Tuesday, 1 May 2018

FLOSSUK Conference

The FLOSSUK conference was held in Edinburgh last week. I attended the two day conference and the hacking the raspberry pi workshop. The conference was excellent. Abstracts of all talks are on the FLOSSUK website. What follows are some notes from the talks I particularly liked.

Reproducible Build

Talk by Chris Lamb, the current Debian Project Leader. Very interesting talk on the need to be able to produce reproducible builds, ie the same source code in the same build environment always produces the same binaries. The reason for wanting to do this is to be able to trust binaries distributed by Linux distributions. At the moment we can look at the source code and make sure that it has no back doors built in. We then compile it and distribute it. When we download and install these binaries we trust the provider that the binaries are good. However, we do not know if their build environment is good or if they have been asked to compile modified sources (with a backdoor). Reproducible builds allow a number of people to build these binaries. If they all agree then chances of a compromised binary are reduced. Obviously, the compiler might be compromised itself. This is very difficult to establish and probably takes a new platform and cross compilation.
Anyway, Debian is now 94% reproducible. Chris introduced a very interesting tool - diffoscope which is a clever diff. It allows to compare binaries in some meaningful way. It would be really cool if this could be made to work with scientific dataformats such as HDF or netCDF.
I think the reproducible builds are also interesting from a scientific software perspective. Debian uses BuildInfoFiles to record the particular environment in which the package was build. This could be used to build scientific programs that require a particular environment.

Small Things for Monitoring

I really enjoyed this talk on IoT stuff. I was interested to hear about the ESP8266 based systems which look ideal for monitoring applications as they come with wifi on board. In particular the wemos D1 systems look cool. I am thinking of getting some of those with temperature and humidity sensors for my flat. Apart from the hardware I was very interested in the MQTT protocol which is a machine to machine IoT communication protocol on top of TCP. It can be used to move measurements around. This might also be interesting for the piccolo platform I am working on. There is also a similar protocol for serial connections called MQTT-SN. MQTT and the ESP8266 systems get combined using the homie project. Now I just need to find some time.

Internet of Things at the Uni of Edinburgh

IS is providing a LoRaWAN network in central Edinburgh that can be used for IoT applications. It is used for the CitySounds project. So if you have some interesting IoT project for central Edinburgh in mind you can use this for communication with your devices. More info on IoT in Edinburgh here: iot.ed.ac.uk/
One interesting thing I learned is that you can switch off the HDMI output of the Pi to save power. Would be good for the piccolo system.

Other Talks

  • Roy Thompson gave an excellent after dinner talk on climate change and how he used one line of R to tackle the relationship between temperature, CO2 and the economy. Somewhat gloomy but with a clear pointer of what could be done.
  • Lorna Campbell's keynote on the Open Knowledge Landscape was also most excellent. Interesting to hear about the various projects, approaches and platforms which was a suitable introduction of the subject to the geeky audience. Lorna then moved on to talking about the gender cap and misrepresentation of minority groups. Finally she talked about the Cost of Freedom and the tribute to Bassel Khartabil a Syrian internet activist who ultimately paid with his life for his involvement in open knowledge.
  • Being a photographer as well I really enjoyed Simon Biles talk on forensic photography