Today marks my first day of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, since I chose to only attend the sessions this year. I will also depart with my tradition of writing a post for every session I attend. I enjoyed it in the past, but it adds more stress and distraction than I’d like this year. Instead, I plan to relax and enjoy each session I attend. I’ll still take a few notes, but I’ll limit myself to recapping an entire day in a single post.
I had breakfast in my hotel’s restaurant this morning, a mistake I won’t make again —over half the plate was composed of potatoes and toast, leaving little room for the eggs and sausage—. It was an easy walk to the Cascades MAX station, until I saw the train arriving before me. I likely could have made it onto the train had I sprinted, but I also had to buy a ticket, so I let it go. Fortunately, it was the beginning of the morning commute, so another train was not far behind.
This morning’s keynotes were dry. At least, I didn’t find them at all interesting. Well, except for one. I enjoyed Ariel Waldman’s brief talk about Hacking Space Exploration. It reminded me that I don’t spend nearly enough time on Galaxy Zoo.
The final keynote was a so-called surprise announcement. We were first treated to a video in which a bunch of big names in technology—Bill Joy, Tim O’Reilly, and Al Gore to name a few—gushed over the possibilities of commodity cloud computing. All that build up ended up being nothing more then a lead-in to an overblown advertisement for something called Nebula. While the idea of open and commodity elastic compute is cool, I have difficulty taking something seriously when it’s surrounded by as much hype as I saw during the keynote. Maybe I’m alone in this, but OSCON doesn’t really seem like the right venue to go heavy on marketing and light on technical detail. Maybe those of us sitting in the ballroom weren’t the real audience for the announcement. Perhaps they were just using the large and popular conference as a way of getting media attention.
So, what sessions did I attend?
About half way through OSCON last year, I realized that attending Perl sessions was mostly a waste of my time. They tended to fall into two categories: stuff I already knew and web development (which I don’t do). Where do I end up for the first session of this conference? In Perl 5.14 for Pragmatists, presented by Ricardo Signes. For anyone who has read the Perl release notes (perl*delta), very little of what was presented will be novel. However, it was very useful to see the relative emphasis placed on different features by someone as familiar with Perl as Ricardo. In particular, fully half of the session was dedicated to Perl’s improved Unicode support. As Ricardo stated, Unicode isn’t going away, so we need to get better at working with it.
After attending a session of some relevance to my profession, I wanted to take advantage of a series of back-to-back sessions of a more personal interest. My passions of late have leaned towards health, fitness, and, in particular, a more so-called primal lifestyle. So I was excited to see the session Geeking in a Cabin in the Woods, presented by Ryo Chijiiwa on the schedule. Previously employed as a software engineer at Yahoo! and then Google, Ryo took us through the history and motivation behind quitting his job, buying 60 acres of barren land in northern California, and simplifying his life by living on it. It was a fascinating tale of overcoming challenges. Part of me would love to do exactly what he did. Ryo has a blog (with a really cool domain name) where he writes about his experiences.
Following in the same basic genre, I next attended Sarah Sharp’s talk on Growing Food with Open Source. Sarah is a Linux kernel hacker who also enjoys gardening. Being a lazy hacker (I can relate), she wants to automate all of the mundane, tedious work that comes with a hobby like gardening. She’s written code to manage planting calendars, hoping to eventually integrate it with a service like Remember the Milk, and an Android app to alert her of impending weather conditions that could affect her garden. The most impressive piece was the work she’s done to create an automatic watering system, using home-made moisture sensors and Arduinos. More information can be found on a site I will soon be spending a lot of time on, Garden Geek.
My earliest computer-related memory is playing text adventures on our Apple Macintosh, circa 1984. For that reason, I was excited to attend Ben Collins-Sussman’s talk on The Unexpected Resurgence of Interactive Fiction. So excited, in fact, that I passed up a session r0ml was presenting. Ben took us through a brief history of interactive fiction, from Adventure to present day. He talked about both the science and the art of the genre as both have evolved over the years. He focused primarily on the Inform language and the Glulx virtual machine (not to mention current efforts to produce a web browser-based player), which leads me to think that there isn’t much point in putting any more effort into playing with TADS. He also mentioned the annual Interactive Fiction Competition, which I love and have participated as a judge in for the last several years. This session has gotten me excited about interactive fiction again, after mostly ignoring it as a hobby for the last few years. I have a couple of ideas for games that I’d like to enter into the competition, which I should finally get started on.
For the final two sessions of the day, I decided to return to my core competency, and arguably the whole reason I’m here, and sat down in the Perl room. Damian Conway talked about (Re)Developing in Perl 6. I’ve previously attended his six hour class on this topic, but it was a nice refresher, since I don’t use Perl 6 regularly. He guided us through porting a handful of his modules—Acme::Don't, IO::Insitu, IO::Prompter, and Smart::Comments—from Perl 5 to Perl 6. Each of these modules was selected as a representative of a given method used to port the code. In the simplest case, a basic transliteration can be used. For some modules, new features of Perl 6 can be used to replace long pieces of code; argument lists are a great example. Finally, the ability to extend the grammar removes the need for source filters and allows the programmer to seamlessly add language features.
I ended my day with a session on improving code performance: Sooner, Cheaper, Better — Optimization on a Budget, presented by Eric Wilhelm. I didn’t find it very well organized or delivered, which is a shame, because I’ve seen him present before and he was rather good. After introducing us to the Rules of Optimization Club, Eric took us through a number of real world examples in which optimization might prove to be a waste of time. Old hat for a lot of people, I know. In fact, many people just wait for computers to get faster. However, he then switched gears into a more interesting problem. With today’s advances coming in the form of more cores rather than more speed, optimization was replaced with parallelization. The same rules apply and it’s good to remember that.
Following the last session of the day, a booth crawl was held in the expo hall. This involved setting up food and drink tables at the booths of various vendors, the idea being to bribe attendees to approach them. There was beer, possibly wine, and the food leaned heavily towards cookies and grain-wrapped items. I wandered around, played a Mario Kart-like Pac-Man multi-player racing game on an Android tablet at the QuIC booth, ate a bunch of cheese, and left at 7:00 PM …
To attend the .vimrc birds of a feather (BOF) session. A .vimrc, oft pronounced vim-wreck, is the name of the configuration file Vim uses. It’s more than a configuration file, though; it’s a full scripting engine, which provides quite a bit of potential for customization of one’s editor. Damian Conway, famed teacher of Vim, Perl, and myriad other topics, was in attendance. As expected, the entirety of the session was spent learning about some of the neat, as yet unreleased, scripts Damian has been working on for Vim.
I didn’t have it in me to attend any of the evening events. I was aware of two parties, but I neither wanted to drink nor stay out late. Unlike years past, I haven’t been very social this year, either. Instead, I made the relatively long trip back to my hotel, where I wrote this post (well, just the first draft; I finished it on Thursday morning over the lousy coffee provided by the Oregon Convention Center) and turned in early.