FOSDEM, Brussels and New Blog Software

Well, I’m baaaaack….. after a nearly year-long hiatus.  I finally got some new functioning blogging software and this blog is more of a quick test post and a trip report than something substantive.

I went to FOSDEM this year, in Brussels.  Unlike my recent Delta travel to Denmark (for the newly-renamed GOTO conference), my ride on KLM was smooth and easy.  On that Denmark fiasco it took Delta an extra 48 hours to get me home (beyond the expected 20+ just for flying), and Delta comp’d me $300 in funny-money.  Since KLM accepts Delta funny-money the trip to Brussels was also cheap.  I took a direct from SFO to Amsterdam, then a CityHopper from there to Brussels, then the train to downtown, then the tram to my B&B – the impressively named The White House.

The web photos looked nice also and declared The White House as a B&B run out of a turn of the century “mansion” – but the reality was far from it!  The whole “mansion” was about 15 feet wide by 20 feet deep and shared walls with it’s neighbors (this appears to be the common style in Brussels).  My bathroom was down the hall and shared; the “continental breakfast” was mostly a bag of croissants delivered on the first day (of a week long stay).

Brussels is just a classic run-down European city.  It’s not particularly clean or well-marked nor tourist friendly.  The cobblestone sidewalks are badly in need of repaving; there is rust and blowing trash everywhere.  Things look old and in need of repair.  To help with the depressing mood, it rained the whole time I was there with a dreary misty drizzle and the temperature held around 40 degrees.

The conference was held at the University of Brussels – which looks like a collection of 50′s era Soviet buildings: bland, low ceilings, cramped, rusty, in need of paint and better lighting.  The rooms were far too small – the Java session was in a room that held about 75 fixed-placement wooden chairs with embedded folding desktops – like you might see in a old public school in the bad part of town – they were about as comfortable as sitting on a plank.  We routinely turned away 30 to 50 people who couldn’t fit in the room.

FOSDEM itself is not really a Java conference, it’s a “Free Open Source” developer conference, mostly centered around open technologies such as Linux, JBOSS, mySQL, noSQL, Apache, PHP, the LAMP stack, etc.  Java definitely plays a role but it’s secondary in this conference.  I gave a talk on Azul’s Open Source MRI – slides here – which went pretty darned well.  We also had a talk from Mark Reinhold of Oracle about the future of OpenJDK.  Oracle appears to be committed to supporting and improving Java.  Other speakers were definitely majorly upbeat about Java’s future – it remains the most popular language out there, and continues to see a growing programmer population (other languages are also growing, so Java’s relative priority is remaining basically static).  There’s also a lot of growth on languages based on a JVM.

The after-conference beer event was, ahh… interesting.  Europeans like a crowd I guess; the place was packed to insane levels; speech was nearly impossible, and we took turns attempting to reach the bar to bring back beers for the table – getting some took about 15mins of dedicated shoulder shoving.  The beer was incredibly good.  I had too many because I had to keep trying new varieties.  The cherry beer was by far the best, I’ve no idea how to get it in the states.

After FOSDEM I had a few days to play tourist.  I made it out to Luxembourg.  What a difference!  The town is clean and well marked – and a veritable tourists delight.   The whole town was turned into a vast medieval fortress city with soaring stone walls hundreds of feet high, rivers running through the central canyons, huge old stone bridges, dozens of medieval forts and miles and miles of tunnels.  I took a long walking tour, got dozens of great pictures, saw the castles and marveled at the cathedrals and statues.  Even the Sun was shining in Luxembourg.