Michael W. Lucas: Visiting the OpenBSD t2k13 Hackathon

Contributed by phessler on from the haikus-suspense-and-wisdom dept.

From Michael W. Lucas, a fresh report from the recent hackathon in Toronto (and the last stop for that book before it reaches its new home):

In Terry Pratchett's novel "Going Postal," there's a scene where Very Serious People in somber clothes quietly discuss a financial problem that threatens to wreck the business world. Calculations are made, words are exchanged, hands are shook, and the world turns for another day.

That's kind of what an OpenBSD hackathon is like. Except with goofy T-shirts.

I went to the Toronto hackathon to get the very first copy of Absolute OpenBSD signed by a roomful of OpenBSD developers. Upon finding the Great Hall of Computing at the University of Toronto, my first thought was "this can't be the place." I saw shadows of seated people through the walls, but there wasn't any noise. Were the walls soundproof? Was there a professor pontificating at the front of the room?

No, the paper taped to the door said "Reserved for OpenBSD, May 30 - June 5." So I shrugged and knocked. Ken Westerback let me in.

And I walked into silence.

There were noises, of course. The clatter of fingers on keys. The occasional rustle of a sandwich wrapper or the hiss of an opened bottle. But for the most part, it was a roomful of people staring at screens.

Every so often someone would stand up, go to someone else, and they'd have a hushed but intense discussion about something. The whiteboard held evidence of earlier discussions that needed more detail than waved hands and tabletop scribbles offered.

Somehow, I'd never met Theo de Raadt before. He'd lost his voice due to bringing some ghastly malaise back from Africa, but he spent a couple of his few remaining words welcoming my wife and I. He shouted for everyone to pay attention, introduced me to the room, and told everyone there to sign the book and make comments.

For the next four hours I circled from table to table, getting everyone to sign the acknowledgements page and encourage them to make comments in some section of the book. Some chapters got heavily marked up, while other chapters passed mostly unscathed.

Most of the time, the developer of the moment and I were the only ones speaking. People were polite, of course, but they were clearly there to work.

The silence isn't perfect, of course. Now and then someone mutters something under their breath. At one point, Bob Beck shouted out "G*****n f*****g Linux" without looking up from his keyboard. But for the most part, they're serious people quietly doing serious work.

Until time to order pizza for dinner, of course. Then someone might as well have cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Especially if the order didn't include a few vegetarian pies.

Bob Beck and Ken Westerback invited Liz and I to the most fantastic dinner we'd had in years (which they paid for out of their own pocket, not out of OpenBSD Foundation funds). When we returned to the hackathon, we found most of the crowd still working despite the late hour. Yes, some of the jet-lagged Europeans had gone to bed, and Theo had apparently taken his case of Inner African Wildebeest Plague away.

I've been to technical conferences, many times. I've been to smaller hackathons. But I've seen professional programmers at work in their offices not nearly so intense as the OpenBSD crew.

The money raised by the book auction was completely not wasted.

Last night I flipped through the slightly battered but heavily marked book for one last time, sighed longingly, and gave it to the missus to pack for shipping to auction winner Bill Allaire. She has a special touch with shipping books. Poor Bill might need an axe and a blowtorch to open the packaging, but it will arrive safely.

The Undeadly editors would like to thank Michael for sending us this report, and for writing such wonderful books about OpenBSD.

(Comments are closed)


  1. By Will Backman (74.75.168.234) on

    Thank you!

    1. By Michael W Lucas (agshekeloh) on http://www.michaelwlucas.com

      As an update: Bill has acknowledged receipt of the book. This story is now over. Until next time, that is...

  2. By Noryungi (noryungi) noryungi@yahoo.com on

    What?? No picture of the signed book? No picture of the corrections in the book??

    This will not do! As a faithful supporter of OpenBSD, I *demand* a picture of the signatures!!

    Pretty please? With sugar on top? :-)

    Oh come on, who would get a book signed like that, and not take a picture?

    1. By Michael W Lucas (agshekeloh) on http://www.michaelwlucas.com

      > What?? No picture of the signed book? No picture of the corrections in the book??
      >
      > This will not do! As a faithful supporter of OpenBSD, I *demand* a picture of the signatures!!
      >

      This is OpenBSD. You don't ask for crap -- you get what you're given. I thought you all understood that?

      > Pretty please? With sugar on top? :-)
      >
      > Oh come on, who would get a book signed like that, and not take a picture?

      Actually, I have several pictures. Bill has given me permission to post them, so I will.

      But he had to get first sight. I'll post in the next few days.

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