Tuesday, February 12, 2019

linux.conf.au 2019

Along with a number of other Canonical staff I recently attended linux.conf.au 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. I consider this the major Australia/New Zealand yearly conference that covers general open source development. This year the theme of the conference was "Linux of Things" and many of the talks had an IoT connection.

One of the premium swag items was a Raspberry Pi Zero. It is unfortunate that this is not a supported Ubuntu Core device (CPU a generation too old) as this would have been a great opportunity to show an Ubuntu Core device in action. I did prepare a lightning talk showing some Ubuntu Core development on a Raspberry Pi 3, but this sadly didn't make the cut. You can see it in blog form.

LCA consistently has high quality talks, so choosing what to attend is hard. Mostly everything was recorded and is viewable on their YouTube channel. Here is some highlights that I saw:

STM32 Development Boards (literally) Falling From The Sky (video) - This talk was about tracking and re-purposing hardware from weather balloons. I found it interesting as it made me think about the amount of e-waste that is likely to be generated as IoT increases and ways in that it can be re-cycled, particularly with open source software.

Plastic is Forever: Designing Tomu's Injection-Molded Case (video) and SymbiFlow - The next generation FOSS FPGA toolchain (video) - FPGA development is something that has really struggled to break into the mainstream. I think this is mostly down to two things - a lack of a quality open source toolchain and cheap hardware. These talks make it seem like we're getting really close with the SymbiFlow toolchain and hardware like the Fomu. I think we'll get some really interesting new developments when we get something close to the Rasberry Pi/Arduino experience and I'm looking forward to writing some code in the FPGA and IoT space, hopefully soon!

The Tragedy of systemd (video) - It's the conflict that just keeps giving 😭 Benno talked about how regardless of how systemd came to exist the value of modern middleware is valuable. I had thought the majority had come to this conclusion but it seems this is still an idea that needs selling. I think the talk was effective in doing that.

Sequencing DNA with Linux Cores and Nanopores (video) - This was a live (!) demonstration of doing DNA sequencing on the speakers lunch. This was done using the MinION - a USB DNA sequencer. As well as being able to complete the task what impressed me was this was done on a laptop and no special software was required. Given this device costs something around $1000 and is easy to use this opens up DNA analysis to the open source world.

Around the world in 80 Microamps - ESP32 and LoRa for low-power IoT (video) - This discussed real world cases of building IoT / automation solutions using battery power (e.g. solar not suitable). It covered how it's very hard to run a Linux based solution for a long time on a battery, but technology is slowly improving. Turns out the popularity of e-scooters is making bigger and cheaper batteries available.

Christchurch has recently started trialing Lime scooters. These were super popular with a hacker crowd and quickly accumulated around the venue. I planned to scooter from the airport to the venue but sadly that day there weren't any nearby, so I walked half way and scootered the rest. They're super fun and useful so I recommend you try them if you are visiting a city that has them. 🙂

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