View From A Bridge

Posted on 31st August 2010

When is a bridge not a bridge? Apparently when it's a viaduct. Though having said that, it seems some are more insignificant than others.

About 20 years ago, I was told a fact that didn't seem that far fetched, and every so often I've tried to verify whether it was true. This weekend I found a page on the web that seemed to give a definite answer, except every other web page relating to the question seems to completely ignore this particular structure.

The fact I was told was that at the time the longest bridge in the UK was the M6 over Birmingham. Now having driven over that particular section on several occasions, I was intrigued to find out how long it was. My amateur attempts of measuring the rough distance from Junction 5 (Castle Bromich) to just past Spaghetti Junction (Gravelly Hill), aka Junction 6, found the distance to be just under 4 miles. However, as I was on top of the bridge deck I wasn't able to tell exactly where the bridge begins and ends. Until now I've never seen a reference to the exact distance.

This weekend I came across a page on the Motorway Archive, which states "The section between Gravelly Hill and Castle Bromwich is 3½ miles, which was then the longest continuous viaduct in Great Britain". Okay so it's not classed as a bridge, but a viaduct, although at 3.5 miles it does re-enforce the belief that it was the longest when I was told the fact.

So what is the longest bridge/viaduct in the UK? According to the Wikipedia page for the longest bridges, the longest in the UK is The Second Severn Crossing. However, that is only recorded as 3.2 miles long, and the M6 viaduct over Birmingham isn't mentioned. On answers.com someone else also asked the same question. The answer there states the Humber Estuary Bridge has the longest single span in the UK, but again The Second Severn Crossing is the longest in distance. On Flickr someone else wanted to know the longest viaduct in the UK, and again the M6 viaduct doesn't get a mention, as they only mention rail bridges.

Aside from the links above, I can't find anything that relates specifically to UK bridges, and many of the pages listing longest bridges in the world rarely list more than a small selection. So what is the longest bridge in the UK? I still think it's the M6 over Birmingham, but may be the reason it doesn't get mentioned is that it doesn't appear to have an official name. I'd suggest the Spaghetti Viaduct, seeing as it's one of the strands as part of Spaghetti Junction. If anyone has a definite answer, I'd be delighted to know.

File Under: birmingham / bridges / structures
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Shadowplay

Posted on 30th August 2010

At the end of July, Dan and I went up to Macclesfield in Cheshire to see the Unknown Pleasures exhibition. Although the exhibition was billed as the life/work of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, it mostly centres on exhibits that focus on Joy Division. The exhibition itself was in two parts, firstly archive material surrounding Joy Division, then across the hallway, a collection of artwork inspired by Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The archives are fantastic, and include many items fans would have loved to have sat and read through for hours. The one aspect that was a little disappointing was the lack of photographs, particularly gig photos. The ones on show mostly focused on the two gigs. While they were great to see, it would have been wonderful to have had more on display. Though it did make me wonder whether there were any other photographs. In all the years since, I haven't seen that many more.

Ian died on 18th May 1980, and this exhibition, together with the other events that have taken place, such as the workshops, are all to commemorate 30 years since his death. It seems staggering to think it was 30 years ago, and to realise how much it affected me at the age of 14. Joy Division were always local heroes for me, as I was born 8 miles away from Macclesfield in Congleton, and later moved to nearby Holmes Chapel. Growing up in the aftermath of Punk, the new wave sounds that were centred around Manchester was a source of great inspiration for young teenagers. The fact that Joy Division (or at least 2 of them) were local, only added to their appeal.

As I was with Dan, I couldn't attend the Film Festival that was planned in the afternoon & evening, but it would have been interesting to hear from some of the people behind the band, including Stephen Morris. It's one thing to see the films and get a feeling of the events, but hearing the real experiences of the people involved is quite another. Sadly two additional people who helped to carve the history of the band, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, are also no longer with us. I've met both, as well the members of New Order, over the years, and was glad that I was old enough to appreciate those times in the late 70s/early 80s.

After the exhibition Dan & I took in some of the sights of Macclesfield, particularly those relating to Ian and Joy Division. The Exhibition was selling a special map to help guide people to some of the landmarks, which helped to provide a bit more background information, particularly for the rehearsal rooms and gigs they hung out at. The Heritage Centre, also known part of the Silk Museum, is primarily a centre for the town to reflect on it's history of being part of the Silk industry. The Heritage Centre itself used to be an old mill. You can still see evidence of this around the town, and one of the days I may get back again, and photograph some of those sights. However, for this trip we used the map to pinpoint the musical history.

Our first stop was along from The Heritage Centre, towards the town centre, to Duke Street. Krumbles Night Club was the venue of the first Joy Division gig. It has since changed hands several times, and changed names, and I did wonder whether anyone these days still puts on gigs there, as from the outside it just looks like a regular disco. We walked through the arcade of Dukes Court onto the main street. Although there are other haunts the band once took in nearby, we choose to head off to our next destination.

Next we headed to 77 Barton Street. If you've seen the film Control, the exterior shots of the house, are the actual house, as is the Labor Exchange where Ian used to work. It wasn't until I watched Control again recently, that I noticed that they had tried to convey just how close his house was to where he worked. Barely a few minutes door to door walking. That's one of the nice things about being able to come here and see for yourself, you get to see the reality of it, the history of the town. You also get to see the views of The Pennines to the east and north.

I met a guy who had brought his daughter along, as I had done with Dan. It turned out like me he hadn't got to see the band live, though he was 18 when Ian died, I was just 14. We both commented that being 30 years ago, why there wasn't a plaque or something, but I suspect the current owners would rather not have one. I guess they can tolerate fans taking pictures every once in a while, but didn't want to draw too much attention to the house.

We then headed around the corner to the Labour Exhange. Although the building looks to be unchanged, it's no longer a Labour Exchange, and now appears to be a centre to help local businesses. Again if you've seen the film Control, the exterior of the building is used, with the more modern signs replaced with old ones.

Our next location was intended to be the rehearsal rooms the band once used. Unfortunately the location provided on the map is a bit confusing. As such, I think the new school buildings we found next to The Weston pub are more likely to have been the site of the Hall, replacing it in more recent years. We then went to look for the next rehearsal rooms on the map, The Talbot pub. Initially I was looking for a pub, and although we found a couple, they didn't quite fit the location marked in the guide. Pulling over, I read a little more closely and discovered the roundabout we'd kept passing was the original site of the pub. It had been knocked down to make way for one the new roads around the town.

Eventually we headed for the Macclesfield Crematorium. The crematorium itself also has very personal memories for me, as well as being the place where Ian was cremated. My sister Jacqui, as well as Floss, who would have been my Great Aunt had my Nan's brother not died in the war, were both cremated here too. The cemetary and the Garden of Rememberance are both very peaceful places, and even though we saw several fans coming to visit the curbstone, it always felt respectful. It didn't feel sombre either. Those I spoke to had more to say about Ian's life than his death, which is how it should be. I was quite surprised to see most of the fans were actually quite young, most being in their 20s, and two needed their mum and dad to drop them off. It does seem that Joy Division have indeed reached a new audience, one that wasn't even born when Ian died.

On our final journey round the town we took in King's School, where both Ian and Stephen attended, together with The Travellers Rest. The Travellers Rest was another pub that was frequented by music fans and featured gigs. Warsaw asked if they could play here once, but were told they should get a record deal first.

It was a good day out, and nice opportunity to celebrate a life that has touched so many people. Joy Division are one of my most listened to bands over the years, and despite such a small catalogue compared to others, they managed to produce a wealth of great songs. For Ian, Closer was a disaster, and from experience I've seen other bands feel extremely disappointed with the results of a recording immediately after the sessions have finished. However, it's only later that the realisation that you've produced something special becomes apparent.

I've been back to Cheshire regularly since I left, but don't often make it as far as Macclesfield. I'm glad I took Dan with me this time, as aside from giving him a sense of my history, he hopefully has some memories that will bring Joy Division to an even younger audience.

"To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you"

File Under: art / museum / music / sightseeing
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People Get Ready

Posted on 20th August 2010

The Optimum YAPC Attendance

In my recent post about promoting YAPCs, Gabor picked on something regarding the optimum number of attendees. I think he makes a good point that for a conference like a YAPC, 300-400 attendees is a good number to aim for. Anything more and it can become a logistical nightmare for organisers. It also means that the conferences themselves can become a little more impersonal, when a major aim of YAPCs is to bring people together.

With bigger numbers attending, it creates problems for organisers, not only to accommadate the large numbers, but also the cost. Universities have been ideal in the past, as they are usually quiet out of term time, and can usually accommodate several hundred people for little outlay. However, looking for venues that can accommodate thousands, which typically means professional conference venues, needs special effort to cover the costs. Events like FOSDEM are now so well established that large corporate sponsors are willing to donate without much persuasion, but a dedicated language conference would struggle to get the same kind of support.

YAPC::Asia can cope with 500 attendees, but now regularly sells out because they just cannot accommodate any more in the venue they use. In North America and Europe most of the venues can usually cope with around 400 attendees. In Europe we generally see lower attendances due to travel and accommodation costs for personal attendance being too high for some, as we see a larger number of attendees paying for themselves. As a consequence it is unlikely we are going to see a dramatic increase in numbers unless Perl suddenly finds itself being the language of choice for many business, especially corporates.

I have attended large conferences in the past, and while there is a wide choice of talks and more people to meet, it can be a bit overwhelming. You don't always get the chance to talk to all the people you wanted to, and many that you might have common interests with remain unknown to you. At the YAPCs it's a lot easier to talk to everyone, and you also have a better chance of someone pointing out someone else who you really should talk to. Although there are usually a few people I forget to find and say hello to, on the whole I do get to chat to some new attendees, and occasionally they'll come an introduce themselves to me, which is always a bonus. The smaller conferences just seem more sociable, which gives more of a fun element about them, which in turn makes them feel a bit more inclusive.

I think we still have plenty of room to manoeuvre, as I doubt we'll see many 400+ attended YAPCs for NA or Europe, so there is still lots of promoting worth doing. It all has a side effect of promoting YAPCs, Workshops, Hackathons, Perl and the community in general, not just in NA and Europe, but around the world. If people can't attend a YAPC, then we should be trying to encourage them to find a more local Perl Workshop. Both YAPCs and Perl Workshops are a great way to introduce yourself to the community and for the community to bring the best out in you. Another 100 or so attending YAPCs would be fantastic, and I'm sure the Perl Workshops around the world would love to see another 30-50 people attending too.

But as stated previously, promotion is the key. If you don't tell people how great you thought a YAPC or Perl Workshop was, how will others know that they should be attending the next one?

File Under: conference / opensource / people / perl / yapc
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Building the Perfect Beast

Posted on 17th August 2010

YAPC::Europe 2010 - Thoughts Pt 3/3 - Organising A YAPC

When considering whether to host a YAPC, potential organisers often have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. While it can be very rewarding, and a valuable experience, it is hard work. There are plenty of things to go wrong, and keeping on top of them can be quite daunting. However, when you first consider bidding you usually look to what's gone before, and over the past 10 years YAPC events have come on leaps and bounds. This year, YAPC::Europe in Pisa, Italy was no exception.

As mentioned in the previous post, the only real pitfall that Pisa organisers suffered was lack of promotion. The actual event pretty much ran smoothly. There were glitches with the WiFi network, but that seems to happen every year. This year once again, it seems network companies just don't believe us when we tell them that potentially 300+ devices will be wanting to connect all at once to the network. So although you could connect, the network was rather slow at times. Hopefully, future organisers can point to past experiences and impress on service providers that when we say 300+ devices we mean it! It's not just YAPC::Europe, as YAPC::NA has suffered too. Thankfully these problems didn't detract from a great conference.

For many attendees, the primary motivation for attending YAPC are still the talks. You get to see a wide range of subjects, hopefully covering areas of interest that suit all the attendees. However, this is extremely hard. During a few discussions during the event, I commented on the feedback from the YAPC::NA Conference Survey, which featured several comments from attendees, who felt that a beginner track would have been very useful. In retrospect, it might have been even better to have an Introduction To Perl tutorial before the conference, with the beginner track set aside for a variety of introductory topics covering aspects of the language, recommended modules, best practices or useful projects. The tutorial could then cover a lot of ground covering the basics, that would then be enough for beginners to not lose their way in the subject matter of some of the regular talks. Several people have commented that a beginner track, certainly for the first day, would be extremely useful. There have been several suggested approaches to this, but ultimately they are going to be a set of talks that are roughly the same each year.

At times speakers hear complaints that they are repeating talks, but with so many people attending for the first time every year, attendees often welcome having a chance to hear them. So if you do have an introductory talk that you think would benefit from a repeat performance, take in the comments from the talk evaluations and see what you can improve on, and submit it again the following year. I see some speakers benefiting from this to improve their speaking talents and gain more confidence in themselves.

The scheduling this year, from my perspective, was great. I only had 1 minor clash, and 1 clash where I would have liked to have seen all 4 talks. It's unlikely you'll ever get away with not having any clashes, but if you can gauge the subject matter and level of talks well, and don't put potentially overlapping talks together, you can reduce many such conflicts. This year the list of talks was online for a while before a schedule was published. This allowed those that were already registered a chance to highlight talks they were interested in. I don't know if this helped to guide the schedule, but it did seem a good opportunity to see exactly what talks were going to be popular. Having said, you can only rely on it for a short time, as getting the schedule published is really important both for raising the profile of the conference, and to persuade attendees to come to the event. Some conferences publish the schedule several months in advance, which can be hard to do, but does give potential attendees a chance to show their bosses why they should attend. Saying there might be some good and relevant talks rarely works.

This year the organisers made one of the best decisions ever regarding the schedule, and one that got appreciative comments from just about everyone. The talks started at 10am. In the past we have typically started around 9am, with some YAPCs starting as early as 8am. That early in the morning is a killer on the opening speaker. By starting at 10am, pretty much everyone was there every morning ready for talks. It made for a much more awake and attentive audience.

One aspect of the schedule that is down to the attendees to organise are the BOFs. This year, although several were suggested, I didn't see whether any of them happened. The one that looked likely, I would have attended had I been aware of it. To help these there needed to have been a BOF board by the registration table, which attendees can write their own schedule for. Having everything online is not very suitable for those who don't have laptops or cannot get internet connectivity. Plus a BOF Board helps to promote the BOFs to those who haven't heard of them before. Sometimes you just have to fall back to low-tech ;)

Another potential hazard for organisers is not considering the breaks and lunches. If your venue is in the middle of a city, town or very close to a variety of eating establishments, you can pretty much let your attendees fend for themselves during lunch. However, if they need to search for more than 15 minutes, then that can leave very little time for eating before they have to return to the venue. Due to the venue being quite a walk away from any potential eating establishment, it was rather important that they feed the attendees during lunch. As such they laid on a spread that was fantastic. It certainly avoided any unnecessary wandering into town trying to find something, and also meant we all had an hour for lunch where we could mingle and chat. And pretty much that's exactly what we all did. The breaks and lunches were always full of discussion. It gave us a chance to carry on points from talks, catch up with friends and introduce yourself to new people. If nothing else, this year's YAPC::Europe was extremely social.

As the saying goes, keep your attendees well fed, and you'll have a happy audience. That also means considering additional options, and it was good to see that lunch included a selection of vegetarian options too, as more and more attendees these days are vegetarian or vegan. For the breaks (and lunch if appropriate), try and include water, soft drinks, coffee and tea. Note that last one, tea. While much of Europe might prefer coffee, I can guarantee you'll get complaints if you don't provide at least English Breakfast Tea (we have a wider choice in the UK, but in the rest of the world, it always seems to be labelled as that). In Copenhagen they ran out every break time due to the caterers not anticipating the number of tea drinkers. Thankfully, for Pisa the drinks were very well stocked. A decent cup of tea goes a long way to keeping this attendee happy anyway ;)

The venue choice is always a difficult part of organising an event like YAPC, and largely depends on numbers. Over the last few years, several first choices have had to be abandoned because something hasn't worked out. The venue is never going to be perfect, but as long as there is plenty of room and everyone can get somewhere to sit then you've done well. You always need one room to hold everyone, but If you have some smaller rooms for the other tracks, try and avoid scheduling popular speakers or talks in them. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, and sometimes it can't be foreseen. This year Allison Randal did experience a bit of overcrowding in one of her talks, but no-one seemed to mind sitting on the floor or standing to hear.

The auction is always another trouble spot, and in recent years has rarely been necessary, as YAPCs usually make a profit these days. However, raising funds for the next years organisers, TPF or YEF is never a bad thing, as it all ends up helping to fund and promote Perl events. This year the Pisa organisers tried to be a bit different, and had it have worked as intended, then I think it would have gone down well. This year we had 3 tag teams trying to auction off 4 items each. Had it been kept to that, and the time limit of 5 minutes that had been suggested been rigorously imposed, then the auction would have been short and a lot of fun too. Unfortunately the time limits got abandoned, and some of the items led to a few bemused looks on the faces of the audience. If you've never been to a YAPC, then the auction can be a bit intimidating. None of us are as flush as we once were, so can't always afford to bump up the prices to levels we once saw in years gone by. Having said that, I do think we saw the highest price paid for a T-shirt, with Larry winning the the PIMC shirt off Matt Trout's back, thanks to a lot of friends :)

One point that Dave Rolsky made in his observations of the event, was regarding the price of attendance. We've now been running YAPCs for over 10 years and the prices have largely stayed the same in that time. There has been resistance to price increases, but 99 qr/Dollars|Euros|Pounds)/ is *really* cheap compared to other similar events. I do think there needs to be some alternative options, particularly for students, low-waged (or unwaged) and businesses, but a small increase in the standard price would, as Dave highlights, generate a significant amount of revenue. One aspect of the pricing that we've rarely pitched in the right way, has been for businesses wanting to send attendees, whether singularly or en-masse. It was commented to José at YAPC::NA in 2008, by someone that said that they had to pay for themselves, as their boss considered YAPC too cheap and therefore not a real conference. Having a business package that includes 1 or 2 tutorials in addition to the regular conference is one way to give value for money, but still charge a higher price. Lisbon tried this for 2009 and Riga are looking to use it for 2011. I hope it works, as it has the potential to encourage businesses to regard YAPCs as a credible training event for their employees.

Aside from the tower and the Cathedral there wasn't much to see in the town, which is probably a good thing, as it meant the town wasn't overly touristy or expensive. There were lots of choices for food in the evening, although mostly we all headed for the Piazza where we all met for the pre-conference meet-up. If you'd like your attendees to get a good flavour of your city, then it's worth investing time to point out evening social venues where attendees can meet-up. If you don't then the likelihood is they'll all head for the same place every night, as it's the only place they know how to get to.

If you have strong feelings (or even mild ones) about the conference, it would be great if you could take the time enter them into the Conference Survey. All the responses help the organisers of the future get a good idea of what attendees thought about the conference. In addition, please try and complete the talk evaluations, as I know the speakers do appreciate it. I spoke to a few speakers in Pisa who were very pleased to get the feedback, even if it wasn't always complimentary. Following some discussions, next year the talk evaluations will be simplified a little, so they will hopefully be quicker to complete.

As some may be aware I started writing a book last year, about how to organise a YAPC. After some feedback I had intended to make a second draft. Due to other commitments that hasn't happened as yet. Following further feedback from the YAPC::NA organisers and discussions with organisers and attendees of YAPC::Europe, as well as all the feedback from the surveys, I plan to pool those, together with the original feedback, and work on the next draft over the next month. Seeing the success of the git way, I'll be making the text available on Github, so any one can supply patches. My eventual aim is then to publish an ebook, together with a print on demand version, that can be used by organisers of YAPCs and workshops to help them plan and improve Perl events for the future. If you're interested in such a book, keep an eye out for updates in the near future.

Overall I enjoyed YAPC::Europe this year, and came away with several ideas from talks and discussions in the hallway track. My thanks to the Pisa organisers, you did a grand job. Now have a well earned rest. Next year Riga will be our hosts. With Andrew and his crew now having so many workshops and YAPC::Russians behind them, next year should be every bit as successful as this year. Good luck guys.

A final thought from YAPC::Europe in Pisa this year. Josette Garcia noted that 4 people who attended the very first YAPC::Europe were in Pisa. I was one of them, and I think Dave Cross, Nick Clark and Léon Brocard were the others. Of the 4 of us I think Léon and myself are the only ones to have attended every single YAPC::Europe. I wonder who'll break first :)

File Under: conference / opensource / people / perl / yapc
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Calling All The Heroes

Posted on 16th August 2010

YAPC::Europe 2010 - Thoughts Pt 2/3 - Promoting A YAPC

This year, YAPC::Europe was reasonably well attended, with roughly 240 people. However, a few weeks prior to the event, the officially registered attendees for YAPC::Europe 2010 was considerably lower. Although every year it seems that many register in the last 2 weeks, there is usually a higher number registered before then. So why did we have such low numbers registering, until just before the conference this year? I'm sure there are several factors involved, but 2 strike me as significant.

The first is the current dates for the event. As mentioned in my previous post, the Perl community attending YAPCs is getting older, and many of us now have young families. August is notoriously bad for anyone with a family, as the school holidays govern a lot of what you're able to do. Those that can take time out to attend the conferences also have to juggle that with family holidays. Employers are often reluctant to have staff away during August, as too easily they can become short-staffed due to others taking holiday. Having said that, the attendances haven't fluctuated that much in recent times, regardless of whether early/mid-August is chosen or late-August/early-September. Although, the exception does seem to be Vienna in 2007 which attracted 340 attendees. As such, when deciding dates for a YAPC, bear in mind that some of your potential attendees may find it difficult to attend, or only be able to decide almost at the last moment.

The second factor was a pitfall that this year's organisers fell into too. Lack of communication. Immediately prior to the conference and during it, there was lots of news and promotion. However, 6 months ago there was largely nothing. Although, we finally had about 240 attendees, it is possible that there could have been many more. Big splashes across the Perl community with significant updates (website launch, call for papers, opening registration and unveiling the schedule) are a great way to make people aware of what is happening and can generate a buzz about the event long before it begins.

This year I noticed that a twitter search for 'yapc' in the weeks before YAPC::Europe, featured mostly posts about YAPC::Brasil, and I'm currently seeing several posts for YAPC::Asia. Last year, José and Alberto kept a constant feed of news, snippets, and talk link posts onto twitter and other social network micro-blogging services, which helped to generate posts from others attending or thinking of attending. This year that potential audience attracted via the marketing efforts, seems to have been lower than in previous years. The results of the Conference Surveys will hopefully give a better picture of this.

In recent times the Perl community has talked about marketing Perl in various ways. However, promoting our own events seems largely left to the organisers. While the organisers can certainly add fuel for the fire, it's the rest of the community that are needed to fan the flames. In the past YAPCs and Workshops have been promoted across various Perl sites, and in various Linux and OpenSource channels, which in turn generated a lot of interest from attendees and sponsors. The latter target audience are just as important as the former. While we want more people to attend the events, the sponsors are the people who fund them to make the happen. But not marketing the events to get maximum exposure likely means there are potential sponsors who either never get to hear of our events, or are turned off by the lack of exposure the event is generating.

Although the events do manage to get sponsors, for the organisers it can often be a very traumatic process getting sponsors involved. Once you've made initial contact, you'll need to persuade them that sponsoring the event is a good way to market their company. If they're able to see photos online of the events (possibly including sponsor branding), or read blog posts that direct people to the conference website (with all the event sponsors listed), it gives potential sponsors a feeling that it may be a worthwhile investment. Some sponsors are strong supporters of OpenSource and want to give back, but a large number are looking to promote their own brand. They're looking to make maximum revenue for a minimum outlay. They want to see that funding events is going to generate further interest and brand recognition to their target audience. Exposure through blogs and other online sources all helps.

As I've implied, much of this exposure is down to the community. If you attended YAPC::Europe (or YAPC::NA or any other Perl event, including Workshops) have you written a blog post about it? Did you tweet about the event before you went, during or even after? Have you posted photos online and tagged them with the event, in a way that others can find them? YAPC::Brasil and YAPC::Asia attendees seem to be doing this rather well, and there is a lot we can learn from them. In the last week, there have been several posts by attendees of YAPC::Europe 2010, but of the 240 people attending, it really is a small percentage. And likewise I saw a similar kind of percentage posting about YAPC::NA this year too. Several years ago use.perl and personal blogs were full of reports of the event. What did you learn at the event, who did you meet, what aspects of Perl are you going to take away with you from the event? There is a lot you can talk about, even if it was to mention one specific talk that you felt deserved comment.

With aggregators, such as Iron Man, Planet Perl and Perlsphere, whether you post via use.perl, Perl Blogs or your own personal site, you can get the message out. Next year, anyone wondering whether attending a YAPC is worthwhile is likely to search for blog posts about it. Are they going to find enough reasons to attend, or persuade their manager that they should attend? I hope so. YAPCs and Workshops are a great way to promote what is happening in Perl, and by talking about them we can keep that interest going long after the event itself.

In Gabor's lightning talk, looking at Perl::Staff and events group, he highlighted the differences in attendances between the conferences. Typically a YAPC::Europe has 200-300 attendees, YAPC::NA has 300-400 and YAPC::Asia has around 500 attendees. However, FOSDEM (5,000), LinuxTag (10,000) and CeBit (400,000) all attract much higher numbers. It's a fair point that we should try and provide a presence at these other OpenSource events, but a dedicated language interest event is unlikely to attain those attendances. The hope though is that we may have a knock-on effect, with people seeing Perl talks and a good Perl presence at those other events, might just take more of an interest in Perl, the community and the various Perl specific events.

I'd be very interested to see attendance figures for other dedicated language conferences, particularly for Europe, as I think Perl is probably about average. The EuroPython guys certainly attract similar numbers to Birmingham. In the past I've done a fair amount of pitching Perl at Linux, OpenSource and Security Conferences in Europe and to Linux User Groups around the UK. Birmingham Perl Mongers undertook 3 "world" tours in 2006, 2007 & 2008 doing exactly that. It was great fun, and we got to meet a lot of great people. If you have a local non-Perl group, such as a LUG, would they be interested in a Perl topic? Are you able to promote Perl, the Perl community or Perl events to them? Sometimes even just attending is enough, as you'll get to talk to plenty of other interesting people. The initial 2006 tour was primarily used to promote YAPC::Europe 2006, which Birmingham Perl Mongers were hosting that year, and it did help to raise the profile of the event, and eventually got sponsors interested too.

One thing that the Pisa organisers did, specifically osfameron, was to broadcast Radio YAPC podcasts (Episodes 0, 1, 2 & 3). Genius. I got to listen to them after each day, but I can imagine many haven't been able to hear until they returned home. It would have been great to have something before the conference too, even just the news updates and some of the highlights to look forward. Interviews with the organisers and any registered attendees would have been great too. It was a nice touch to the event, and it's promotion, to be able to feature interviews with speakers and attendees to get their experiences. I hope future organisers can try something similar too.

There are several people trying to raise the profile of Perl at the moment, but it takes the whole community to support their efforts by blogging, talking beyond our community and promoting events to those who might not have considered treating the conference as part of their training. We have a great community, and one that I'm pleased to be a part of. I want the community and the events to continue for many years to come, and talking about them can only help that. It's why Matt Trout shouted at many of us to blog about Perl and promoted the Iron Man aggregation competition.

The Perl community and events are very healthy at the moment, we just don't seem to be talking about them enough. As the business cards state, we do suck at marketing. If we want to avoid the mistakes of O'Reilly at OSCON last month, and the badly named tags, then promoting YAPCs and your experiences at them, are a good way to show how it can be done right.

In my next post I'll be looking more at the YAPC event itself.

File Under: conference / opensource / people / perl / yapc
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Growing Up

Posted on 13th August 2010

YAPC::Europe 2010 - Thoughts Pt 1/3 - Young Blood & The Old Guard

Last week I was in Pisa for YAPC::Europe 2010. Although I was doing a talk about CPAN Testers, my intention was to keep a low profile and observe more. Having run the conference surveys for the past few years, it has been noticeable that the attendance has been changing. While there are new people coming along to YAPCs, the general average age is getting older. Marketing Perl to companies to encourage its use is one thing, but attracting people in general to the language is also important. The fact that for a notable number of attendees this is their first YAPC, probably means we are getting something right.

There were several European Perl Mongers that were noticeably absent this year. While some had posted apologies (mostly due to imminent baby arrivals it would seem!), others perhaps have moved on to other jobs, projects or languages, or their life means that they cannot commit to something like YAPC any more. While we miss them, it is a natural way for the community to evolve. It does give a chance for newcomers to become involved and this year I wanted to see who we are potentially going to see more of.

It seems we have quite a few people who are giving us, the Perl community, a fresh look and I think that the Perl community is rather healthy at the moment thanks to them. At least from a European perspective. YAPCs are an ideal chance for people to meet and discuss projects, which otherwise can take days or weeks via email and even IRC. Those new to projects can better introduce themselves and forge better communication channels with other project members, both during the conference and at the evening social events. I think it was Dave Rolsky who observed that the Europeans seemed more accustomed to putting down laptops and talking, rather than sitting in silence hacking away. There certainly seemed to be lots of discussion in hallways this year at least.

With all the fresh faces around, it's crossed my mind on several occasions, as to who is the old guard these days. There are several I could name who kind of fit the bill, and many of us have been around working on projects for quite a few years. Not necessarily hacking on perl itself, but certainly helping to build the Perl community. We have quite a vibrant community, one that I think is quite inclusive, supportive and appreciative. We have disagreements at times, but it's a community that seems to easily span age and experience barriers and is willing to learn from each other.

Keeping a low profile initially seemed to be working for me, that is right up until the afternoon of the last day. During the day, José had asked if I would help with his lightning talk, but not wanting to be part of any more talks, I respectfully declined. Little did I realise it was just a ruse, so he could say thank you to me for organising and running the YAPC Surveys. So much for not drawing attention to myself! After the Lightning Talks, brian d foy took centre stage to present the White Camel Awards. I was very pleased to see both Paul Fenwick and José Castro receive awards, and in fact was laughing at José as he realised one of the awards was going to him. However, José was almost in hysterics when he saw my reaction when I realised I was also receiving an award.

As I mentioned in my acceptance speech, I've never wanted an award for what I do. I do it because I want to, and because I love being part of this community. I had been asked before whether I would accept a White Camel Award, and I'd said no. Although I don't think the awards themselves are a bad thing, its just that I think others have been more deserving of them. I've been involved in many Perl projects over the years, and have largely hid behind them, as I've always felt the projects themselves are far more important than me. The fact that several people felt I needed to be acknowledged this year, regardless of my reluctance to receive the award, I guess means that sometimes I just have to accept that people would like to say thank you for the work I do. If like José, there was one person I should thank for introducing me to the Perl community, it would be Richard Clamp. It was Richard who gave me my first proper Perl job and persuaded me to go to a London Perl Mongers social.

Which sort of brings me to one of the projects I helped with last year, and I'm very pleased to see continuing this year. Introducing people to the Perl community is one aspect of the Send-A-Newbie programme. Edmund instigated the programme last year, and we managed to bring 3 people to YAPC, giving them a chance to experience the conference and the community. The hope was that they would use and benefit from the experience, and hopefully feel more empowered to contribute to the community. Then maybe be in the future, they might be able to attend future YAPCs. I was delighted to see Alan Haggai Alavi at this year's YAPC, and surprised to see him so soon. I was then even more impressed to hear what he has been doing to promote Perl in India, as this is exactly the kind of enthusiasm the Send-A-Newbie programme can benefit from too. I spoke briefly with Leon Timmermans, who was this year's attendee via the Send-A-Newbie programme, and again it seems we've found another deserving recipient.

With programmes like Send-A-Newbie, the Perl marketing efforts and the community in general, I'm very hopeful that we'll be seeing more young blood in the community in the years to come. However, it still needs some effort from every one of us to ensure that happens. Which brings me to my next post in this short series, which I'll be posting soon.

I've now been in the community for over 10 years, with Birmingham Perl Mongers celebrating their 10th birthday in September. I'm guess that means I'm one of the old guard now, which isn't bad for a C programmer who had a lot to learn all those years ago. I feel I've come a long way in the last 10 years, and it's been a fantastic journey. Perl and the community have changed immensely in those years, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the young blood and fresh faces now, take us in new and interesting directions over the next 10 years and more.

File Under: conference / opensource / people / perl / yapc
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