Or, Down the Rabbit Hole.
I checked the archives and the last event I went to was in May 2012. Everything was exactly the same as it was then, although my extended absence just heightened to me how surreal the whole event is.
I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Quite the opposite. Peter Tribble gave an interesting talk entitled “Adventures with illumos”. Myself and the other middle aged geeks were treated with another journey down memory lane where I heard words long absent from my ears like “Sun”, “Solaris” and “CDE”.
The irony is, a lot of the technology is new, and as Peter ably demonstrated is actively being worked on. What made it surreal is how far divorced it all is from the “real” i.e. commercial world, especially if you have been exclusively in that environment for a few years, dealing with big vendors, clients and “The Cloud”.
There’s something very “British”, and heartening about how, hobbyists (can’t think of a better description) dedicate their time to preserve and develop something that is of value because they (we) love the technology: the effort and creativity that is embedded in it and the respect for the people who have worked on it before. People are not doing this to become the next dot com with A,B and C round funding. They’re doing it because they love it.
As time goes by and the rise of the machines continues, this community could form the core of a whole new field. In the compressed timescales of IT, the rate of change and the knowledge that could be lost is a real risk. Britain is very good at preserving heritage; in IT terms, Bletchley Park is the obvious example that springs to mind and you can find sites like http://www.ourcomputerheritage.org/. These however, are mainly concerned with hardware; hardware that can be identified with a specific country.
Code is different. It is global. It is like DNA, literally “code”. It contains lots of redundancy and continually evolves. How do we preserve it? Should we preserve it? Is anyone else writing this story down? Who is carrying on the work of Peter Salus and his history of Unix http://www.amazon.com/Quarter-Century-UNIX-Peter-Salus/dp/0201547775?
Great to have a dose of un-commerciality once in a while.