In my previous post, I talked a little about the non-technical “amenities” (for want of a better word) at YAPC 2013. In this post, I want to talk some about the technical presentations at the conference, and a bit about the social aspects.
One thing I really liked about YAPC was the “Hallway Track”, or “Hallway++”. The basic idea behind “Hallway++” appears to have come from a gentleman named Matt S. Trout, and is based on two key ideas:
- The most valuable discussions often take place, not during talks, but in the hallway between talks.
- Too many people are afraid of disturbing or bothering someone in the hallway, and thus discussions don’t get started.
Thus, Hallway++. Hallway++ participants wear a sticker on their badge, or some other indicator to show they’re participating in Hallway++.
If you see somebody with Hallway++ on their badge, or a group with a sign saying Hallway++ on their table, that tells you in advance that you won’t be interrupting.
At least, it means you won’t be rudely interrupting – you may walk up to me and be told “frantically working on slides, please find me sometime after my next talk”, or you may walk up to a group and be told “sorry, we’re discussing a startup idea, we’ll wave when we’re done”.
The point here is to flip the defaults – for this symbol to say “I would rather risk a brief disruption to whatever I’m doing than risk missing out on an interesting conversation.”
So the Hallway++ badge/sign tells you that this person would rather you did try to talk to them, and not to worry about it.
I like this idea. I like this idea a lot. I want to marry it and have babies with it. More seriously, I would like to see this idea extended beyond technical conferences; I am seriously considering taking it to WorldCon if I end up going.
Did it work? Well, I had a fair number of quick interactions with participants, but no deep technical conversations. That’s more on me, though; in retrospect, I should have sought out more Hallway++ participants and tried harder to strike up conversations. (This is, as everyone knows, a hard thing for me.) Mr. Trout made what I thought was an interesting point in his talk on Wednesday: he’d thought Hallway++ would be a signal to introverts that it was okay to talk to extroverts, but as it turned out it was more of a symbol to extroverts that it was okay to talk to the introverts.
Another social note: YAPC 2013 in particular, and I believe YAPC in general (but since this was my first one, I can’t prove it) is very welcoming to first-time attendees. Monday morning, we were told that we (the first-time attendees) were considered to be VIPs, and would be treated as such: from the point of view of the YAPC organizers, we are the future of the language, and thus they want to treat us well
In that vein, I’d like to publicly thank Wendy Van Dijk for taking myself and several other first-time attendees under her wing on Monday night and taking us to dinner with her, Gabor Szabo, and about eight other folks whose names I didn’t catch. Not only did Wendy
drag invite us along, she even paid for part of the dinner. Thanks, Wendy, and if we’re ever at another YAPC together, or if I make it to the Netherlands, I hope to be able to reciprocate.
What of the talks? I didn’t take detailed DEFCON level notes on them, but here’s a list of the ones I went to, along with comments as appropriate. Things were structured so that there was a morning plenary session with breakfast (to cover important announcements) and a later afternoon single track of presentations by prominent figures, leading into the 10 minute lightning talks. So I did go to the “Welcome to YAPC” talk as well as Mark Keating’s “The Perl of Christmas Past”, since those were single tracks and the other option was to stand outside and eat pigs in a blanket.
Here’s some of the other stuff I liked. (Slides) indicates that the slides for that talk are available from the linked page at the time I write this. YAPC did live streaming video during the talks, and has a video page where they plan to upload talk videos post-conference:
- Joe McMahon’s “How to Make Your Users Not Want to Murder You, or Software Engineering for the Lazy”. Basically, how to manage change without making your users want to…well…you know. (Slides.)
- Carl Mäsak’s “Perl 6 OO without you going O_O – Zero to Perl 6 Training“.
- Bill Humphries’s “Perl Meets Modern Web UI“, which I mentioned earlier.
- Matt Nash’s “Solving Problems with Perl in a Commercial Bioinformatics Environment“: interesting talk on using Perl to solve problems related to genetic sequencing.
- Larry Wall’s “Stranger Than Fact” was more metaphysical than I expected. But if anyone has a right to get metaphysical, it is Larry Wall.
- Out of the day one lightning talks, Curtis Poe’s “Macroeconomics 101 in Five Minutes” and Sawyer X’s “CGI.pm Must Die!“. Sawyer’s talk in particular surprised me, as it was the first indication I had of the hostility towards CGI.pm in the community. CGI.pm is a core Perl module that’s used for building web pages, particularly ones that take input (say from a form) and produce some sort of output. (I’ve built an application with CGI.pm. But that was a long time ago in another country…) Anyway, CGI.pm was used heavily in the early days of the web, but many people apparently feel the module has outlived its usefulness and should be dropped.
- Walt Mankowski’s “Hack Your Mac With Perl” was a decent short talk on various uses of Perl for Mac OSX: for example, Perl scripts that can run as OSX application services.
- Deb Nicholson’s “Software Patents: Who’s Behind the Curtain?” was pretty much what you’d expect. Good talk, but no real news here if you’ve been keeping up.
- Daniel Sterling’s “Packaging Perl RPMs” was a worthwhile how-to on using the RPM packaging system. (Slides)
- Nick Patch’s “Unicode Best Practices” was one of the two talks that I got the most out of: basically, how to make your Perl code Unicode safe. (Slides)
- Josh Rabinowitz’s “Bitcoins and Perl“: neat talk, less on Bitcoin generation and more on Bitcoin management with Perl.
- Denise Paolucci’s “Be Kind to Your Wrists (You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone)“. Great talk on preventing RSI and other wrist issues from someone who has been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it.
- Stevan Little’s “Perl – The Detroit of Scripting Languages“: more CGI.pm bashing!
- Day Two lightning talks of particular interest: Mike Greb’s “Monitoring EMS/Fire Dispatch w/ Perl“, about using Perl to generate MP3 archives and record scanner frequency and other metadata. Perrin Harkins’s ”A Fond Goodbye to CGI.pm“: yes, more CGI.pm bashing.
- Dave Rolsky’s “A Date with Perl” was the other talk I got the most out of. Mr. Rolsky’s talk covered the important things you need to know about using dates and times in Perl. (Big point: “Do not write your own date and time manipulation code.”) (Slides).
- Katherine Toomajian’s “The Care and Feeding of Volunteers: Lessons from Non-Profits and OSS“. Or, how to get people to want to work on your project, and how to keep them working on your project.
- Sawyer X did an amusing talk on how to write applications that work asynchronously. The best part? His application that finds “that guy” in “that TV show”.
- Geoffrey Broadwell’s “The Need for Speed: Benchmarking Perl 6“. I’m a benchmarking fan, so this pushed one of my buttons…
- Kevin Metcalf did a hilarious talk on “student Perl code, head-desk injuries, and you“, about the stupid things beginning (and advanced) Perl programmers do.
- Joe Axford did a talk that fits in well with the previous one, “Notes from a Newbie“, about the resources that are available if you want to up your Perl game.
- Augustina Ragwitz’s “Start Contributing to Perl, It’s Easy!” gave a good overview of how people can contribute back to the community, including specific how-to advice on working with CPAN and the Perl core.
- High point of the lightning talks on day three: “Why CGI.pm should live!” by Casey West. There may have been some sarcasm involved in this talk; I’m not 100% sure.
tl,dr: YAPC 2013 was one of the best events I’ve been to, from both a technical standpoint and an organizational standpoint.
Would I go back? That’s a problem for me. I don’t program in Perl professionally, so I don’t have someone who will pay my way. If I’m paying out of my own pocket, with airfare and hotel it becomes a budget stretch, and I don’t feel like I can afford YAPC, the S&WCA convention, and DEFCON every year. (At the moment, I can’t even afford the latter two this year.)
But next time YAPC is in my backyard (defined as “someplace I can reasonably drive to”) I’ll stay at the Motel 6. Or the Motel 3 1/2.
Thanks again to Wendy, the YAPC 2013 organizers, the good folks at the job fair, the presenters, and anyone else I may have forgotten. (Please feel free to tell me I forgot you in the comments.)
(Subject line hattip.)