Back Bay LISA Lightning Talks: Huge Success!

Last night, we had a really good BBLISA meeting. It was the Lightning Talks meeting that I was looking for volunteers with. I had a great time, and I think everyone else did, too.

All in all, there were around 15 people at the meeting, and nine lightning talks, covering a wide range of topics. The talks were recorded, and we’ll be releasing them individually in the near future.

Here’s an overview:

Matt Finnigan gave a talk discussing the LOPSA Mentorship program. If you aren’t familiar, the mentorship program is a free service offered by LOPSA, where any admin who needs help, either with a project or just general career guidance, can sign up to be connected to someone with experience in their target area. You need to be a LOPSA member in order to be a mentor, but being a protege is open to anyone, regardless of LOPSA membership.

Adam Moskowitz gave a talk discussing cooking for system administrators. He appealed to our sense of making things as well as our need of healthy food and good value. Adam encouraged us to try cooking, and although most people thought it was expensive to property outfit a kitchen, he reminded us that it was actually a fraction of the price of our new laptops, and the kitchen gear would last a lot longer.

K M Peterson gave two talks, both about interesting technologies that I wasn’t aware of. The first was a result of his search for a provider-agnostic method to send SMS messages that didn’t break the bank or involve maintaining an array of modems. He ended up setting up a script to talk to Amazon’s SMS service, and provided us example code in his slides.

His second talk was on Shamir’s Secret Sharing Scheme, aka ‘SSSS’. The idea behind this crypto tech is that you have a secret which you want to ensure can only be recovered by the collaboration of a minimum number of involved people – say three of your team of five. You encrypt the plaintext and generate as many keys as people you have, and tell the app how many should be required to release the information. To pull the data out, you provide any of the generated keys, as long as the number of different keys meets the minimum determined when the data was encrypted. Really fun, fascinating stuff. Incidentally, the Shamir is the ‘S’ in ‘RSA’ . Cool!

Nahum Shalman gave a really nice introduction to SmartOS, a derivative of OpenSolaris which is maintained by Joyent. Interestingly, the Linux-native KVM was ported to the SmartOS kernel, allowing creative and secure uses of jails and virtual sandboxes, all taking advantage of native ZFS, dtrace, and all kinds of delicious Solaris-y goodness.

Sheeri Cabral came from Mozilla to talk with us about how they’re deploying MySQL using Puppet. Her slides had example code, and she walked us through the abstracted object and up to the deployment on the actual nodes. Since we’re rolling out a relatively extensive puppet infrastructure at work, I paid close attention, and I’ll be following up with her to ask more questions!

John Jarvis talked to us about a creative use for his Raspberry Pi – he securely erases flash media using Stick Destroyer. He rigged up a light so that you have a nice visual indicator of when the stick is being erased, and when it’s done. Honestly, it looks really cool, and definitely the first hardware hack I’ve seen at a sysadmin lightning talk. Nice.

Pat Cable showed up to talk about Sensu, a ruby-based monitoring solution that uses AMQP queues to distribute tasks around a monitoring infrastructure that can scale out horizontally to monitor extremely large numbers of machines. It’s definitely a “next gen” monitoring solution that you should be aware of.

Lastly, I got up in front of everyone and talked briefly about something that I’ve noticed – mainly about how I see our profession splintering, but that the splintered elements (such as network and storage administrators) aren’t actually specialties of “system administrators”, it’s much more like the specialized administrators are specialist doctors, and system administrators are like general practitioners. The idea is still half baked, but that’s the fun of a lightning talk, right? I didn’t offer any answers, but I asked a lot of questions.

Anyway, as I said, the individual videos will be up before too long. Many thanks to Sheeri, who recorded the sessions for us and will be doing the heavy lifting of editing them apart. I’m very grateful that she came and spoke as well as recorded the session AND brought us CDs of the 100th episode of her podcast, OurSQL, featuring an interview with Randall Munroe, of XKCD fame.

We all had such a great time that we’re going to look into doing something similar again in six months. The next community-sourced meeting will probably be a “show and tell”, where you can come and talk about whatever cool (or not so cool) things you’ve been up to. Watch here for more info!