Hallway++ means you're never interrupting
If you're coming to YAPC::NA, one of the things on your list of reasons to be here is quite possibly interacting with other people who care about Perl.
(if you dislike interacting with other people and just want to see the talks first hand, then please feel free to skip this post and I hope you enjoy the talks!)
One of the best ways to do this is through the Hallway Track - i.e. the conversations taking place in the hallways and lobbies of the venue (and on the staircases and in the lifts and wherever the nearest place outside to smoke is and ...). Somebody who just went to the same talk as you probably shares some sort of interest; somebody who's hanging around in the halls is quite possibly doing so for the conversations.
The thing is ... that person might be deep in thought. They might be involved in another conversation and you don't know if it's private. There's all sorts of possibilities, and you don't want to accidentally be interrupting anything.
So often, people don't start those conversations, don't join those groups - and sometimes that's the right thing, but there's plenty of times the people they would have talked to would have really enjoyed meeting an extra Perl person.
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.
Hallway++ and groups
Wander over. Grab a seat or find a convenient spot to stand. If the group is mid conversation, feel free to lurk. Lurking quietly in plain sight while enjoying listening is fine - again, Hallway++ means that if we need you to stop lurking, we're happy having to say that once per person who walks up to us in order to not miss people.
Ideally, when the conversation hits an appropriate point one of the group will introduce themselves and suggest you do the same. If that doesn't happen, wait for a suitable pause and introduce yourself anyway. Your definition of a suitable pause can be based on a wild assed guess, honestly; if I'm engaged in an enthusiastic debate with somebody then "between breaths" may be the best you're going to get.
You should also consider asking people where they're planning to go in the evening to be entirely acceptable - if nothing else, this is a good way to discover potentially interesting restaurants and bars but you'll find that the response quite possibly also includes "and you'd be welcome to join us".
Write it on your badge. If you come across a sheet of stickers (myself and other people will likely have some of those), stick one of those on your badge.
Write it on a piece of paper and fold it in half. You now have a table sign.
This is not high tech, it's an extension of the do-it-yourself part of the conference so lack of prescription is part of the point.
People planning to do one or more of these things may, or may not, add their names onto the wiki page of people planning to do so.
Hallway++ and the opposite of interruption
Of course, there's a converse obstacle that sometimes comes up - what to first talk about when faced with an unknown person or group. Here's your universal starter for ten:
What do you do with Perl?
Seriously. Even if you're talking to somebody whose work you know, it's a good question. The answer might tell you which of the things they work on they consider the most important - or which thing is topmost in their mind right now.
Either way, you've got a starting point - and it's a relatively open question, which is important for maximising the odds of an interesting conversation all round.
Another good starting point:
What's your favourite CPAN module for handling XML?
Of course, you can substitute many things for XML there, but the point is to pick a reasonably wide category of modules - that way, several people in the group probably have different favourites but all of them with good reason due to the details of their situation.
This will hopefully lead to an interesting discussion. If it leads to a holy war, eventually somebody will shout "no, emacs!" and the topic of conversation will progress anyway.
Finally, one that I didn't expect to work:
Have you played with FooBazDB yet and what did you think?
The thing that's interesting about this question is that I naively expected it to completely fall flat when nobody'd used FooBazDB. Actually, it went even better in those cases because somebody would ask what sort of category it fell in and then we'd discuss the category in general - or somebody would explain why they ended up trialing and using a competitor or ...
To summarize: You are going to be in a building with a truckload of fellow Perl users. If you want to start a conversation, any reasonably related open ended question is probably a perfectly good starting point.
Hallway++ and the rockstar misconception
Sometimes people avoid the authors of software they love because they can't think of anything to say. As politeness this is fine, but it can easily hit the level of "I can't talk to them, they're a rock star and I'm just a fan" and honestly ... look, if you find your brain going down that path go back to "this is another human being who loves Perl" and then see if you do have something to say on that basis.
If your problem is you want to say thank you for a module somebody wrote then tell them what the most awesome thing it helped you write was; or ask them why they originally decided to write it; or mention a module you particularly enjoyed using with it. I think most CPAN authors get a buzz every time somebody talks not just about the code but about the things that code helped them make.
Don't forget that if they're already wearing Hallway++ that none of the above is really a problem and as such you should just say hello anyway!
Hallway++ and VIPs
One of the traditions of YAPC::NA is to have a badge ribbon or other marker that tells everybody else that people attending their first or second YAPC is a VIP.
We're quite serious about this - because of logistics and geography about half of YAPC's attendees are new on any given year, and quite possibly won't be able to make it again for some time.
If this is you, then remember: not only is this your only chance for a while to meet everybody else, it's our only chance for a while to meet you.
This means that the rest of Hallway++ will be going to noticeable efforts to ensure that they talk to as many VIPs as possible (be warned: I may also try to give you a commit bit to something).
If it says Hallway++ on somebody's badge or on a sign at a table, they're in.
People doing Hallway++ would prefer your default to be "come and say hello" so they don't miss out on interesting conversations. Having to say if it isn't convenient right now is a conciously chosen trade-off.
Lurking is fine; it's ok to listen to the conversation and then introduce yourself when there's a lull.
Hallway++ means you're never interrupting.
-- mst, out.