Friday, April 3, 2009

PyCon Errata

Old and New Faces It was good to see everyone, too many names to mention. That includes all the other Boston pythoneers who I tend to see just once a year and in a city not named "Boston." There is never enough time to time to talk to everyone but I did try. I also did my usual thing which is to purposely eat lunch with no one I know [it's my fifth PyCon so this rule has been relaxed to "as few people I know as possible"]. A few mentions: somehow I'd never met Jesse Noller before (despite many PyCons and him being in Boston); Georg Brandl made it over to the US for PyCon for the first time; I didn't run into Martin Blais until day five when he was sitting next to me at sprints; a sixteen year old (who is senior to me on py-dev) thanked me for contributing a patch; and David Mertz (whom I had never met in person) ran up, introduced himself, and disappeared into the ether (far too brief: I have to invite him over for dinner or something).

Limited Excess In a down economy attendance and freebies were also down. Almost no speakers ended their talk with a "and we'ere hiring!" slide as opposed to the past standard of 100%. To my shock and horror I actually had to pay for most of my own dinners and drinks. CCP/EVE Online was a standout in this respect [If you're wondering how a company in Iceland can afford to be generous remember that their subscribers pay in dollars and euros, not kronas].

EVE Fan-Fest I learned about EVE Fan-Fest not from the CCP guys but from a husband/wife team of players. 1500+ gamers descend on Reykjavik annually. This is such a large number of extra people for a country of 300k that the conference has to be closely coordinated with the government, hotels, and airlines. The mind reels.

Code Blindness By the end of sprints I was suffering from the geek equivalent of snow blindness. Throughout sprints I traded bug reports, emails, and checkins with Hiro Yamamoto (the "John Smith" of Japan). He'd miss something and I'd whargarbl his name under my breath. I'd miss something and know he was grumbling half way across the world. I pretty clearly lost that battle when I committed a patch that checked to see if unsigned longs were less than zero (oh sure, the compiler can optimize it out, but still..). Which reminds me, I still need to revert that.

We have a prodigy on our critical path. Python's release manager is Benjamin Peterson and Benjamin is sixteen years old. On the internet nobody knows you're a dog and in open source no one cares if you're in High School. He gets stuff done, end of story. There is a small amount of cognitive dissonance involved, but not much. For instance he gave me an attaboy for a patch I submitted last year - and while I have shoes that are older than he is - he sincerely meant it as a compliment and I took it as such. He's good people to have around - though if he gets a driver's license or a girlfriend we're in a spot of trouble. [I talked to his mother only briefly but she treated his hobby as casually as if he was on a sports team.]

Benjamin is not without precedent. Our now somewhat older prodigy is named Georg Brandl. The idea of prolonged adolescence is pretty new in cultural terms (less than 60 years old). Both men are sterling illustrations that when you treat "kids" like adults, they behave like adults (heck, they were adults in the first place but just not acknowledged as so). Let's have more of this please.

Twitter Twitter was the breakout story of the year at PyCon. I've peeked at it several times but never seen the point. I'm so old school I still refer to IM as "talk." Twitter was nowhere to be seen last year but this year it was pervasive. Sure, most of the tweets were mindless blather but they fill the mindless blather niche very well. "bourbon in the Kennedy room" is useful when broadcast but not the kind of thing you'd send an email about. Michael Foord (aka voidspace) gained 50 followers a day during the conference. I have reluctantly broken down and signed up too. Oddly one of my first tweets was answering the question "do I need stitches for this?" which is something I know much about (I had a very full childhood and I have the scars to prove it).

My Talk Video of my talk Class Decorators: Radically Simple is now online. I was pleased with my performance until I saw the video. Thankfully attendees care more about content that presentation because there are a dozen things I would like to do over; I don't have a future as a motivational speaker. I have done a talk on that same topic several times now and this time was a giant rewrite. The night before I was in bed by midnight but tossed and turned. I ended up giving up and rewriting large portions until 5am. I slept for three hours and what you see was me looking at the slides for the second time. All the ridiculous example slides were what people [unsolicited!] came up and told me is what made class decorators "click" for them. Go figure.

There is a raft of little things I would change about the presentation. Unfortunately I won't ever give it again so I'll have to apply them to my next talk (after I think one up). Bloused shirt? gone, starch that thing and make sure it is tucked in. Conversational voice? gone, I have a separate speaker's voice and I didn't use it (lack of sleep?). USB remote slide dongle? gone, I spent as much time aiming the laser pointer at the screen as I did talking to the room. Wireless mike? keep, standing at the podium sucks [I lucked out - I was in the only room that had a wireless mike and I only got to use it because I asked].

Oh, and the perenial "pause between sentences." For the first five minutes I talked like I was reading a teleprompter. There isn't much you can do about this other than practice.

[and then some more errata]

International As I've mentioned before PyCon is the inverse of EuroPython in that it is 75% American and 25% European (eyeball numbers: I'd love to see hard data on this). The speakers list is somewhat more static because there is a subset of people who go to conventions for fun (myself included). To confuse things further there are a number of Americans who weren't born here and some "Americans" who are American but not in name (Alex Martelli is still Italian for sentimental reasons despite living in and literally marrying into to America).

Martelli's Slides Alex Martelli's slides are immediately recognizable because he uses the same background and the same quirky font on all of them, always. I got the scoop from Anna Ravenscroft (a sometimes PyCon speaker and AKA Mrs Alex Martelli). He is fond of the background and font because they remind him of a blackboard. No one has complained so that's all there is to it.

Sprints are Magic Two days of sprints generated the same amount of python-checkin traffic as a regular month. Questions are just so much cheaper in person than in email that it couldn't be otherwise. Raise you hand and say "can anyone tell me about [interface]" and you get an answer. Person-to-person social pressures also lead to quicker bug resolution. Jesse Noller said something like "I assigned a pickle functools bug to you while you were in the can, it seemed up your alley." It wasn't up my alley but a few hours later I had read the pickle docs and checked in a patch to make functools.partial instances pickle-able.


David Mertz said...

Sorry Jack that we didn't have a chance to talk in more length at the conference. I'm not sure exactly what I was rushing off to right after your talk, but there were many interesting things going on. I'm glad I at least managed to find you for a "hello", but I'll definitely take you up on that dinner if we are in the same city at some point (I live in LA nowadays, but travel to NYC frequently... sometimes elsewhere too).

--David Mertz (

Jack Diederich said...

@Mertz. Am I misremembering or didn't you used to be based out of Eastern Mass? I'm annoyingly provincial and mainly stick to the East Coast where I'm wanted*. I'm in Boston and Philly most frequently so give a shout if you end up in either.

* Maybe literally. PA called me for jury duty years after I moved out, and despite some politely worded letters may still have an outstanding warrant for my arrest.

Wayne Witzel III said...

Glad to see you took something away from the talks in the tar pit. The Fanfest is Oct 1st this, but my wife and I won't be attending, we are bound for the tropics. Enjoyed finally meeting you, been sub'd to your RSS feed for some time.

Jack Diederich said...

@Wayne Great to meet you and heck, you made the tarpit interesting enough to broadcast. Sorry I called you "Will" once or twice but with zipped jackets I was robbed of badge verbosity. Related..

I should have added a paragraph to the post about my own badge behavior. I'm average-or-below bad at names which means I need to read or hear a name three times before it sticks. Being acutely aware of that fact I wear my badge/lanyard short (almost necklace high) so my name isn't covered when I wear a messenger bag or cross my arms.

Your name I did have down by the end of the main conference. Your wife's not so much (she bundled up). I almost listed you two as Wayne and Wendy Witzell in the post but abandoned it because I was almost sure it was a lie.

And as long as I'm talking about badges, my iron law of badges held up again this year: If two or more people in a conversation are wearing speaker's badges then everyone in the conversation is wearing a speaker's badge.

To repeat and not to take anything away from the PyCon organizers (who did a fantastic job): the logistics of EVE fanfest really make PyCon seem easy. Can you imagine coordinating with giant corps like airlines and governments? It's a whole new level of suck.

David Mertz said...

Much belatedly: I used to be based out of Western Mass (Hampshire and Franklin Counties). But I moved to LA back in October 2006. Your memory wasn't too much off, I've just been "off the radar" with recent gigs.

Damian said...

The guy is definitely right, and there's no question.
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