July 26, 2012

DjangoCon Comes to DC

Last year The Open Bastion asked the Django community where they wanted to hold the next couple of DjangoCons (since this is a community event, we figured that it made sense to ask). The first answer from most people was “this place close to my home town,” and the second one from the Django Software Foundation was “you’ll have to decide.” So much for community consultation.

In fact we did interact with the denizens of the django-users list, and eventually settled on Washington, DC for this year and downtown Chicago for the next. That being the case, the next thing was to recruit the community volunteers. Fortunately this wasn't difficult, since for DC they essentially turned up in my inbox one day basically asking what they could do. So far they have arranged a great sprinting facility, and become involved in the financial assistance of impecunious delegates. It's great to work with an enthusiastic team of volunteers

People sometimes ask why a conference like DjangoCon uses volunteer help, and the answer to that question is complex. First of all, the volunteers can take care of areas we don't have the time or the local knowledge for. Those close to the conference are invaluable in performing on-site actions ahead of time. Secondly, their involvement retains the essential community feel of the conference. Our role is principally to ensure that the venue provides what it should and the logistics of the conference run smoothly (and thereby hangs a tale).

Anyway, with 39 days to go to DjangoCon we are entering the final checklist phase. Apologies to the sponsors, as we have been dilatory getting their details up on the site. We are working on it.

It's going to be interesting being in DC, to which I lived close for almost fifteen years. The hotel, thank heavens, is just around the corner from the airport—one of DC's advantages is that you can be downtown very quickly after clearing the airport. Just make sure you fly into Reagan National (DCA) and not Dulles (IAD) or Baltimore-Washington (BWI) unless you have to.

Now the schedule has been announced Early Bird tickets have been moving briskly, but it looks as though they won't run out before the Early Bird period ends on August 3. The new Supersaver tickets were popular, though not as many students bought them as we anticipated. There is something for everyone in the schedule, and we'll be featuring the keynotes in a separate blog post soon.

We have a code of conduct, not that different from the PyCon code of conduct. The principal value of such codes is in putting people on notice that certain standards of behavior are required.

One of the things I like most about the Python and Django communities is that the individual members of the community largely feel empowered to police such things informally. This means that most issues never flare up into the kind of ugly incident that we are all tired of reading about because such behavior gets nipped in the bud before it has chance to make serious trouble*.

Running these conferences is an effort, but whether or not they make money it's always gratifying to have people thank us for making the effort to run them. Now that I am no longer the chairman of the Python Software Foundation I am finding other ways to serve the community which has been a major part of my life for the last fifteen years. Making the transition for community leader to open source entrepreneur might not be easy (I have already made a couple of expensive mistakes). I hope I have your support.

* I realize there is an element of hubris in such assertions, but nevertheless wanted to underline that harassment is taken seriously.

July 25, 2012

Fun and Games at OSCON

Once again I spent a week in Portland with over 3,000 Open source enthusiasts, developers, business people and community managers at the largest US open source convention. Once again the hallway track was supremely interesting, and there was much of interest in the sessions.

For me there was a little more business than usual, as a new client of The Open Bastion was present and this was an opportunity to learn more about their team, meet people, form impressions, find out how they work and so on. Also the Python language had a stand in the Open Source Pavilion (alongside many other famous open source names), and I took my Raspberry Pi along. It was amazing how many people had heard of the Pi, and very few actually had one. The commonest comment was “I’m still waiting for mine.”

Alas I again didn't have very much time for the excellent Community Leadership Summit which now traditionally precedes OSCON, though I did manage to take part in one session about conflict resolution, and heard much useful stuff in plenary talks. If you are the leader of any open source community group I would definitely recommend going to this (free) event. It's well worth the cost of an extra couple of night's accommodation. Monday was taken up with clerical work, but on Tuesday I did make it to several sessions of the Business Leadership Day tutorial, and found them sound to excellent.

Tuesday evening Camp OSCON was held—indoors, due to threatened thunder storms which in the end never transpired. This was a traditional O'Reilly party, open bars, many different types of food in all-you-can-eat quantities, airbrushed fake tattoos, the whole bit. I managed to score four party tickets for a friend who came with his wife and two children. They were excited beyond belief, and it was delightful to see how much pleasure a two-minute stop at the registration desk had created.

Among the many activities was a dunking stool, allowing three pitches in return for a $10 donation. My major part in the evening's activities was to be (as I thought) the final target of the event. I took my place, and was duly dunked several times. At one point a guy who looked a lot like Tim O'Reilly took a shot. Good heavens, it was Tim O'Reilly. After failing to unseat me with any of his three pitches he moved closer to the target. Saying “How does this work?” (something I suspect he was not in need of information about) he pressed the target and promptly subjected me to my fifteenth ducking of the evening.

Tim O'Reilly in the dunking tank
Photo from Flickr by aaronparecki
When I emerged from the tank I thought it was all over, but then I saw Tim getting into it. Even though I was still wet I couldn't resist, and promptly made the necessary donation to put me at the front of the line. I am happy to say by the flukiest luck I managed to turn him from dry to wet with my first pitch. Success! My two remaining pitches failed to hit the target, so I went off to the men's room to dry and change. When I emerged I couldn't resist going up to the target, saying “How does this work?” and subjecting him to a second dunking.

I went around back to pack my wet clothes and he insisted on reaching over to shake my hand with a big smile, which reassured me that there were no hard feelings and that the cancellation of my O'Reilly School of Technology classes was not imminent. Tim O'Reilly is a good sport.

Wednesday's keynotes were thought-provoking. I particularly like the fact that the open source world appears to be becoming less shy about the value that it creates in the economy. Tim O'Reilly suggested that successful organizations create more value than they capture, and was very scathing about the short-term thinking and transparent absence of business ethics on Wall Street.

He did some very interesting sums suggesting that open source is a huge net plus to the economy. He likened the situation to that in energy: if we use a clothes dryer to dry our clothes that energy is metered and measured and accounted for. If we dry our clothes on the line using solar power nothing ever gets recorded. Similarly the benefits of open source software have not been sufficiently trumpeted to the world, and so are taken for granted by the commercial enterprises that profit from them because they do not perceive any significant costs. He ended by thanking those of us who have been working in open source for a long time for our forward thinking and our contributions.

Much of the rest of the day I spent talking to people either on the Python stand or in the hallway track. It is always impressive to learn about the range of applications to which open source is being put. The medical faction are much in evidence. The most surprising discovery I made is that at the core of the award-winning open source VistA system is a MUMPS database, technology whose roots must go back over forty years. I sure hope there's a Python API.

Thursday morning's keynotes were more practical in nature, my favorite being the talk from Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth. I'm a sucker for technology, and his explanation of how the juju system lets you build and model complex, scalable systems on the desktop and then easily migrate them to the cloud for testing or production was quite something. The practical demonstration of migrating a service from Amazon to the H-P Cloud service was impressive* (though I was amused to see he did at one point get bitten by a minor gremlin).

There was a frankly disappointing interview with Microsoft's Senior Director for Open Source Communities, Gianugo Rabellino. Not only did it sound as though it might have been scripted by Microsoft's public relations department, it seemed to be mostly "sound and fury, signifying nothing." I am aware that Microsoft** are now a significant contributor to (for example) the Linux kernel and other open source projects, but it's difficult to have a company's representatives talking about open source in "snake oil" terms one year and then see them hold out the olive branch the next.

There is still a substantial mistrust of Microsoft's motivations and purposes among a part of the open source community, as evidenced by a subtle change in the audience's mood. They will have to work hard to prove that they deserve a place in the open source community. This is a pity, because Microsoft employ many smart technical people who fully "get" open source, but it is taking the corporate side a long time to come to terms with it.

The Python stand was very busy again, as were those of the other open source projects. The day went quickly, and I got to listen to a couple of track talks, but again a lot of my time was spent in the hallways. I also spent some time observing the O'Reilly and Convention Center staff, who appeared for the most part to be a model of curtesy and efficiency. In the evening I was invited to the chairmens' party thrown by co-chairs Edd Dumbill and Sarah Novotny. This was, as is often the case, a fairly low-key affair attended by many likable people, and I was surprised to see that it was after midnight when we left. Time does indeed fly in good company.

This meant I had to hustle and get my beauty sleep as I was a small part of Friday's keynotes, announcing a well-deserved Frank Willison Memorial Award for Jesse Noller. Jesse is the classic busy person you should ask to get things done. His work rate is phenomenal, and he held down a full-time job while putting together the most amazing PyCon ever and going through a good deal of personal disturbance. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more, and the PSF Board was in full agreement that Jesse should be the recipient.

It was fascinating to spend a little time backstage and see the technology and the production values that now support OSCON. The show is professional from its head to the tip of its toes. The keynote session was followed by more hallway track and meetings while the sessions continued, then back for the closing plenary session at which Open Source Awards were handed out and the final entertainment was provided by Paul Fenwick, always worth listening to even when his topic is light.

After the formal end of the conference I had a couple of business meetings and went home (using public transport, because I live in Portland, hooray!) for a well-earned nap. Feeling much better-rested the next day I was happy to host the inaugural OSCON Survivors' Brunch at the Tabor Hill Cafe, a local place I make sure to patronize while I am at home. This was kind of an ad hoc event, attended by about a dozen of my favorite open source people, and I will repeat it in a more organized way next year.

OSCON always leaves you with plenty of food for thought, and this year I was much more encouraged about the prospects of open source entering (or even, dare I suggest, becoming) the mainstream. Mark Shuttleworth revealed OEM connections this year and claimed that next year 5% of all computers will ship with Ubuntu pre-loaded. I'd recommend buying your ticket for next year's OSCON as soon as they come on sale.

* H-P were a major OSCON sponsor this year; this was a shrewd move
** Microsoft also sponsored OSCON

[Disclosure: Steve Holden's business runs technical events and conferences,
and Steve profits from the sale of O'Reilly School Python classes]

July 14, 2012

Back in the USSA

My return to the USA after four weeks in Europe is to remarkably pleasant weather, which bodes fair for OSCON next week. It is something of a blow to be back in harness, but made more bearable by the thought of seeing so many friends again at OSCON, and so many more at DjangoCon—in Washington, DC for the first time this year. So at least I am working towards sympathetic ends.

During the trip I spent a week on vacation in a small town in Southern Spain. After an intensive week of packing and wrapping in London I then flew to Florence for EuroPython. I was charmed by EuroPython, and delighted (having been unable to attend last year) by Florence.

This was my first visit to Florence. Arriving from London's City airport wasn't terribly pleasant, as the city's fairly small airport is under renovation and the line for the passport check didn't even enter the terminal building for about thirty minutes. Fortunately I had not checked any baggage, so I was soon in a taxi once I left the terminal building. [Since I don't want to end on a sour note I will mention now that the outbound experience was also troubled by long albeit air conditioned lines, apparently due to computer systems issues; I wrote this down to teething troubles].

A €20 fixed cab fare took me to the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo, where the conference was already heating up—literally: the temperature was around 35°C (100°F) on that first day, and the weather was baking all week. The Italian organizers had worked hard to ensure a smooth flow to the conference, although the two-floor nature of the event inevitably meant that the staircase traffic was heavy at times. The air conditioning found it hard to keep up when rooms were full, and I sympathise with the venue—it is difficult to deal with such extreme temperatures.

My delayed arrival meant that I had missed Guido's “Not the State of Python” talk, at which I later heard he claimed he had used the same slides as a previous presentation but said completely different things. The BDFL was certainly relaxed and entertaining as he later answered questions from the community relayed by Harald Armin Massa. When accosted later in person he appeared to be in fine form, and although he is traveling a little less (the lucky man) he was due to go on to Zurich on business after the conference.

The program, primarily in English with one Italian track, was at all times worthwhile and often entertaining and stimulating. It was a pleasure to spend time with acquaintances old and new, and find out some of the amazing things that the Python community has been up to. The lightning talks were again chaired by Harald Armin Massa, now billing himself as “Lightning Talk Man” and I should have liked to see more than I did.

The Python Software Foundation was among the conference's sponsors, and ran a stand with the PSF's new conference kit on display for the first time. I spent some time on there with Marc-André Lemburg, Pat Campbell (the PSF's administrator) and Ewa Jodlowska (its Conference Coordinator), Quite a few people expressed an interest in the new associate member scheme,  and we had new stickers to pass out to those who signed up. The ever-popular Python stickers also disappeared fast, and we handled inquiries about advertising in the new Python brochure whose production Marc-André has been leading.

This was a very special conference for me in many ways, as I ease back into community member status. I was able to spend some relatively relaxed time with old friends whom I rarely see. The food in Florentine restaurants is excellent, and each night was a different feast. At least one Italian admired my restraint in leaving a part of my secondi, the entrée dish. Little did he know that I was already at bursting point. Beware, portions tend to be generous, and the food so good that it is an effort to stop eating. After that, I approached conference meals with rather less gusto.

Henrique Bastos face
Henrique Bastos from Brazil
Over the weekend I was joined by a friend from the UK and with Henrique Bastos and his wife we took the open-topped bus tour of the city. A walk through the Boboli Gardens to the old town, across the Ponte Vecchio and past the Uffizi Palace saw us ensconced in a typical Florentine café/bar with a bunch of young guys who were happy to advise on food and drink. A taxi back to the hotel seemed advisable after a most diverting (though somewhat tiring) day.

On the Sunday, before returning to the UK we took the open-topped bus out of town and winding through the hills to Fiesole, a place to which I shall return to enjoy at greater leisure in future, I hope.
Fiesole, Florence, from above [courtesy of Google Maps]
Oh, and during it all people from (I'm guessing) over twenty nations got together and shared a huge amount of knowledge about Python, thereby helping to grow the Python community and bond it together through the forge of shared experience. What could be better than that?

Bravo to the organizing team for keeping everything running so smoothly. Those guys will be a hard act to follow, but fortunately nobody is going to have to try just yet. Yes, EuroPython will run in Florence for an unprecedented third year. My advice would be to book early.