May 27, 2006

Need for Speed Wrap-Up

Wow! This week has flown by so quickly there's been no chance to blog about what's been going on in Reykjavik. For those of you who aren't aware of the sprint I have already outlined the basics in Do We Need Speed? but there's more to say. Much more.

Thanks for the Memories
This has been a very busy week, and it's not yet been possible to thank everyone for the roles they have played in putting it together. First of all I must thank all the participants for their efforts. Everyone has worked amazingly hard this week. The declared hours of the sprint (along the lines of extreme programming) were 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, but it wasn't unusual to see people busily working away after 11:00 pm.

I have so enjoyed working with this awesome group, and the teamwork has been great. See the participants list to find out who they are, and see pictures on flickr and on jafo's journal (permanent links on the summary page). Favourite picture of the week has to be from the Blue Lagoon (that's me, with my hand out of the water at the back).

Other web references include these blog entries from Richard Jones and occasional remarks from the effbot, as well as Sean Reifchneider's blog. Jack Diederich has also mentioned the sprint in both his general and his geek blogs.

It's been a pleasure, and I am sure that as the result of working together this week we will all be more open to future collaborations. I sincerely hope that we can find other sponsors to support this work as generously as EWT have.

Thanks for the Support
The Python community as a whole has been awesomely behind us in this effort. Particular mention should go to Neal Norwitz, Andrew Kuchling, Marc-Andre Lemburg and Brett Cannon. They have all helped to flesh out ideas, picked up code nits before they became troublesome and cleared up typos in both code and documentation. Not to mention holding us up by pointing out unfortunate misconceptions which would have led to errors if not squashed. Many others have also pitched in, showing the true Python community spirit by reviewing patches and offering advice, and the sprint's success is theirs as well.

We should not forget the magnificent hospitality of CCP Games, a recently-elected sponsor member of the Python Software Foundation. Not only have they entertained us magnificently all week, they have also had three of their staff at the sprint and have provided local knowledge that has made everyone's week more enjoyable. It's never easy being thousands of miles away from home, and this all helped enormously. Special thanks to Kristján V. Jónsson for giving up so much of his time in a week that included a public holiday.

Thanks for the Sponsorship
We should thank EWT, LLC for the most practical support of all. They have funded the air fares and hotel expenses for fourteen sprint members as well as providing the trip to the Blue Lagoon, coffee throughout the week (sprints run on caffiene) and a close-out dinner at the hotel. They have also sent three of their staff from their Beverly Hills head offices to take part in the sprint, even though that meant they missed their Memorial Day weekend. The fourth-floor sprint room is an extremely refreshing contrast with most places I have sprinted before: access to daylight is quite a novelty (though 24-hour daylight took a little getting used to).

EWT's CEO, David Salomon, addressed the sprint in a teleconference on Wednesday, and explained something about his company's ethos and general approach. EWT's support of the sprint, and more generally of Python, is motivated by business considerations, but David's talk made it evident that he sees EWT's role in a larger context. He also announced EWT's intention to make a donation to the Python Software Foundation and to institute a scholar-in-residence program targeted at supporting individuals making open source contributions.

We also each received a Nokia 770 as a gift from EWT. This amazing little device runs Debian Linux, and Richard Jones had his device running pygame by Wednesday morning.

This is also a good place to record my personal thanks to David for hiring Holden Web to undertake the organization of this event. When I made my first hesitant posting to the conferences-discuss list and ended up as chairman of PyCon DC 2003 I little realised where it would lead.

So, What Have We Achieved?
The formal record of our successes is on this wiki page (and a link is best simply because even as I write this entry there are hackers all around me striving to get even more speed into Python, so we are by no means finished yet). Sean Reifschneider reviewed the outstanding patches and came up with a list of potential speedups, which we have been reviewing and chipping away at as a part of our fairly comprehensive task list. The next release of Python isn't due out until August, so there is plenty of chance to build on the work that's been done.

Although not directly speed-related, we have also put quite a lot of work in on the pybench module, as a result of which its accuracy and repeatability should be improved. Not only that but this work may also lead to the introduction of another benchmark with even better repeatability. Lots of tests have been written this week ...

Until all the new tests are incorporated into formal benchmarks it might not be easy to detect the speedup; it's evident to everyone here, though, that many of the speedups are in areas that the average user will perceive. The improvements to string and unicode handling will probably be welcome to most users. I hope readers will feel free to post comments to let the other sprinters know how much their efforts are appreciated.

And Next?
It is the earnest of hope all the sprinters that this event will demonstrate to the software and related industries that they can engage sections of the open source community in a way that assists both sides. Sprinters have been quite willing to address specific performance issues raised by the sponsors, although there was no compulsion on them to do so, and there has been a general appreciation that both sides will benefit from the sprint.

We live in strange times, and the computing industry is having to come to terms with an infrastructure that is increasingly developed and maintained by people not under their direct control. This is scary to the average commercial manager: David Salomon deserves credit for his perception that those who engage the open source community most whole-heartedly will benefit most.

I fly out of Keflavik at 7:20 tomorrow morning. By coincidence I shall be on the same aeroplane as four American friends who change flights in Iceland. So, I have a week's holiday to look forward to, including visits to Loch Ness and a Guiness brewery. Rest and relaxation will be the order of the day. After that it's back to work, and being a director of the Python Software Foundation.

This has been one terrific week, though tiring, and has built a cohesion among the team which will remain even after the sprint. I hope it leads other organizations to consider supporting the open source community instead of just being passive consumers of the output without putting much back. With luck, much may hinge on this little project.

May 21, 2006

Let the Games Begin

I was looking for an erudite Latin tag, but couldn't find one. The Need for Speed sprint starts tonight with a welcome get-together at CCP, the Icelandic company reponsible for the Eve Online game.

I've been monitoring the flight arrivals from my hotel room in Reykjavik, and as I write the flights of the first five arrivals have all been reported as having landed on time. So if all has gone well, and thanks to the assistance of our Icelandic hosts, they should find a driver waiting for them when they clear customs and immigration, getting them to the hotel in around a half an hour.

This is exciting!