May you live in interesting times...

Thu Jun 21 17:20:27 2012

YAPCNA Logo

The hustings are over
and the bunting taken down,
the people have now voted,
and return to their own town,
and all that' s left are memories,
of a conference that was 'sound'…

Preliminary Notes

What follows is a personal reflection and discussion about this year's YAPC::NA. It isn't comprehensive, it isn't chronological and it isn't finished...

It is unfinished because there was so much more, there are so many things I could mention and so much more to discuss. But there are other blogs, other times and many other people. It is unfinished because I would like to discuss the talks I saw in more detail, but they were streamed at the time, they are going to be available on the internet, and hopefully a HD set will be available for a small cost for people to buy.

Well Organised

So I am going to start my reflection of this year's YAPC::NA::2012::Madison by adding my voice, both personal and official[1], to those praising JT Smith and his team. You did a most excellent job.

the organisers

The task of organising a YAPC is not an easy one. The task of herding so many cats over a course of a week, of making sure they are entertained, fed, nurtured and cared for is a real uphill climb. The task of adding so much to this year's undertakings, of trialling so much that was new to test their worth, of finding so many sponsors, of running events that are traditional alongside those schemes that are new, is monumental.

When you see it work as well as it did this week it is easy to think that there isn't a lot of work involved. That's a deception. As the organiser of a one day event that has half the numbers I know the level of work. It is huge and it needs a strong force to shape a decent event, it takes a wonder of nature to do it so well. That is the team for this year, a work of wonder that you all were. I met so many of you that I cannot name, but to Mad Mongers, their partners, friends and cohorts who put on this for us, I say huzzah and hold a glass to your honour.

Hifi - Wifi

A note should be made of the technical achievements that this conference gloried in. There were trained technicians on hand to help, there was decent connectivity and power, there was streaming of almost all the talks and their was wifi that was for the most part amazing. I mean jaw-droppingly good in comparison to the usual conference fare.

I have some personal love to pass on to this year's team. I was able to present my talk, my wife and two year old boy watched me at home (on an internet-enabled TV), daddy was on the television. He didn't care for what I said, but my wife was able to give me support and feedback on my talk. My friends and cohorts in the community were able to see the talk and pass along comment, thanks and praise. That was truly awesome.

My Family

I was able to sit in the Hallways and chat to people and then catch up with the talks as they were live streamed to the world. I was able to watch my son go to bed and wave to him from the middle of a talk as he was shared via a Google hangout. I have never been away from him for a whole week before, I was missing them all by day one, by day three and the start of the conference I was able to be there. Thanks guys.

There were so many people who were able to watch the online streams, to share in the community event while being remote to it. The last day of the conference saw Mithaldu start posting videos from the event to his YouTube channel. He managed to get a playlist with a number of videos on it before the official end of proceedings.[2]

Keynoted

This year the keynote was given to Michael Schwern. Many of us wondered what he would be talking about, was it a state of the Onion style, a new project, a rant against the quality of Trail Mix available in airports...

Schwern giving his keynote

Actually it was a talk that sometimes is referred to as the "Unicorn Talk". A talk that is used to highlight the issues with diversity in the OSS/technical cultures. A talk normally presented by one of those minorities, though it is called the “Unicorn” talk by women as they are usually the minority reflected.

Schwern called his 'Perl: The Next Generation" and built for us a series of metaphors/analogies using the Star Trek universe as the basis to discuss the matter of diversity in our projects and culture.

My Family

It was a brave talk as it is not an easy topic for a white male to give and not sound like a token nod to diversity, or a patronising arse. It is a hard sell to people who have earned a lot of respect from all the great works they do in the community, to be 'potentially' made to feel as if they had done something less, or were contributing to a cultural issue is not generally a crowd pleaser. I don't believe that is was the very best speech ever, I am not trying to sell it as a revelation, I think it was brave. I think standing up and opening yourself to the criticism that talk is going to naturally create is a brave thing to do for any speaker.

Schwern was able to be smart, witty, educational and to get his message across without sounding like he felt less of anyone, or that he was childing us. We didn't feel to blame,[3] just that we had not, in his mind and by the figures he was quoting, addressed this issue anywhere near enough.[4]

Schwern giving his keynote

I want to thank him for raising this issue and for the smart, funny, sympathetic, emotional and intelligent manner in which he did it. He deserved the standing ovation that many of us gave him. I'm hoping that we can all move this discussion forwards with as little acrimonious verbiage as possible. I hope that focusing on women isn't the only thing we take from this and instead wonder as to why even amongst the women we are attracting the majority of them are from a single ethnicity. Why do our communities reflect a section of the population.

It is a great pleasure for me that I was able to talk, at lunch, to the founders of Dream Width. I saw Denise sat outside the Pyle centre so went over to say hello and to introduce myself as I had never met her before. We chatted about the keynote and she was so glad that a man had delivered the 'Unicorn Talk'. She also noted that Dream Width, although experienced in the IT world for many years as they were formed from ex-staff of Live Journal, were a young company with 80% female staff. They use Perl, they are young and they have reversed the figures. This more than anything else brought home to me the value in Schwern's words. This companies chief officers see it as progressive, we should be encouraged by this.

I am also encouraged by the fact that even in our community, and I the open source circles I mix, I meet a good number of people who don't fit into our majority statistic. That number is not representative of the attendees at a conference and many of them are able to better represent themselves than any 'unicorn' speech ever could.[6]

Community Parties

The organised parties at this year's event were the:

Arrival Dinner;
Conference Buffet;
Perl Foundation Party;

The Arrival Dinner, a pre-event meetup traditionally held on the night before the conference is the event where people can first meet up with new attendees, familiar faces and long lost colleagues.

YAPCNA Arrival Dinner

Once again this year it was organised by Uri (the Perl Hunter) and I want to once again thank him for taking the time and effort to get this organised for everyone. It isn't easy making sure people have a place to eat, drink and mingle, it isn't part of the organisers of the conference as they are way too busy with other issues.

This event is always organised by a conference attendee, someone like Uri. They take the time and do the effort and often cover some of the expense. It was a good event this year with a great attendance. Thanks, once again, to Uri.

This year the conference buffet/dinner was held on the top of the conference centre itself. We all traipsed to the pre-buffet-event free beer arranged by a sponsor and then ate the food provided by more sponsorship.

The Pyle centre, where the conference had many of its rooms, has a wonderful view over the largest of the lakes that surround Madison. The beauty of this setting, on a day filled with blue skies with boats gently bobbing on the water, is further enhanced by the many wonderful Perl people who drank and shared tales and jokes. We were further treated to a magnificent sunset as the skies reddened with the sun sinking behind some distant hills.

YAPCNA view from the top of the Pyle Centre

The final party was the Perl Foundation Party held after the conferences buffet at a nearby nightclub. We were allowed to completely take over the whole club and have a bevy of free drinks and cocktails provided by our mystery sponsor.

YAPCNA Velociraptor cocktail

This was a great event, we had light up t-shirts, odd drinks with a lot of kick and a whole club to ourselves. Like all the other conference parties this was exceptionally organised. Well done.

Talks

I cannot go any further without sparing a few words for the quality and range of the talks I attended and that were available this year. They were stunning.

All the talks I went to, all the talks I discussed with others, were enjoyed. Many of them taught us new things or clarified issues and there were a good number of talks from people who had never submitted or attended before.

This was the measure of the 'awesome' as some would put it.

The streaming of this year's event meant that the irc channels and lists were frequented by people unable to attend who were able to share the discussion, participating in the event as if they were there.

I had to attend to the Perl Foundation booth at the job fair this year so I missed the second day of the conference talks (though I did get to talk with many attendees who came over to say hi). Thankfully I know they were recorded so I can always catch up with them later. I would hope that we are able to put a number of them on Presenting Perl so that they can be enjoyed and viewed by an even greater audience.

Lightning strikes twice…

Both Matt and I spoke on the last day of the conference during the Lightning Talks. I was near to the end with my Perl and CPAN talk (a position I requested) and Matt at the end with his End of Everything talk.

Matt presenting his talk

My desire to do my talk on the last day near the end was because it was a 'fluff' talk. There was no educational value, it wasn't aimed at teaching much more than how good Perl and CPAN were in a friendly way. In fact it was just a promotional piece with a nod to a favoured children's author.

To do this I used a Dr Seuss poem (Green Eggs and Ham) and re-wrote it to fit to Perl and CPAN. I also used images and animations that fitted to the flow of my talk and its delivery.

I spent a large amount of time prepping for the talk. The animations and images took over 30 hours to prepare as I practiced their speeds to fit my speech. I also rehearsed the talk a good number of times to make sure my delivery and the animations were as close as possible.

I was nervous and I fluffed one of the lines slightly but was able to move on. Most of my nerves were because I was worried people would hate the 'childish' approach and silliness of the slides. I didn't want to overkill and thereby gain annoyance with the number of animations.

My fears were thankfully abated. The crowd laughed at all the right places and I received a thunderous applause which really lifted me :)

Later, I was told it was "the talk of the conference", it wasn't educational and didn't teach anything but it had the right mood and gave a high note. This was from an old friend so the comment should be taken with that in mind, but it was still really nice to hear (and they are a pretty honest person).

I was told I had to "release it as a book" that parents would be "reading it to their children the next night" by people who watched it online and gave me much love and karma on irc. So to all those people, thanks. That's really kind of you all to say such nice things.

Also, I was sure I heard Larry shouting "aimed at the 6 year old girl"[7] just after I finished. Which really boosts me as part of my aim this coming year is to diversity our approach and to look at that next generation. I don't have Schwern's skills or insight into diversity. I was simply feeling we need people younger to start learning and liking us now.

This talk was always intended to be a book. I produced every page so that I could create a visual page from it later for people to use and to print if they wanted. I will no doubt slap a CC licence on it and let it loose to the world. Just give me a short while and then it will be yours, I promise :)

As I am writing this the talk has had over 1,500 views on YouTube, which is a lot for any talk I have given (though I know some people have watched it a few times so I have no idea how many of those views are unique).

++ - we need more karma

This year we had three initiatives started by stalwart supporters of the Perl community, brian d foy and Matt S. Trout. Brian gave us the idea for celebrity lunches that I am calling Lunch++ to continue this karma meme; whereas Matt gave us an addition to the traditional hallway track called Hallway++. At the same time Robert Blackwell ran a whole workshop for five days getting people to hack on Hardware which I am going to call Hardware++.

I think that all three of these initiatives are aimed at different, but also compatible, needs and desires. They are about mixing the community up at its various levels but in different sytles. They are all worthy to continue building on.

I have spoken about brian's initiative in my blog post Lunch++, I have pledged my support to continuing it, I will leave it to Matt to talk about Hallway++ some more. You can read some more about my new addiction to Hardware Hacking in the next section.

Hardware Hacking

In the blog post about the Hardware Hackathon I called Robert Blackwell my dealer. That's because he has me hooked. He has me wanting to play with hardware and build groovy things.

Robert 'the Dealer' Blackwell

So I have always had a passion for the home hobbyist, there was an age[8] when the children built radios from crystal kits and had dynamos to power torches. These things were not pre-packaged and constructed for cents by a child in the third world. They were parts, sometimes made locally, that you put together yourself.

That spirit gave us at least two generations of engineers. For more than thirty years we had people from many different backgrounds enthused by home hobbying. Then the mass mechanisation and cheaper off-shore pre-formed construction completely removed the need.

But the hobby comes full circle. the rise of cheap non-consumer electronic parts, of easier to build systems and computer languages and devices built to the home or smaller enterprise. The rise of the rep-rap, shapercube and 3D printing in general has seen a reassurance of home construction, and to this we add Arduino, Raspberry Pi and the small electronics phenomena.

Robert is a keen enthusiast of this. Robert is also a man who lugged a whole vehicle full of parts to a YAPC and then encouraged people to play with them all week.

Once again I would like to point out a success story of this event. Let's make it a bigger success for Robert and join in with his Hardware Hacker Github project, Mailing List and further efforts to marry Perl with this movement. Lets have a track at every conference and event and call it Hardware++.

Raptor Rules and t-shirt blues

There has been a lot of questions and fun concerning the Raptor and its usage with Perl 5. I have written extensively about this before so I am not going to cover it now.

For this year I brought a special conference t-shirt to Madison of which there will only ever be five in existence. To accompany them I also brought the original Lego models that provided the characters for the central image. These were on display on the Perl Foundation desk at the Job Fair.

Perl Foundation Booth at YAPC::NA

The effect of the t-shirts was everything I had hoped for. I wanted to provoke some joy and to show the fun side of the community and its passions. I also wanted to see if I could reward some people who do groovy things. I rewarded three people in our community. One of them has contributed time and effort to making the community better with images, advice and their time, the other two contribute a great deal and they also donated to the Perl Foundation and EPO while at the event.

I hope those three enjoy a unique article of clothing. As for next year. I am planning on doing another t-shirt, and another display, you may hear lots of talk about what it is. Some of that talk will come from me and some of it will come from others. We will see how much is fluff and how much is fancy.

Feedback Needed

Each year there is a valuable service performed by Barbie, of Birmingham.pm and CPAN Testers fame, and that is the conference survey.

Each year we get about a 30% response to the survey from attendees. Well...this year JT and his crew have been attempting to break the mold, Schwern has told us we need to break new ground and new frontiers for a new generation, and Larry...well Larry already knew all this as he is Larry...

So let us join with them and breach the territory here, lets all try and fill out our surveys and add our voice. Lets give this conference the respect and feedback it has earned more than just the once over.

and finally...

There was a lot of good things that happened at this conference and there were a number of things we can improve, both in our community and in ourselves. What I want you all to think on is this:

"How can I do that?"

And once you think on that, think of this:

"How can I help others?"

Because the people I mentioned above and the many things that are being done are just the starting ground. A community, a technical community, is not just the code, it is the people and it is their needs.

We have been shown how a conference can be run well, let us reply with how a community can be better.

the organisers

Once more to JT and his crew, I say "Huzzah fine people, Huzzah."

--mdk


Presenting Perl
Mithaldu's YouTube Channel
YAPC::NA Playlist
Dream Width
Perl and CPAN Video
End of Everything Video
Embrace Your Community Video
Schwern's Lightning Talk notes
Uri, the Perl Hunter
YAPC::NA Sponsors
The Perl Foundation
Larry's Q&A Video
Mark's images on Flickr
Hardware Hacker Mailing List
Hardware Hacker Github
Hardware Hacker Pinhub
Hardware Hacker Twitter
Hardware Hacker Newsletter
Hardware Hacker Website
CPAN Testers Conference Website
Schedule
Mark's Talk
Matt's Talk
Mark's Lightning Talk
Job Fair
Hallway++
Mark's blog post Lunch++
Mark's new addiction to Hardware Hacking
Mark's blog post on the Velociraptor

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If anyone has feedback (and until we have a commenting system) please don't hesitate to email me at: m.keating [at] shadowcat.co.uk, if your comments are useful, fun, or just plain interest to me, or if I think will be useful to others, then I will add them to the end of this post, let me know how you would like to be named (anon, nick etc.).

Comments

[1] Official as Managing Director of Shadowcat, Marketing Chair of the TPF and Director of the EPO as well as a sponsor of the event.

[2] My understanding of this is that originally this event was streamed using Silverlight but robinsmisrod and mithaldu managed to find a way to get it working with VLC and then to find a way to record, mix in sound and the natural step of uploading to YouTube. That is really awesome work.

[3] I certainly didn't feel that I was being blamed, or patronised, just enlightened.

[4] Larry for many years has said that he wants to target a younger audience and a diverse one. We also have Karen, Alison, Jess, Jacinta who are integral to our community and to whom I feel we owe a great deal. This doesn't mean I want to place them on a pedestal, it is more that I appreciate that they are here and changing their contribution and their belonging.[5]

[5] Yes, Schwern says this a lot better, go see his talk.

[6] I also know of many people who are quite opposed to being seen as the target of an effort, they feel stigmatised by the very notion that they are different when what binds us is a commonality of culture (whether pseudo or not). I have spoken to a number of them recently about this whole matter in private and encourage others to continue the discussion. I should also note that the topics of my Ada Lovelace posts are people who don't define themselves by just their gender, they see that as almost inconsequential to the things they do, it is an axis of data to help understand them, not one that defines them.

[7] To qualify the awesome nature of that statement, Larry made the Perl 6 logo deliberately child like to inspire wonder in the next target audience for our language and the development of our communities, the children of the future and hopefully many more of those joining will be girls. So aimed at the 6-year-old girl is to inspire wonder in those people who will replace us. See his Q&A for his opinions on this.

[8] And I am going to sound like the grandpa from the Waltons if I say more statements like that.[9]

[9] Damn I meant the Simpsons, I really am getting old.

If you have any notes or points to raise please don't hesitate to contact me to take the conversation onwards, but before that...

Read. Enjoy. Contribute.

Mark Keating is: Managing Director of Shadowcat Systems Limited
Director and Secretary of Enlightened Perl Organisation
Chair of the Marketing Committee for The Perl Foundation
Co-Founder/Co-Leader of North-West England Perl Mongers
Work Blog: Mark Keating on Shadowcat
LinkedIn Profile: Mark Keating on LinkedIn
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Mark Keating is the organiser of the London Perl Workshop (since 2008), has joined the organising team for the QA Hackathon in 2011, the TPF GSoC Mentors/organisers 2011, the Dynamic Languages Conference 2011.