Code Monk recalls PyCon UK

2007-09-10

Personal:

I should have definitely attended both days. Felt there wasn’t enough time to just meet people and chat, so the evening social events would have definitely helped. I also enjoy chatting at breakfast so maybe I should hotel it next year (or scam myself into the hotel’s breakfast room). Next year: attend as many days as possible!

Nobody else (that I saw) use a laser pointer and I think a couple of people could’ve done with one.

I should’ve investigated my bag more thoroughly to discover the conference schedule. Durr.

Conference:

Venue excellent once I’d found it. Given how awesome John Pinner and the rest of the committee were I feel that it would be reasonable to ask for a big 10 metre wide pink laser descending from the skies above and pointing at the building next year. When I was lost I asked several people if they knew where the conservatoire was and it was quite a while before I found someone who did. All the time I couldn’t have been more than 200 m from it!

Excellent organisation. John Pinner and the PyCon UK crew rule!

The talks I attended:

My «Introduction to Functional Programming in Python». I was very surprised by the high attendance and that makes me feel a bit guilty about slapping something together the day before. This was my first conference talk, I think it went quite well for all that. The room, the projector, Simon as chair, and the attendees were all excellent. I think I gave Simon and John Pinner a bit of a fright by not showing on the radar until 10 minutes before I was due to start. Sorry about that.

Julius Welby‘s «A Pythonista’s Year at Kew». I would have dearly loved to have seen more Python code, but on the other hand it was also really interesting to see what other people were doing with Python. Some excellent text processing war stories. This talk made me remember one of the things I like best about Python: it’s so easy to get real work done using it.

Jonathan Fine’s «From MathTran to PyTeX». (Has Latex 3 really been in development since 1992? Even a day after I’m still a bit shocked, and I still think my “that’s longer than perl 6!” heckle is amusing.) Anyway, MathTran looks already cool and PyTex looks like it should be cool. It’s an approach to the problem of how to make TeX sane that I hadn’t thought of. The approach is: treat TeX as a two-way piped coroutine, squirt TeX input in, get boxes out. Now TeX is a callable function. I remember having to submit batch jobs to run TeX, and now I can do it from a web page in a few milliseconds. Very cool. It’s been a while since I’ve used TeX in anger and I found the nostalgia simultaneously pleasant and a bit stomach churning. (aside: people use TeX to typeset Hieroglyphics, how cool is that?)

The break: At last I get to taste some of the coffee that I sponsored. It was okay. Good opportunity to chat to some Python dudes, which is always good.

Nick Efford and Tony Jenkins, «Python in Higher Education». Yay! I think we’ve all been appalled and depressed by the way that Java has taken over CS departments everywhere (even Cambridge has a Java course). Now Python is fighting back. I liked their mountain analogy. Also the power of just being able to whip out an interpreter in a lecture to answer questions. Great war stories, students saying “I felt restricted by C++”, 1st year students making stuff out of Python that is good enough to demo at PyCon UK!

Russel Winder‘s «Python is the Future of Build Systems». Seems like a guy on my wavelength. Clearly just wants to solve problems by making software and seems very hacked off by the current state of build systems. Everybody likes to bash autotools. A much more thorough investigation of various approaches to the build problem than I was expecting, using make, CMake, autotools, ANT, Maven, Rake, and Scons (and, does he mention Gant too?). CMake and Scons come out on top but only one of those has a real programming language behind it. I will definitely have to give Scons a second look (I abandoned it after brief flirtation a couple of years ago). The highlight was definitely when Russel switched the microphone off.

Lunch. Not bad at all.

Laura Creighton’s keynote. I’ve never heard of her and she seemed to assume that I (not me personally, but the audience in general) should have. Her talk was quite interesting, it turned out to be on software patents, the artificial opposition between Science and Engineering and the opposition between Arts and Engineering. It had nothing to do with Python. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; one thing Python programmers probably should be doing is talking to politicians about how they created all this stuff using these Open Source tools and they did it without a single patent. It was a bit scary when Laura directly addressed me in a kind of how-could-you-possibly-come-to-pycon-without-knowing-what-a-sprint-was-way to explain what a Sprint was.

Lightning Talks. Well these varied from the very entertaining and slick to the deserving and interesting but unprepared. Fun all round though. Any cool graphics went down well, even if they were presented to an audience of 200 on a laptop held at an awkward angle. Might be interesting to do one next year. For me Johnnie Stovall’s talk about the direct value of education via sprints was particularly compelling.

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3 Responses to “Code Monk recalls PyCon UK”

  1. Gareth Rees Says:

    Well I don’t know what a sprint is either.

    Hmm, it appears to be the cute name in the “Scrum” methodology for a short period of development leading to a planned release or milestone.

    Is that the right meaning in this context?

  2. drj11 Says:

    As far as I can tell, yes. Perhaps it’s like Brooks’ Surgical Team but without the years of training? Or how you transfer knowledge without using documentation? Or pair programming for N > 2. I really can’t tell exactly, but I think I’ll try and attend some next year.

  3. Paul Says:

    I think what Gareth said is right, and in an open-source project it also contains the idea that people come together geographically to work full-time.


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