humanitarian Free and Open Source (HFOSS) Software Symposium on HFOSS in Local Government. Our Open Source Outreach Manager, Leslie Hawthorn, is a long-time advisor to the Humanitarian FOSS Project and also joined for the Symposium. You can read the event report she penned on

Greg Lund-Chaix, our super star project manager, spent last week at DrupalCon Chicago. Among the many parts of the conference that Greg found to be awesome, once again the Hallway Track and Birds of a Feather (BoF) session rocked! You can hear more from Greg about his experiences at DrupalCon Chicago on his blog.

Last but not least, our Lead Developer, Peter Krenesky, attended PyCon 2011 and was pleased to join his fellow Pythonistas in spontaneous applause over list comprehensions. Peter brought back lots of great news from the conference, including the fact that everyone seems to be hiring Python developers. Check out Peter's blog post on PyCon for links to session videos and more insights from PyCon.

We also have a few upcoming speaking engagements for the rest of the month. Deborah Bryant and Leslie Hawthorn will both be attending the upcoming Palmetto Open Source Conference (POSSCON) next week in Columbia, South Carolina, USA. Deb will be speaking in the Leadership Track, which will explore all aspects of open source software that impact CTOs, CIOs, IT Managers and other decision makers: the latest technology, best practice case studies, license and legal issues, ROI and Cost-Benefit data, etc. Deb will discuss Open Source Trends in Government: How is it being used? on Thursday, March 24th at 13:15.

Leslie Hawthorn will be speaking in the POSSCON Education track, which is specifically intended for high school and college level IT Directors, administrators, teachers, professors, and students. On Wednesday, March 23rd at 15:15, she will address Student Involvement in Open Source: Why, How and Where to Get Involved. The session will be useful for students who are completely new to open source, those who'd like to get more involved and any one who would like to help more students engage with open source communities.

Conference registration remains open, so you may want to consider joining us at POSSCON. We'll also prepare and share a conference wrap up report.

Leslie Hawthorn will spend the last week of March in Massachusetts, addressing students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on similar topics. She's also been invited as a panelist to the university's annual ICT Summit, and will discuss Open Collaboration Models on Thursday, March 31st at 9:10. Registration for the summit is still open, so if you'd be in or around the area and would find the summit useful, take a moment to sign up.

Phew! March Madness takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to community outreach. We hope to see friends at our upcoming speaking engagements, and were grateful for the opportunities to meet with old friends, make new friends and learn more from the open source community at each of the events we traveled to recently. Finally, we would like to thank the organizers and sponsors of the HFOSS Symposium, POSSCON, PyCon and the UMass ICT Summit for their generous travel sponsorship for our employees, which allows the OSL to participate in these fantastic events.

A Talk with Trevor

A Talk with Trevor

Ed. Note: You may recall our recent interviews with student developer Corbin Simpson and student systems administrator Mike Cooper. This week, we're bringing you an interview with Trevor Bramwell, another of the Lab's student developers. Trevor was kind enough to share his thoughts with us through an interview with Anthony Casson, the Lab's student writer. Stay tuned for more interviews with our students in the coming weeks.

The Open Source Lab’s Trevor Bramwell has found a niche in the open source world. After spending a year studying Web Architecture at a school in Arizona, he decided to transfer to Oregon State University for the OSL, its Computer Science program, and to be closer to home – Gresham, Oregon. Trevor, a sophomore, is currently a part-time developer working on the Ganeti Web Manager project. He recently sat down with the OSL to talk about his experience with the lab and his work on Ganeti Web Manager.

What about OSU attracted you?

The Open Source Lab was really the main reason I came to Oregon State. OSU seemed to have the best Computer Science program, and their large involvement with open source development was very important to me. I got interested in open source development from using Linux; if you don’t have Linux skills it’s really hard to do a lot of cool, interesting web stuff. So much of the web is run on Linux machines. So I got involved right away with the Open Source Lab.

In what ways have you grown during your time with the OSL?

The OSL has really helped improve my skills as a programmer, because every single day I’m programming something, and also being involved with the development process. You don’t get that at a university unless you have an internship, which are only like a month or so and then you’re back to school. It has really helped me understand what it takes to be involved in open source software and communities; it’s been really good.

You’ve worked on multiple projects, but your biggest one is Ganeti Web Manager. What is it?

The Ganeti Web Manager (GWM) project was started in September of 2010 as a combination of the projects Ganeti Web and Ganeti Manager. It is a python project that uses the Django Framwork to create a web interface to Ganeti.

What aspect of the project are you working on primarily?

From each release to the next we have a different set of features we focus on. Currently I am focusing on implementing Xen support for GWM as we currently only support KVM. Xen and KVM are two different kinds of hypervisors. A hypervisor is a piece of software that handles the management of virtual machines. Xen support has recently become an issue as several people have contacted us on IRC mentioning they would like to deploy Ganeti Web Manager with their Ganeti cluster running Xen. But since we currently don't support Xen they have run into a lot of issues. A few other features we are working on implementing are: The ability to add multiple disks to a virtual machine, OAuth or other types of authentication, and the ability to create and modify templates for virtual machines. A list of all other tasks can be found on the project's Redmine site. Each of these features presents its own challenge – whether it is dynamic-form generation, implementing good abstraction, or busting out a debugger to track down a show-stopping typo.

Is the project getting attention?

GWM has been getting a lot of attention lately since our 0.6 release. People are noticing how quickly the project is maturing and are excited to be involved. This project is mainly important to system administrators as it helps allow them to easily distribute the work of managing hundreds of virtual machines at one time. By providing a web interface for Ganeti, Ganeti Web Manager allows for non-system administration aware users the ability to start, stop, reboot, shutdown, create, edit, migrate, and delete virtual machines without having to learn the Ganeti console commands. The important point of Ganeti Web Manager is that it an easy to use and Open Source project that is allowing a wide range of users the ability to easily manage virtual machines; a feat which has historically been preformed only by system administrators.

GWM is one of many projects at the OSL getting attention from prospective members. What advice would you give someone new to the OSL?

With the Open Source Lab, they would very much like to have people with Python skills because, primarily, the work on Django-based projects. But even with other skill sets there are other projects going on that you can be involved with. When it comes to open source development in general, there are just so many aspects; you don’t have to be a coder to do open source, to be involved with it. There’s documentation; there’s networking; there’s public relations; there’s event-coordinating. Open source really needs management and people making sure the social interactions are going well – communication is a really big deal.

Along with the work you do for the OSL, you’re also an avid dancer. What role does that play in your life?

My friends would ask me, ‘Because you’re doing so much dancing, do you see that as something you could do as a career,’ but that’s really not where I want to go at all. I still very much want to be in computer science and open source. It’s really just a hobby; it helps me get rid of stress, and meet a bunch of people – that’s really been the most helpful social aspect of being at Oregon State.

Many thanks to Trevor and Anthony for this interview!

Mike on Mirrors

Mike on Mirrors

Ed. Note: You may recall our recent interview with student developer Corbin Simpson. This week, we're bringing you an interview with Mike Cooper, one of the OSU Open Source Lab's student system administrators. Mike was kind enough to share his thoughts with us through an interview with Anthony Casson, the Lab's student writer. Stay tuned for more interviews with our students in the coming weeks.

What are you currently studying?

I am a junior studying computer science, though I am thinking about adding a minor in physics and/or math to my degree.

How long have you been at the OSL?

March 1st will make one year.

Would you say open source is an activity exclusively for coders, or is it available to anyone?

Open source is run by the community. Without developers, users, thinkers, doers, artists, word-of-mouth-spreaders, devil's advocates, competition, support, and most importantly people, open source cannot survive. If you think you can't contribute because you can't write code or can't host a server, you're wrong. Using software and talking about it is as important a contribution as submitting patches and running mirrors.

One of your projects is Cfengine to Puppet migration. Can you give us details?

Since the Puppet Workshop in August, we have been working at a low level to architect and design a replacement for our Cfengine system in Puppet. Over winter break and since then, this development has picked up the pace, and is now a major project for 3 of the 5 student system administrators.

For a bit of background, Cfengine and Puppet are configuration-management systems. What this means is that there is a central server that manages configuration. We have a group of Git repositories that control everything. If we want to install Apache on a server, we write a configuration in the relevant language that tells Cfengine/Puppet what packages are needed, what configuration files are needed, what services should be running, and anything else that it needs.

The beauty of the system is that we can then take this configuration and apply it to another similar system. After the initial set up, in theory, it is as easy as saying node { "": import apache } and puppet takes care of the rest.

The thing I like about it is that Puppet is more flexible than Cfengine, most of the time. It allows conditional execution based on many "facts" about the system. It also has a more powerful description language. When needed, it can even be extended by writing Ruby libraries, of which we have already taken advantage to make it work better with Gentoo. Cfengine can't match this level of flexibility; to make it do more than it was designed for, we rely on external scripts, and other hacks that are more brittle than we would like.

The Bits Must Flow:
Combined Bandwidth of Downloads from, February 12 - 18, 2011
in Gigabits per Second

And what about your other major project, FTP mirroring?

The OSL hosts This website is actually 3 servers -- ftp-osl in our data center, ftp-chi in a TDS datacenter in Chicago, and ftp-nyc, in another TDS datacenter in New York. Each of the three servers has about 6 TB of redundant storage in two arrays each containing twenty-five 146 GB hard drives. For those keeping track, that’s 150 hard drives between all the servers.

There are two kinds of mirroring we provide. For projects that have an existing mirror infrastructure (even if it is just one "master" mirror) we do a scheduled pull of files, ranging from once a day to once an hour. ftp-osl uses Rsync to pull the content from upstream. It then sets a trigger for the other mirrors, which pull down new changes one per minute. The second kind is for projects that don't have a good system set up for automatic mirroring. They can manually upload files to our mirror in Corvallis, OR and trigger the updates to the other mirrors by hand.

To put this all in context, consider a few things we mirror: Arch Linux, Centos, Cygwin, Debian, Drupal, Eclipse, Fedora, Gentoo, Jenkins, TheDocumentFoundation (LibreOffice), Meego, Replicant, Ubuntu, and XBMC. When you download these projects, there is a chance that you are downloading it from one of our servers.

We are always adding new mirrors, and no system runs perfectly. We have systems that monitor the health of the mirrors, and occasionally things break and need fixing. Sometimes upstream mirrors go bad, and we have to find another upstream provider. Other times, a mirror will get disrupted by network issues, leaving partial files and stale locks around that need to be cleaned up manually.

Tell us about the Puppet training workshop you attended.

A few people from Puppet Labs came to Corvallis and held a three day workshop about Puppet.

We started out learning basic syntax and the flow of the configuration language. We learned how to write modules of code, and use Puppet to manage a single node. We tested all of this. Then we moved on and made a simple client/server setup. They provided a virtual machine image that we ran on our laptops. We then moved on to learn about the server client architecture Puppet supports and some of the more advanced features. Basically we got a three day crash course in how to think the Puppet way.

This was really useful because even though Puppet uses language familiar to most programmers like "variables", "class", "function", or "inheritance", they work differently than most people are used to. Doing Puppet well requires a particular methodology to get all the bits in a row to make a large system, but once you can get it in your head, it is very powerful.

What’s your favorite part about working at the OSL?

I get to work with some great people, both in the building and online across the world. I get paid to support open source projects, and I get to learn while I do it. Compared to other jobs that college students tend to have, the OSL is great. For the most part I set my hours; I can work full-time when school is on break, if I want.

Finally, what has been challenging for you, and what advice would you share with newcomers?

To newcomers, or anyone for that matter, I will make two suggestions. First, don't be afraid to ask questions. Second, don't expect everyone else to solve your problems. In most communities beginners are encouraged to learn, and people with experience will gladly help others learn. That being said, if you don't research what you are talking about and expect others to do everything for you, in lenient communities you won't ever build a reputation, and in some communities you will get laughed at and/or flamed out of the irc channel, mailing list, forum, etc.

So if you want to get involved, do it! If you don't know where to start, ask someone. Good resources to learn from are wikis and documentation, and bug trackers can help you find things to do, if you want to work on the project. Mailing lists and irc channels are usually the best way to communicate with members of the community. Finally keep in mind that many of the people in the channel have day jobs that aren't the project.

Many thanks to Anthony and Mike for this interview!

Careers in High Tech for Women in STEM at Oregon State University

Careers in High Tech for Women in STEM at Oregon State University

The Open Source Lab’s Outreach Manager, Leslie Hawthorn, spoke with a group of 15 students – 12 of whom were women – last Thursday to discuss career opportunities in high tech for women. Through her work with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), Hawthorn has started helping female students add to their experience at Oregon State.

During her latest discussion with the students, all from a variety of majors, Hawthorn included an overview of career life at Google, high tech networking opportunities, and this November’s Grace Hopper Conference in Portland, Oregon.

“It was very, very positive,” she said. “I think a lot of people were really excited to hear about life at Google. Also, we’re putting together a proposal for NCWIT; they’re providing funding to campus student groups to work to increase women’s participation computing and IT.

“A group of four of the women who attended came up after the talk and said that they were interested in starting that up.”

As a woman in high tech, Hawthorn is passionate about empowering women pursuing careers in science and technology.

“It has been repeatedly proven through studies that women lack role models for future careers in various fields,” she said. “This my opportunity to show 12 women at OSU who are majoring in everything from electrical engineering to biology some of their potential role models in the industry who are doing really amazing things.”

For Hawthorn’s perspective on the talk and information about previous and upcoming events, visit her blog.

Coffee with Corbin

Coffee with Corbin

Ed. Note: One of the most wonderful aspects of life at the OSU Open Source Lab is our ability to provide OSU students with challenging, hands-on work as software developers, systems administrators and writers. This week we're featuring an interview with one of our student developers, Corbin Simpson, interviewed by our student writer, Anthony Casson. Stay tuned for more interviews with our students in the coming weeks.

Anthony Casson and Corbin Simpson at the OSL

Corbin Simpson is one of the Open Source Lab’s veteran student developers. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Corbin didn’t discover the OSL until he was already at Oregon State University. He has since dedicated much of his time to OSL projects as a part-time developer. Corbin spoke about his time with the department thus far.

What are you currently studying, and have you ever changed majors?

I'm currently declared as a double major, with music/piano studies and CS/computer systems. I added music a couple years ago, since it's been something I've done all my life and wanted to keep studying. I'm debating changing my major to music only, as it would let me graduate sooner. I'm very far behind in my CS degree.

How important is music in your life?

I’ve been in music for most of my life – almost two decades now. It’s something I still do, but musicians have a day job and a night job. The day job is never music. Musicians get used to having two jobs, and they might not necessarily enjoy their day job. I happen to really enjoy my day job.

When did you start working for the OSL?

I was brought on about a year ago. Peter Krenesky, Lance Albertson, and I were having lunch at a conference — must have been LinuxCon or the Linux Plumbers Conference, but I'm not sure — and Lance mentioned that I knew Python. At that point, Peter started talking to me about Pydra, and after a month or so of more talking, we signed everything and I came on board.

Did you know about the OSL when you came to OSU?

Yes, although I didn't know how big it was or how much development went on. I wasn't aware of the student developers at all until I started talking to (people associated with the department).

What was attractive about working at the OSL?

Everything, really. It's easily one of the best student jobs on campus. Flexible hours, friendly coworkers, and a massive gold star on one's resume.

What’s your current job? How long have you held the position?

My title, I think, is "student developer." I keep on hearing "Python guru," but I don't think I'm guru-level. I've been at this position since I started.

What’s the best part of your job?

Getting paid to hack, I think. This is really the first time in my life that I've been paid for it, and the feeling's absolutely wonderful.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

There's a lot of thinking involved. Somebody said that hacking is 90-percent percolation and prep time, and I'm inclined to agree. Work tends to follow me home sometimes, just because I can't stop thinking about it. During Pydra (a Python computing framework project), I was actually having dreams about code! It's something that really pervades one's mindset.

How many hours per week do you work at the OSL, and has it been difficult to handle with school?

I work 20 hours per week during classes, 40 hours per week during breaks. My work at the OSL tends to be more enjoyable than schoolwork.

Why do you love writing code?

When I talk about writing code, what I mean is I’m very good at thinking about a problem and then solving it, and then verifying my solutions. For example, I have the mother of all Rubik’s Cubes. It’s a 7-by-7, and I just picked this up out of my box of Rubik’s Cubes on my way out the door. It’s not something I do to show off or boast, ‘Hey, I can do this’. It’s because I genuinely enjoy meditating on and thinking about solving it. And the same thing goes to code. It lets me exercise my abilities.

Many thanks to Anthony and Corbin for this interview!