May. 30th, 2013

I'm a computer scientist currently living in Massachusetts. I was always too busy being a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and being a professor subsequently to contribute much more to the open-source community than a few bug reports and some money but that has all changed.

Last Monday I was notified that I had been accepted as an Outreach Program for Women Summer Intern for the Yocto project. I'm thrilled for a number of reasons:


  • I've benefited from open source for a long time, using many open-source applications and working for a research project that used open-source applications written in C as objects for study, but beyond the odd bug report and some money I've not really contributed. This is my chance to give back a little bit more.

  • I'm fascinated by the impact of the open-source community and want to understand its mechanisms better.

  • I believe that I may, sometime, develop some wonderful idea that is best achieved via an open-source collaboration; I'ld like to know how to make that work when the time comes.

  • I've spent a long time in academia and this is a great way to move into industry.

  • One of the things that I really like about academia is the opportunity to teach, which is what I've been doing the last few years. Grading is not nearly as much fun. If you associate with open-source you can mentor (teach) people and not have to grade them. Can it be the best of teaching without the rest of it? We shall see!



About the Yocto project:


  • The build system, bitbake, is in Python and Python is my go-to language for practical tasks. I'm very comfortable with it and am eternally grateful to Guido van Rossum for the clever way he's made my life that much more pleasant.

  • Since it's all about building operating systems much of the object code is in C. I know my way around that language pretty well; I'ld say that I'm an expert with some things left to learn, but I'll recognize them when I see them.



Even making a contribution to the Yocto project got me doing a whole lot of new things. I've always been a Mac user, but I only succumbed to the allure when OS X came out. If I need a Unix tool, I just turn to MacPorts (another open-source project). But for Yocto I needed to go all the way and actually install a Linux distribution. I partitioned the drive on my older Mac, installed rEfit (open-source), and installed Ubuntu on the partition from a USB stick. Then (I should have read more carefully!) I realized the partition, at 40G, was a bit too small than the recommended size for the project. But, somehow, an extra, immovable partition had ended up on my drive and I could not get rid of it. It was stuck right in the middle of the disk, so there was no way I could repartition and make the partition for my chosen Linux distribution large enough. So, I ended up having to do some dramatic surgery on the disk, repartition, and restore my Mac from backups. Now my Linux distribution has something like 100 G, which seems to be enough. Once that was done it was relatively smooth sailing.

Two technical things I'll mention in subsequent posts:

  • There are some ways in which git is more flexible and powerful than Subversion and these ways are good.

  • The patch command is cleverer than I had realized and has a very narrow definition of failure.



My project: incorporating BastilleLinux into Yocto. I'll discuss BastilleLinux more in subsequent posts as well.

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mulhern_at_yocto

September 2013

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