Rearviewmirror

Posted on 19th August 2011

Earlier this week I attended YAPC::Europe 2011. Many thanks to Andrew, Alex and all the others involved with bringing the conference to life, it was well worth all the effort.

During the conference I gave two talks. The first was my main talk, Smoking The Onion - Tales of CPAN Testers, which looked at how authors can use the CPAN Testers websites to improve their distributions, as well some further hints and tips for common mistakes spotted by testers over the years. It also looked at how some of the sites can be used by users to see whether a particular distribution might be suitable for their purposes or not. The talk seemed to go down well, and it seems a few were disappointed to have missed it, after discovering it wasn't my usual update of what has been happening with CPAN Testers. Thankfully, I did video the talk, and I think the organisers also have a copy, so expect to see it on YAPC TV and Presenting Perl at some point in the future.

Photo by Jon Allen

Photo by Jon Allen

My second talk, Perl Jam - How To Organise A Conference (and live to tell the tale), was a lightning talk to help promote my book and the YAPC Conference Surveys. The book is currently a work in progress, and I'd like to get more feedback from anyone who has been an organiser of a YAPC, Workshop or Hackathon, as well as any photos that would help to highlight particular sections of the book. If you think you could help, please take a look at the GitHub repository and send a pull request with any updates you think appropriate.

Congratulations to Frankfurt.pm for winning the chance to host YAPC::Europe 2012. See you next year.

File Under: book / community / conference / opensource / perl / survey / testing / yapc
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Behind The Lines

Posted on 25th May 2011

Back last year I got a curious email from a fellow London.pm'er asking why I was releasing so many WWW-Scraper-ISBN distributions. The reason was quite simple, to make my life easier! Well okay, that's why I wrote the distributions, but I figured others might find them useful too.

In the UK the book trade is a bit odd, and I dare say the rest of the world suffers from this too. The publishers don't like to give too much information away about their books, and the central body for allocating ISBNs, Nielsen, don't always have all the necessary metadata available. The book trade uses MARC Records to transfer this metadata around, and unfortunately, while there is provision to include much of the metadata, it often isn't included. The obvious things such as the Author, Title and the ISBN itself are usually there, but some of the data relating to the physical attributes (pages, height, width and weight) rarely are.

Originally I wrote the Amazon, Pearson Education, O'Reilly Media and Yahoo! Books distributions to use within Labyrinth, particularly for the Birmingham Perl Mongers website, and our Book Reviews. The plugin mechanism allowed me, when I received a review, to enter the ISBN and prepopulate the metadata fields and links before adding the review itself. The four distributions saved a lot of time, but the initial releases were quite basic.

Jumping forward several years, now needing this extra metadata, I first expanded the original four distributions. However, not all of these online bookstores provided this extra metadata. Picking a variety of books I searched to see what metadata I could retrieve, and came across several sites around the world that included this information to varying degrees. Much of the basic information regarding an ISBN shouldn't change from country to country, so metadata retrieved from Australia or New Zealand is as valid as that from America or the UK. There are aspects that can differ, such as the cover illustration, but the majority of metadata returned should be applicable regardless of location.

There was some interesting discrepancies with the different units of weights and measures used across the sites too. While some stuck to a set of fixed units, others changed depending how big the values were, particularly for grammes and kilogrammes. I settled on grammes for weight and millimetres for height and width, seeing as metric was the most commonly used on the various sites.

It did cross my mind whether to include the prices in the metadata returned, but as prices often fluctuate frequently and are very location dependent, you are probably better to write this side of things yourself for your specific purpose, such as a comparision website. I also left out depth, as only a few sites regularly provided a value for it. I can always save it for a future release anyway.

Hopefully those that work in the book trade, who have been wishing that MARC Records were populated a little more fully than they are currently, can make use of these distributions to help fill in the gaps.

File Under: book / isbn / opensource / perl
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All Around The World

Posted on 14th March 2011

Paul Weller once sang of "a new direction. We want a reaction. Inflate creation." All three could be attributed to why two major events in the Perl event calendar started in 1999, and now happen all around the world today. The two events, The German Perl Workshop and YAPC::NA, both were a new direction for Perl events and specifically a reaction to more commercial events. They both also brought a new creativity to the Perl community.

In 2011 we now have YAPCs, Workshops and Hackathons happening on a monthly basis somewhere in the world. They are still very much organised by members of the Perl Community, and bring together a diverse group of people to each event. They often inspire some to create Perl events themselves. However, that initial enthusiasm is often quickly followed by panic, when the organisers start to figure out what they need to do to make a great event. Which is where a book might help.

I am planning to publish such a book, entitled 'Perl Jam - How to organise a conference ... and live to tell the tale'. The book is a guide for organisers planning to host a large technical event, with the aim of helping organisers think of everything, and prepare themselves for anything they might not have thought of, or forgotten. Organising a conference, workshop or hackathon can be a daunting prospect, but with the help of this book, it might make the experience much more enjoyable, and may even inspire you to do it all again!

'Perl Jam' is being made available for its first public draft via a GitHub repository. This is the third draft, and my thanks go specifically to Jon 'JJ' Allen and David Golden, for their extensive help and feedback so far. Also thanks to chromatic for allowing me to use the framework and scripts he used for his great book Modern Perl.

I welcome any and all comments and suggestions, so if you've ever organised a large event, please take the time to read the draft and see if there is anything not covered that you would have suggested. For any current organisers, please download and share the book with your team and feel free to send me any additional notes you make as you go along. If you are thinking about organising a technical event in the future, are there any questions you would want to know, that haven't been explained in the book?

Everything is up for discussion, including the cover (which is not the finished version), and I'm very interested to hear from anyone who has suitable photos that can be included in the book, as examples or to emphasise sections.

The draft is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please feel free to point people to the git repository, but please do not redistribute with any modifications. Forking with Git is fine, but I request that you send me patches (via perljam@missbarbell.co.uk) or pull requests.

The book also has its own website, Perl Jam, which will be the official source of any releases.

File Under: book / community / conference / opensource / perl / yapc
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Long Time Gone

Posted on 4th May 2010

It has been quite a few months since I last posted here. Quite a few events and projects have happened and held my attention since I last wrote in my blog. And I still have a backlog of photos and videos from last year to get through too!

I did wonder whether anyone might think that after talking about Why The Lucky Stiff in one of my last posts, that I had done the same. Well for those who follow my CPAN Testers work, will know that CPAN Testers 2.0 has been a rather major project that finally got properly underway in December 2009. It's nearing completion, and I'll cover some of the highlights in a future post. Although it's been my most consuming project over the last 6 months or so, it hasn't been my only one. As mentioned in another of my last posts, I'm writing a book about how to host a YAPC. Due to other projects taking a higher priority, this has taken somewhat of a backseat for the time being, but I do plan on getting a second draft together within the next few months. I have looked into self-publishing the book and I'm now planning to have it formerly submitted with an ISBN (the internation book numbers) and supplied via print-on-demand print runs.

Another project that has been ongoing alongside my CPAN Testers work, has been my website management system, Labyrinth. This has been the website application I have been developing since 2002, and although several other Perl web frameworks have now been developed since, to lesser and greater degrees, Labyrinth has had the disadvantage of only having 1 core developer for the past 8 years. It's not an application that will revolutionise web development and deployment, but it has very successfully worked for a number of websites I have developed over the years. After having been relatively stable for the past year or two, I'm now cleaning up the code so I can properly release it as open source. This is mostly so that anyone wishing to contribute to CPAN Testers, or the YAPC Surveys, will then have all the code available to them. If anyone wants to use it and help develop it further, that would be a welcome bonus, but realistically other web frameworks have gained so much mindshare that I'm not expecting Labyrinth to make much of a dent any more. Not that that is a problem, as Labyrinth has made deploying websites so much easier for me, that I'll just be glad to let people help on CPAN Testers and the YAPC Surveys.

Speaking of the YAPC Surveys, YAPC::NA 2010 and YAPC::Europe 2010 are fast approaching. These will be next projects to get up and running. Thankfully the code base just needs a few upgrades to the latest version of Labyrinth, and some work on skinning the CSS to match the respective YAPC sites. All being well this should only take a few days. Then I'll be looking to release this version of the code base for anyone wishing to run similar surveys for themselves. I've already had one interested party contact me regarding a conference in October, so hopefully the code will be suitable, and only the questions need adapting. We shall see.

My other major project this year, also began back in December 2009. As some readers are well aware, I am an ex-roadie. From 1989-1994 I was a drum tech, lighting engineer and driver for Ark, one of the best Black Country bands ever. Not that I'm biased or anything ;) Last year the band got together for some rehearsals and planned a few reunion gigs. With interest gaining, an album was also planned. So this year, the band began recording and booking gigs. As a consequence the Ark Appreciation Pages desperately needed a makeover. I'll write more about what happened next in another post. Ark are back, and Mikey and I are delighted to be able to be involved with the band once again.

That's just a few of the projects that have taken up my time over the last 6-8 months. There are several others that I hope to post about, with family, time and work permitting. Expect to hear a little more from me than you have so far this year.

File Under: ark / book / conference / labyrinth / opensource / perl / website / yapc
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Time And A Word

Posted on 21st September 2009

A little while ago I mentioned that I was writing a book regarding how to organise a conference. Specifically looking at the YAPCs which I'm involved with, it covers all aspects of the organisation, from preparing a bid to what happens after the event. I effectively started writing the book 3 years ago, when I didn't feel that the rewrite of a simple plain text howto, covered any of the important points in any depth. In the last 3 years several aspects of organisaing a YAPC have changed, and they likely will in the next 3 years and more too. So now is perhaps a good time to get the current thoughts out.

It has actually surprised me that there isn't already a book available about organising an Open Source conference. There are several simple howtos published by some organisers of other Open Source conferences, some much larger than a YAPC, but nothing of the scale I was hoping for. In fact I haven't even found any book regarding organising any conference, even a non-technical one. It's possible there is one out there, but may be it has a very niche market. As such, I am hoping that in the longer term the book may evolve into advice not just for YAPCs, but a whole variety of conferences. Time will tell.

The first draft of the book was completed at the weekend, and has now been sent out to the reviewers. It'll probably be a little while still before the book is actually released, but at least I've got to a stage where I'm happy for others to start pulling it apart and rebuilding it. My aim is to release the book under a Creative Commons licence and it will be available as a free download. The text source will also be available, so that anyone wanting to can send me patches, suggestions, thoughts and general feedback.

While I'm waiting for the feedback from the reviewers, I'm now starting to look at photos taken at YAPCs that can be used in the book. There are already a few photos I've identified and a couple of photographers I've contacted already, but I'm still looking for more. It's difficult to say what I'm looking for too, as the actual conference itself is really just a small part of the whole project plan. In many cases it's just a week out of a year of preparation. What do you photograph to indicate planning? If you've taken photos of the behind the scenes activity while you prepped for a YAPC or workshop, I'd love to hear from you. I can't guarantee I'll use the photos, but you'll get full credit if I do.

So now on to the next part of my obligations to YAPCs for this year, The YAPC Conference Surveys. The surveys for this year's YAPC::Europe in Lisbon closed on Friday, so I now need to start working through the data and putting it into a format for presentation, as well as compiling all the speaker evaluation mails. There have been several tweaks to the system following YAPC::NA, so I'm hoping the YAPC::Europe results won't take so long to publish. I'm thinking that I might take a break in October, but I'm sure there'll be something to keep me occupied.

File Under: book / community / conference / yapc
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Turn The Page

Posted on 10th July 2009

I'm currently preparing myself for YAPC::Europe 2009. My talks are pretty much done, but I still need to fine tune some of the slides, particularly my big talk needs some additional work on its structure, so I don't labour the points. Also for the first time ever, I'm planning to submit a YAPC Lightning Talk. After talking with Mark Keating in Pittsburgh, he asked me to submit a lightning talk to the next NorthWestEngland Perl Mongers' technical meeting. As such I cut down my The Statistics of CPAN talk and gave it a go. The talk was supposed to be 5 minutes. However, 8 minutes later I finished! I guess I still need to cut a few more slides :) Thankfully Mark videoed the night, so I'm hoping I can critique my own performance, and fine tune what I say and the slides I use. Then I can really relax :)

Well not entirely. I've attended every YAPC::Europe conference and I'm now part of the YEF Venue Committee. While I have enjoyed attending YAPC::NA since 2005 in Toronto, I still feel an outsider. In some respects that's good, as it gives me a different perspective. One thing that has struck me over the years is that with every YAPC::NA organising team, there has been usually just one prominent member who is involved with the larger Perl community. In Europe there seems to be at least two (if not more) from each team who are known outside of their local user group. There are many other differences, but it's all helping me to add content for the book I'm writing.

After I helped to organise YAPC::Europe 2006 in Birmingham, I looked at rewriting the YAPC documentation that was available at the time. The previous version had been very US centric and many aspects were no longer applicable to any conference. More importantly, there were many more aspects to organising a conference that were missing. My initial rewrite is still online and hasn't been updated since, which is a shame, as I always hoped that the document would be a living document, with organisers from each year and around the world, helping to add their experiences to the document for future organisers.

As further updates haven't happened, I started to plan a rewrite the document again. Except it quickly became clear that this wasn't going to be a short update. Having witnessed the differences in more recent years between the NA and Europe YAPCs, there were many additions I wanted to make. From compiling and presenting bids, to the actual conference organising and communicating with sponsors, (potential) attendees and the wider IT community. As such, it quickly looked like I was better working on writing a book. I'm hoping that the result will be applicable to anyone organising an open source event, big or small, and will help to improve the conference experience for organisers and attendees alike.

But there was another aspect to writing it as a book that I wanted to help with, and that's promotion. Particularly with YAPCs, promotion to the community has usually been very good. There have been some hiccups along the way, but mostly it works out for the good. But the promotion to the general Open Source communities or the IT media is usually very lacking. Occasionally I come across people who have used Perl, but have no idea that YAPCs would be a good experience for them to learn more. By presenting a guide to organising a YAPC in book form, I'm hoping that it will help to promote how professional the YAPC conferences have become, and maybe inspire more sponsors to get involved too :)

This year, at YAPC::NA in Pittsburgh and I'll be doing likewise in Lisbon too, I've been taking notes. The differences between my casual involvement with YAPC::NA and more involved communications with YAPC::Europe are helping to shape some of my additions for the book. I'd like to get the book finished some time this year, so that I can get feedback from this year's organisers, and possibly other YAPC and workshop organisers from around the world. As yet I still don't have a title for the book, or cover or anything in the way of anything to promote it yet. I do plan to release it Open Source, probably under the Artistic License 2.0. I'm not planning on getting a publisher involved, but rather just release a PDF version. After all the source was originally available to all, and I want everyone organising a big technical event to have the opportunity to benefit from the contents.

If you have any thoughts about the book or what should go into it, feel free to collar me in Lisbon at the beginning of next month. I then plan to post more details about the book sometime in August.

File Under: book / community / conference / yapc
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