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1 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
3 <!DOCTYPE guide SYSTEM "/dtd/guide.dtd">
4 <!-- $HEADER: $ -->
5 <guide>
6 <title>Interview Gentoo Developer Robin H. Johnson (robbat2)</title>
8 <author title="Author">
9 <mail link="dabbott"/>
10 </author>
12 <abstract>
13 Interview with Robin H. Johnson (robbat2)
14 </abstract>
16 <!-- The content of this document is licensed under the CC-BY-SA license -->
17 <!-- See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5 -->
18 <license/>
20 <version>1</version>
21 <date>2009-08-01</date>
23 <chapter>
24 <title>Interview with Robin H. Johnson (robbat2)</title>
25 <section>
26 <title>Introduction</title>
27 <body>
29 <p>
30 Today I have the pleasure of introducing to all of you, Robin H. Johnson
31 (robbat2) Gentoo Developer, Gentoo Trustee board member, head of the
32 infrastructure, without it working smoothly there would not be Gentoo as we
33 know it. Robin is also involved with helping out MySQL, LDAP, base-system, and
34 lots more.
35 </p>
37 </body>
38 </section>
39 <section>
40 <title>Robin's Interview</title>
41 <body>
43 <p>
44 Hi Robin, thanks for the interview.
45 </p>
47 <p>
48 Hi David, Thanks for asking me.
49 </p>
51 <dl>
52 <dt>
53 1) Is Gentoo your first open source project?
54 </dt>
55 <dd>
56 No, my first full-scale involvement was as one of the phpMyAdmin developers,
57 starting in May 2001,about 2 months after it first moved onto SourceForge.
58 Prior to that it was just the occasional patches submitted back to projects I
59 was using as a Slackware user.
60 </dd>
61 <dt>
62 2) How long have you been a Gentoo user? </dt> <dd> According to bugzilla, my
63 first ever bug/comment was bug 14397, complaining that PHP was detecting GCC2
64 as a cross-compiler, on 2003-02-25. I wasn't a dev yet then, but it already
65 shows the debug path.
66 </dd>
67 <dt>
68 3) How did you come up with the nick (robbat2)?
69 </dt>
70 <dd>
71 That comes down to an overly long and complicated story for this podcast, but
72 it involves multiplayer LAN flight sims, writing Quake 1 mods, a namespace
73 conflict on my older nick, and abusing DOS ASCII art.
74 </dd>
75 <dt>
76 4) What has your journey been like with Linux, and how did it start?
77 </dt>
78 <dd>
79 Being given a RH6.2 CD1 CD (not the entire set), back in 1997, prior to having
80 any internet connection, still living in South Africa, and having it
81 accidentally wipe out my DOS machine, that I did Pascal programming on at the
82 time. Reinstall DOS, try again a couple of months later, when school was out,
83 find that the compilers worked, but there wasn't much point to it, go back to
84 DOS. Later on, when I first moved to Canada in January 1999, I realized that
85 having an always-on internet connection massively widened the realm of Linux
86 possibilities. I was going to go with RedHat again, having bought real pressed
87 media for $5 at a local Linux festival, but it turned out to be defective, and
88 I just downloaded slackware ISOs instead.
89 </dd>
90 <dt>
91 5) What motivated you to become a Gentoo Developer? </dt> <dd> Daniel Robbins
92 complained I was submitting too many patches and ideas, and that I might as
93 well join to commit them myself.
94 </dd>
95 <dt>
96 6) What aspects of Gentoo do you feel the developers and maintainers have got
97 right?
98 </dt>
99 <dd>
100 This is interesting in the issue of the distribution vs. the
101 developers/maintainers. The distribution has got the degree of control down
102 very nicely, which is partly due to the developer demand to change stuff to be
103 the way they want it, but the degree of transparency is also much better than
104 the binary distributions I feel. I remember looking for RPM specfiles in the
105 past, and not being able to find them, to see what patches were being used, or
106 configure flags were being passed.
107 </dd>
108 <dt>
109 7) What is it about Gentoo you would like to see improved?
110 </dt>
111 <dd>
112 Transparency in projects that are going on, but also in users paying attention
113 to what we are doing. However, if there's one single area, it's how slow we
114 move stuff to stable. I've complained before, but recent presentation by Scott
115 Shawcroft from OSCON showed just how bad it is. Our unstable tree is in great
116 shape, but our stable tree is worse than many of the major distros, esp Ubuntu
117 and Fedora.
118 </dd>
119 <dt>
120 8) What are some of the Projects within Gentoo that you enjoy contributing to?
121 </dt>
122 <dd>
123 The infrastructure project is the most fun, as I enjoy the challenge involved
124 in cohesively managing 40+ disparate servers, scattered in 12 locations around
125 the world. The requirements of unique development to automate the work is also
126 fun.
127 </dd>
128 <dt>
129 9) Could you give me an overview of the Gentoo infrastructure?
130 </dt>
131 <dd>
132 Nearly 50 percent of the infrastructure hardware is taken up by web
133 applications, because we have a lot of separation between web applications that
134 have a high security exposure. Admittedly some of the web services are a very
135 big deal for Gentoo, like our Bugzilla service, running on 4 machines sponsored
136 by the Dutch social network, Hyves. Very recently we've gotten new hardware for
137 Forums, sponsored by Gossamer Threads. The next largest slice after that is the
138 machines that provides rsync.gentoo.org service. Only then do we get down to
139 individual machines for purposes. There's some cases where having more hardware
140 as fail-over in case we lose a machine would be nice, but I think the place
141 that'd we would benefit the most presently would be a newer mail server
142 infrastructure, so that we can deploy heavier spam filtering.
143 </dd>
144 <dt>
145 10) Who helps you with the infrastructure? </dt> <dd> Lance (ramareth) was the
146 previous infrastructure lead, and Mike (kingtaco) is my present co-lead, but
147 he's a slacker most of the time. Shyam (fox2mike) started off in handling
148 mirrors, but is now up at handling some day-to-day infrastructure issues as
149 well. Solar helps out with stuff as well, but is mainly there in an advisory
150 role these days.
151 </dd>
152 <dt>
153 11) What is the process for someone to donate a server or set up an rsync mirror?
154 </dt>
155 <dd>
156 If you'd like to set up your own rsync or source mirror, we offer complete
157 instructions linked from the very bottom of the Mirrors page on the website.
158 The 'gentoo-rsync-mirror' package also offers a sample configuration and
159 scripts for rsync mirrors. Most of our server donations are in the form of the
160 sponsor continuing to own the hardware, and hosting it at their own location.
161 Rackspace, power and bandwidth costs ultimately add up to much more than the
162 value of the hardware. We'd like to move into having more hardware that Gentoo
163 actually owns, but we need to secure more hosting (and possibly remote hands)
164 before that. In the meantime, for hosting a server for, contact the
165 infrastructure team, infra@gentoo.org, to set us up with access to the new
166 hardware, running on a LiveCD so that we can perform our cfengine-powered
167 install of the hardened system. If you've got IPMI or remote console (serial or
168 KVM), that's extremely useful as well.
169 </dd>
170 <dt>
171 12) Is git in the future plans?
172 </dt>
173 <dd>
174 With more hours in the day, it'll come sooner, but it's not a high priority
175 item. I passed out a few of the TODO items on my last status post to the
176 gentoo-scm mailing list. Of them, only WilliamH has done anything. One of the
177 upstream cvs2svn authors, mhagger, helped out significantly in performance
178 improvements, but those aren't fully baked yet, he'd like to find some time to
179 finish them, and possibly some sponsorship so he can put aside his dayjob to
180 work on them.
181 </dd>
182 <dt>
183 13) As a Gentoo Developer what are some of your accomplishments?
184 </dt>
185 <dd>
186 Over my time as a developer, a lot of the things I do seem to be because it was
187 broken, and nobody else cared about it at the time. That's how I came to be
188 the maintainer of qmail, PHP and MySQL back in my early developer days. In all
189 3 cases, I started the teams to maintain them. The MySQL team is the only one
190 of those not still in existence. The developers that joined have retired
191 before me, and MySQL has come back to me.
192 </dd>
193 <dt>
194 14) What applications would you like to see included within Gentoo?
195 </dt>
196 <dd>
197 There are a couple of more complex applications I've run into, that I'd like
198 packaged, but after attempting to do so myself, I can see why nobody else has
199 yet either. Most recently, was the Evergreen Library System, after I met some
200 of the local implementors at an unconference last year.
201 </dd>
202 <dt>
203 15) What are your thoughts on Sun acquiring Oracle and its effect on MySQL?
204 </dt>
205 <dd>
206 (assuming you meant Oracle acquiring Sun). My views on the matter are
207 reasonably positive for both Sun and MySQL, due to Oracle's dependence on Java,
208 along with the spread of the original core MySQL employees to no longer work
209 for any of the 3 companies, and MySQL AB's recently renewed commitment to
210 having a fully open MySQL - they got rid of the split between MySQL-community
211 and MySQL-enterprise.
212 </dd>
213 <dt>
214 16) What open source software can you not live without at home and at work?
215 </dt>
216 <dd>
217 I'd have to put VIM first on the list, it does wonders for productivity.
218 Similarly, Gentoo itself belongs there, as we rely critically on it for work
219 and also my personal systems.
220 </dd>
221 <dt>
222 17) Which open source programs would you like to see developed?
223 </dt>
224 <dd>
225 Less reliance and imitation of windows, we need to come up with new concepts of
226 software more. The Evergreen Library system is making good inroads for that
227 field, but it's extremely complex. The Radeon and Nvidia open source drivers
228 are making good but slow progress. There's a couple of ideas I've had floating
229 in my head, mainly for reimplementing software where I don't like any of the
230 existing options, but none of them are really radically new.
231 </dd>
232 <dt>
233 18) What resources have you found most helpful when troubleshooting within Gentoo?
234 </dt>
235 <dd>
236 Don't underestimate the ability to take any code apart and inspect it, combined
237 with some form of debugging, if not gdb, then simply putting in your own print
238 statements.
239 </dd>
240 <dt>
241 19) Do you get to do much programming?
242 </dt>
243 <dd>
244 A lot less than I used to, but still probably on the order of 100 lines of
245 code/week.
246 </dd>
247 <dt>
248 20) What would be your dream job?
249 </dt>
250 <dd>
251 In some ways I'm very close to it already, as the lead developer nee
252 development manager and deep-problem sysadmin for IsoHunt.com. Our ruby
253 developers are like herding cats at times however, and I'd like to get more
254 time to work on problems of my own choice. It is already great in that I can
255 contribute to Gentoo during my work hours, as we are a 100% Gentoo shop for our
256 servers. I'd certainly consider doing more Gentoo stuff on a consulting basis
257 as well if the opportunity was available, as it tends to focus more on solving
258 interesting problems.
259 </dd>
260 <dt>
261 21) What can users do to improve Gentoo?
262 </dt>
263 <dd>
264 Read the documentation and source code, and ask intelligent questions, ideally
265 with patches to at least roughly implement your ideas. Filing stable requests
266 for stuff that's been around long enough would also help a lot.
267 </dd>
268 <dt>
269 22) What are some of the ways LDAP is put to use in the real world.
270 </dt>
271 <dd>
272 Is Gentoo not the real world? Outside of Gentoo, it's mainly good as a large
273 hierarchal database, most often used as an address book and directory service
274 for authentication and control. It's not always secured very well however, a
275 fact that got me into trouble at one point during university - the userPassword
276 field for on the address book server at the main campus wasn't restricted at
277 all, you could query it from the public internet, even with Netscape's address
278 book functionality. They have since fixed it.
279 </dd>
280 <dt>
281 23) What users would you like to recruit to become Gentoo Developers?
282 </dt>
283 <dd>
284 More developers focused on small sets of packages. Look at the Debian
285 maintainer system, they have more than a thousand maintainers, and their
286 bleeding edge stuff actually isn't that far behind. Some with interest in
287 backup applications or MySQL would go a long way to start.
288 </dd>
289 <dt>
290 24) Is the biggest hurdle in getting the users and developers working more
291 closely, the time it takes to build trust?
292 </dt>
293 <dd>
294 Not the time that it takes to build trust, but the degree to which users don't
295 realize why their proposed (crazy) solutions won't work out as nicely as they
296 want. They say simply "re-enable FOO" that was disabled in the latest version
297 of something by upstream, without examining the causes as to why it was
298 disabled or no longer functions like it used to. Giving detailed, but relevant
299 information is highly useful as well. If it's a segfault, provide a backtrace
300 with debugging, and figure out what conditions you need to reproduce a problem,
301 not just your set of conditions, but what simple subset of changes trigger it.
302 </dd>
303 <dt>
304 25) What are the specs of your current boxes?
305 </dt>
306 <dd>
307 The 4 machines at home that run the most often:
308 </dd>
309 <dt>
310 <b>curie</b>
311 </dt>
312 <dd>
313 <ul>
314 <li>old old web and mail server</li>
315 <li>AMD Athlon w/ 1GB RAM</li>
316 <li>200GiB RAID1 disk</li>
317 </ul>
318 </dd>
319 <dt>
320 <b>grubbs</b>
321 </dt>
322 <dd>
323 <ul>
324 <li>development and testing server, will ultimately replace curie.</li>
325 <li>Core2 Q6600 w/ 5.8 GiB of RAM (odd number due to BIOS MTRR issues)</li>
326 <li>1.7TiB RAID5 disk</li>
327 <li>3TiB external eSATA RAID5 enclosure</li>
328 <li>LTO3 backup tape</li> </ul>
329 </dd>
330 <dt>
331 <b>bohr</b>
332 </dt>
333 <dd>
334 <ul>
335 <li>desktop machine</li>
336 <li>Core2 Q9550 w/ 16GiB RAM</li>
337 <li>1.3TiB RAID10 disk</li>
338 </ul>
339 </dd>
340 <dt>
341 <b>speedracer</b>
342 </dt>
343 <dd>
344 <ul>
345 <li>1U server, in a local colocation facility</li>
346 <li>Asus RS120-E4/PA4</li>
347 <li>Core2 Q6600 w/ 8GiB RAM</li>
348 <li>2TiB RAID5 disk</li>
349 <li>Runs the Willikins bot for all of the Gentoo channels</li>
350 </ul>
351 </dd>
352 <dt>
353 <b>ebadi</b>
354 </dt>
355 <dd>
356 <ul>
357 <li>old Asus W5F laptop</li>
358 <li>Core1 w/ 1.5GiB RAM</li>
359 <li>200GiB disk</li>
360 </ul>
361 </dd>
362 <dd>
363 3ware RAID controllers on the non-laptop systems. Beyond these machines that
364 run most of the time, I've also got half a dozen embedded systems of different
365 architectures.
366 </dd>
367 <dt>
368 26) Did the Gentoo Developers played any tricks on you when you were a rookie,
369 new to the developer pool?
370 </dt>
371 <dd>
372 None that I can recall, I wasn't on IRC a lot in the early days.
373 </dd>
374 <dt>
375 27) What gives you the most enjoyment within the Gentoo community?
376 </dt>
377 <dd>
378 Definitely the Infrastructure project.
379 </dd>
380 </dl>
382 </body>
383 </section>
384 </chapter>
385 </guide>

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