BeGeistert 019: Alphaville

And now for something completely different…

Many visitors to BeGeistert enjoy a drop or two of Dusseldorf’s Alt beer. In the middle of all this unmitigated geekery some of us went to see how it is made. On Saturday evening we went on a trip to a brewery at Zum Schlussel, a large beer hall that houses its own brewery, oddly enough the very one me and Humdinger had been to the day before.

We were shown the ingredients of the beer then shown around all the various beer making equipment and had the process explained to us along the way in rooms that were either boiling or freezing, and sometimes smelly. The brewer didn’t speak English so Charlie had the job of translating for us. It’s not a big brewery but beer is made most days and it’s made in sufficient volumes that they supply other bars and bottle some of it for sale.

Once the tour was over we of course relaxed with a beer or two 🙂

Inside the place itself the beer is brought up on a small lift and the beer poured directly from a tap inserted into the barrel. The speed they pour the Alt at is quite astonishing, it must take all of about a second to pour a glass, during which time the bar man has slid the previous glass away and picked up a new one.

I like the simplicity of the system they had, you nod at the bar man and he brings you an Alt. There’s no other beers and only one size of glass so it’s all a very simple affair. That said it needs to be given how big the place is and how many they can cater for outside.

After the brewery we went to a Spanish restaurant for a meal (which ironically didn’t serve Alt). The centre of town was so busy that we could only get tables inside, but this was a good chance to chat and get to know everyone.

Afterwards we did a bit of a BeGeistert tradition and went for a glass of Killepitsch, a sweet spicy liquor that’s native to Dusseldorf. I remembered this drink from the previous times I’d been to BeGeistert, it dates back to the second world war and the name translates as “kill drink” as in they’ll not kill us while we still have something to drink. That said I can well imagine it doing something decidedly nasty to your head if you drank too many of them!

After a walk along the riverside we went back to the hostel where the event was still going, (they weren’t short of a drink either though as they had a fridge full of beer). Eventually most people went off to bed leaving Charlie and a few of the French guys holding an impromptu competition to find the ugliest web page. We all eventually went to bed but thankfully not at the weird times of the night of some of the previous BeGeisterts. This is possibly because Ithemar wasn’t there, though he’s known for not going to bed at all!


On Sunday Bas de Lange, who had cycled all the way from The Netherlands, gave us a talk on the new Syllable server.

Syllable is another alternative OS with similar aims to Haiku but unlike Haiku it is not based on a pre-existing system, though, like BeOS it was inspired by the Amiga.

Syllable already has a desktop version based around the Atheos kernel which itself was inspired by BeOS and the Amiga. This talk however was to introduce the new server version of Syllable.

Rather than trying to create a single OS for everything the Syllable team decided to make an OS specific for its purpose, so while there is already a desktop version they created a separate server version.

Syllable server is based on the Linux kernel but the userland is quite different. It includes the Gnote L4 microkernel OS framework, this includes security functions called “capabilities” that have been around for decades but are rarely used as they have to be tightly integrated into the kernel. Like the Syllable desktop it makes use of the Rebol language using the open source clone ORCA. The server also makes use of the Rebol quatermaster web framework.

Syllable looks like a very interesting project, it’s based on very modern ideals and technology but doesn’t have the disadvantage of legacy baggage. Interestingly the the programming framework is based on BeOS, I wonder how different they are though? I wonder could we ever see Haiku-Syllable cross compatibility?

Bas had a few flyers to describe the system and was also selling the discs. I don’t know how many he sold but he definitely sold some. He also extended an invitation to us to visit one of the Syllable events in The Netherlands next year.

Bas mentioned one of the reasons he liked BeGeistert is because he got a friendly response even though he’s talking about a completely different OS. He’s more used to going to Linux shows where he can sometimes get a rather more argumentative response!

Sunday afternoon, finishing up

Although the event was quite small it seems to have been enjoyed by everyone there. Indeed, Charlie asked if we wanted another BeGeistert sooner or later and the response was pretty much unanimously, sooner. The next BeGeistert has already been pencilled in for the first weekend in April.

Most of the attendees went home on Sunday afternoon leaving only the “software athletes” (doing a code sprint) and a few others, namely Giuseppe, Bas and myself.

In the evening some of us went out to an old BeGeistert favourite, Lupo’s pizzeria in Dusseldorf altstadt. Bizarrely the guy serving seemed to recognise us, quite a feat after 5 years! We not only had a great pizza but we were also given a special dish made from beans and spaghetti that isn’t usually served in Italian restaurants, there are seeming quite a few Italian dishes like this and most people are probably completely unaware of them.

On the way back we had a discussion on the merits of the different approaches taken by Syllable and Haiku.

The argument went something along the lines of Syllable is a new OS whereas Haiku is a recreation of the old BeOS. Actually it turns out that basing Haiku on BeOS was really just a means to an end, it gave the developers a specific point to shoot for rather than having them argue about the direction. The overall aim of Haiku is to create a modern OS and in that respect the two systems are very close, indeed some things are done in a very similar way.

The different approaches of Haiku and Syllable both have Pros and Cons but ultimately there is room for both. With Bas attending BeGeistert and at least one of the Haiku developers on the Syllable mailing list I think there is good opportunity for developer “cross pollination”. The different approaches when taken together are in my view, an advantage.

There was was also a bit of discussion on licenses (Haiku is MIT, Syllable is GPL / LGPL) oddly enough I don’t think there was a conclusion to that one…

Monday, Tuesday and the coding sprint

On Monday only the code sprinters were left, Bas and Giuseppe went home and I did the same, or at least, I tried to. I discovered I’d booked the flight for the wrong day (D’oh!) and after discovering the price of changing the flight I went back to the hostel.

The code sprinters were busy coding away and I thought I’d be useful so I offered to write a guide for Icon-O-Matic, It doesn’t work like a bitmap icon editor so probably needs one.

The code sprint event pretty much consists of some of the core Haiku developers sitting in a room for a week coding pretty much non-stop. It seems to have been very beneficial as many bugs were squashed that week, features added and optimisations made. Interestingly it also appears to have had a strange psychological effect as the developers not involved in the code sprint also appeared to sped up their development as well.

Staying the extra day was useful as I was able to find out a lot about Haiku I wouldn’t otherwise know. Unsurprisingly Haiku isn’t as well optimised as Linux, but in many areas it exceeds the performance of BeOS by a wide margin. Something I found very surprising for a pre-Alpha.

It’s also useful hanging around OS developers when you have a problem. I mentioned my flash card reader didn’t work, Mikel Lodz promptly grabbed it and half an hour later he was able to tell me what the problem was, it wasn’t fixed but now they know how to fix it. I also found out how to get networking working on my laptop in much the same way.

On Tuesday I was eventually able to go home. Complete with a souvenir, a bottle of Killepitsch… You can only get it in a few shops in Dusseldorf, it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.

The next BeGeistert is pencilled in for 4-5th April 2009, I don’t know if I’ll make it to that one but I don’t plan on waiting another 4 and a half years!

In part 2 (yes, there’s more) I’ll talk about the Acer Aspire One netbook, how it got Haikued and my first impressions of Haiku as an OS. Hint: It was stable enough to write this.


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Links to other reports:

Giuseppe’s BeGeistert report (in Itialian)

Humdinger’s BeGeistert report / German version

Stippi’s code sprint report



Winter SylCon

Nicholas Blachford works for ARM in Cambridge, England. The BeGeistert visit and this article were made in a personal capacity.


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