Wondering What Everyone Knows

Posted on 26th September 2014

The YAPC::Europe 2014 survey results are now online.

YAPC::Europe Survey

Although we appear to have had an increased response this year, 42% up from 36%, there were only 74 actual responses, down from 122 last year. Sadly it was a smaller audience in total, and perhaps that's partly due to the previously core attendees not wishing to travel further. However, that said, as we are attempting to increase attendance at conferences, it was hoped that more first time attendees from South Eastern Europe would attend. Unfortunately, it would seem the opposite was the case, with only 4 responses from people who came from Bulgaria itself. I am willing to accept that many of the non-respondees are non-native English speakers, and found it difficult to complete the survey, but that would be true across a lot of Europe too. Those responding were not just the usual attendees either, there were many first and second time attendees there too.

I think part of this lack of reponse from previous years, is also down to the lack of promotion of the surveys. As I'm not able to attend in person at the moment, I have to hope that the organisers advertise the surveys, but it would be nice to have the speakers themselves mention them too. It is obvious that several speakers value the feedback they get, both publicly and privately, so it would be nice to see that encouraged after each talk. My hope is that the knock-on effect is that respondees also complete the main survey too.

Looking at both the demographics and the questions around Perl knowledge and experience, it would still seem we have an attendance that is on a upward curve for all aspects. Although attendance is perhaps getting older and wiser, that's not necessarily true of Perl programmers in general, particularly outside the traditional group of people who get involved in the community. It would be great to see how we can change that in the future. After all, Perl's future relies on those coming to the language in their teens and early twenties. If you're interested in helping, reading Daisuke Maki's post about what do you want your YAPC to be?, is very worthwhile. YAPC::Asia has helped to change attitudes, but that has only happened because the organisers set themselves goals of what they want to achieve. With YAPC::Europe, we haven't had this, partly due to the organisers changing each year, but also because there doesn't appear to be any long term goals.

From the responses of this year's attendees, we can see that we have a lot of people who are involved with the community in several ways. However, what about those who aren't involved. Is it just this conference is their first exposure to the Perl community, did those people not respond to the survey, or is it that they weren't there? YAPC::Asia's decision to be inclusive to other languages and technologies has been a benefit, not just to Perl, but to the whole OpenSource community in Japan. Couldn't we do the same in Europe or North America?

This year the conference schedule was largely handled by a small remote group of interested volunteers, who stepped up when Marian asked for help. I believed it worked, and if the same group, perhaps with input from next year's local organisers for what they would like, this might be a step to help improve the schedule. Using the same team for YAPC::Asia has worked, so why not elsewhere. It is always difficult to get to know about good speakers, particularly if the speakers was previously unknown to schedule organisers. The missing speakers are not too surprising, but it is always nice to see some unexpected suggestions, and it is useful for schedule organisers to get these hints so that they can try and reduce clashes. I would also encourage attendees to make use of the star system in Act, as this too can be used by the schedule organisers to identify popular talks, and ensure that in future they are in appropriately sized rooms.

I would also suggest that speakers and organisers take note of the topic suggestions. These are subjects people are asking to hear, and if they are returning attendees, may well be your future attendees at your next talk. The beginner track is also a great one, and would be worth looking at for the future. I know it was attempted for several years, but seems to have died off, which is a shame. Those new to Perl wanting to get more involved, can and want to learn a lot from the rest of us. It's why they come. It would be great to have them return to their bosses afterwards full of ideas, which may then enable them and/or their colleagues to return in the future.

Talk Evaluations

In an organisers mailing list, it was asked whether the talk evaluation surveys should be partly public, and exposed to the organisers. For anyone worried about that, I have said no. One reason being that I don't think that the results can or should be compared. Every attendee has a different opinion and a different scale to anyone else. We also have a wide variety of attendees to talks. Trying to compare a talk with 100 attendees to one with 10 doesn't make any sense. My second reason is that I think speakers or respondees should not be publicly compared. In private, one bad review could be taken into consideration and either disregarded, or help the speaker improve next time. Making that public is likely to have two effects; firstly a request from speakers to not be part of the evaluations, and secondly judgements made against the speaker for past work, when they have learnt and improved. They deserve our support, not rejection.

I have also been asked about providing talk evaluations for the video streams. Initially I was against this, partly because of a couple of people launching a torrent of abuse at me for not doing them already! However, a couple of people who have been more rational have asked about doing them. As such, I've started to look at what is involved. I expect these talk evaluations to be different, if only because the listener is not in the room, and the rapport and presentation will have a different feel during the stream. I may look to introduce this for YAPC::NA 2015, if I can get the rest of my plans for the surveys implemented, together with the changes to Act in time.

Future Surveys

I have several plans to write about the future of the surveys, and I'll be writing a few more blog posts about them in the months to come. If you have suggestions for improvements, please let me know. The software is now on CPAN and GitHub, so you are welcome to contribute changes, to help move things along. If you would like your event, workshop or conference, to have a survey, please get in touch and I'll see what I can set up for you.

File Under: conference / survey / yapc
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Sunshine Of Your Love

Posted on 17th July 2014

The survey results for YAPC::NA 2014 are now online.

Even we with lower numbers of attendees this year, 27% of you took the time to respond to the survey. As always, this doesn't necessarily allow us to see the whole picture, but hopefully it is enough of a cross-section of the attendees to help us improve future events. Once again we had a healthy number of respondees for whom this was their first YAPC, many having never attendeed a workshop either.

There was a bit of a mixed reaction throughout the survey. Although having read the feedback from the talk evaluations, there was a lot of positive comments, and several words of encouragement for some of the new speakers, which was great to see. Overall it seems to have been another great conference, although there are areas of communication that many felt could be improved.

I see I'll have to expand the options for the question "What other areas of the Perl Community do you contribute to?", as firstly I would include hacking on Perl core, as part of a Perl project (i.e. a group of great people doing great work to improve Perl), but also to include a new option; I donate to one of the funds managed by TPF or EPO. During the conference I saw a few Twitter posts about contributing to some of the Perl funds, which I think came about following Dan Wright's presentation. It is great that so many have donated, big and small amounts, to the various funds. They all help to improve and promote Perl, and give us good reasons to continue putting together great conferences and workshops every year.

It was great to see any good list of suggestions for topics this year, and I hope that speakers new and old, get some ideas for future talks from them.

Lastly it does seem that the location question, really does depend where the current location is. The higher numbers last year may also indicate that Austin was easier to get to for most people, whereas a more easterly location, such as Florida, may restrict the ability to attend for those on the west coast. It would be interesting to see whether a similar opposite trend would result if the conference was held in Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah or Arizona. There must be several Perl Monger groups in those states, so if you're in one, perhaps think about balancing out the number of eatern hosting states ;)

File Under: community / conference / perl / yapc
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The Great Gates of Kiev

Posted on 27th October 2013

I've now uploaded the survey results for YAPC::Europe 2013 and The Pittsburgh Perl Workshop 2013. Both had only a third of attendees respond, which for PPW is still 20 out of 54, and 122 out of 333 for YAPC::Europe.

YAPC::Europe

In previous years we have had higher percentages of response at YAPC::Europe, but that is possibly because I was in attendance and promoted the surveys during lightning talks, and encouraged other speakers to remind people about them. It may also be the fact that there is a newer crowd coming to YAPCs, and the fact we had 44 out of the 122 respondees saying that this was their first YAPC, who have never experienced the surveys. While definitely encouraging to see newer attendees, it would be great to see more of their feedback to help improve the conferences each year. Like YAPC::NA 2013, we have reintroduced the gender question. This time around I didn't get the negative reaction, but this may also be due to the fact I've had more feedback about approaching the subject this time around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were rather more male respondees, but I am also very encouraged to see that 8 respondees were female. While its difficult to know the exact numbers at the event, I'd like to think that we have been able to welcome more women to the event, and hopefully will see this number increase in the future.

Looking at the locations where attendees were travelling from to attend YAPC::Europe in Kiev, it is interesting to see a much more diverse spread. Once upon a time the UK was often the highest number, even eclipsing the host country. This year, it seems many more from across the whole of Europe took advantage of the conference. Again I think this is very encouraging. If Perl is to grow and reach newer (and younger) audiences, it needs to be of interest to a large number of people, particular from many different locations. While the UK (particularly London, thanks to Dave Cross) was perhaps the start of European Perl community, YAPC::Europe is now capable of being hosted in just about any major European city and see several hundred people attend. It will be interesting to see if Sofia next year, has a similar evenly spread of locations.

Of those that responded, it does seem that we had more people in the advanced realm. Particularly seeing as we had 56 people respond with more than 10 years experience of Perl. Back when we started the surveys, it would likely have been only a handful of people who attended who could have said that they had been programming Perl for more than 10 years. Thankfully though, it isn't just us old hands, as those only programming in Perl for a few years or less, are still making it worthwhile for speakers to come back each year and promote their projects big and small to a new audience.

One comment in the feedback however, described the Perl community as hermetic. I'm not entirely convinced that's true, but it is quite likely that some find it difficult to introduce themselves and get involved with projects. Having said that, there are plenty of attendees who have only been coming to YAPCs, or been involved with the Perl community, for a short while, who have made an impact, and are now valued contributors. So I guess it may just be down to having the right personality to just get stuck in and introduce yourself. This is one area of the Perl community that Yaakov Sloman is keen to break down barriers for, even perceived ones. We do need more Yaakov's at these events to not just break the ice, but shatter it, so we all see the benefit of getting know each other better.

And talking of getting to know others better, it was a shame I didn't get to meet the 15 CPAN Testers who responded. We have had group photos in the past, and I'd like to do more when I next attend a YAPC, but I think it would also be very worthwhile if the Catalyst, Dancer, Padre and many other projects could find the time to do some group shots while at YAPCs. At YAPC::NA it is a bit of a tradition for all those who contribute to #perl on IRC to have a large group photo, but it's never encouraged others to do the same. Perhaps this is also a way for people to get to know project contributors better, as new attendees will have a better idea of who to look out for, rather than trying to figure out who fits an IRC nick or PAUSEID.

The suggest topics for future talks were quite diverse, and "Web Development Web Frameworks Testing" is definitely an interesting suggestion, particularly as we are seeing more and more web frameworks written in Perl now, and we are after all very well known for our testing culture. One question I'm planning to include next years surveys, also looks at some of these topics and attempts to find out what primary interests people have. Again, this might help guide future speakers towards subjects that are of interest to their target audience.

Pittsburgh Perl Workshop

Workshops, by their very nature, are much smaller events, but with Pittsburgh being the home of the very first YAPC::NA, it is well established to host a workshop, and it would seem attracted some high profile speakers too. Possibly as a consequence, at least one attendee felt some of the talks were a little too advanced for them. At a smaller technical event it is much harder to try and please everyone, and with fewer tracks there often is less diversity. Having said that, I hope that the attendee didn't feel too overwhelmed, and got something out of the event in other talks.

From the feedback it would seem that more knowledgeable Perl developers were in attendance, so understandable that more talks might lean towards more advanced subjects, but as mentioned for YAPCs, speakers shouldn't feel afraid of beginner style introductions or howtos for their project, that could appeal to all levels of interest.

Overall I think the Pittsburgh Perl Workshop went down very well.

What's Next?

I now have to compile the more detailed personal feedback for these and the YAPC::NA organisers, so expect to see some further documentation updates in the near future. In addition, I want to work more on the raw data downloads. While it's interesting to see the data as currently presented, others may have other ideas to interrogate the raw data for further interesting analysis. I also still need to put the current code base on CPAN/GitHub and add the features to integrate with Act better.

The next survey will be for the London Perl Workshop at the end of November. If you are planning a workshop, YAPC or other technical event that you'd to have a survey for, please let me know and I'll set you up. It typically takes me a weekend to set up an instance, so please provide as much advanced warning as possible.

File Under: community / conference / perl / survey / workshop / yapc
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Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Posted on 24th July 2013

YAPC::NA 2013 - The Results Are Out

The YAPC::NA 2013 Conference Survey results are now online.

The number of responses was much lower than in previous years, which is a shame, but may in part be due to one comment I received, saying it was too long. Reviewing the survey, I'd have to agree, and I'll be removing some of the questions for future surveys. Some of the questions had good intentions originally, and did provide an insight to what people got out of the conference. However, there is now a degree of predictability about them, that doesn't warrant their inclusion. Such questions about holidays and speakers you missed really don't add anything any more. The latter has generated some interesting comments over the years, but typically the same names appear each year.

This year was also slightly different, as the organisers asked for a lot of additional questions. Particularly related to the Code of Conduct. I will be forwarding the results of these questions to the TPF in the next day or two. They may choose to make the results public, but for now they won't appear on the YAPC Survey site. Of the other questions they asked, most related specifically to YAPC::NA, and wouldn't be applicable to other conferences and workshops. These too will be reviewed for next year.

Interestingly, VM Brasseur has done some analysis of the survey data, particularly around the age of attendees, and the length of time people have been a Perl programmer. Although the survey includes the former, it doesn't really include the latter. We do ask what level people feel they are at, but it'll be an area I'll be reviewing for future surveys.

As both the surveys and VM's analysis shows, the Perl community (at least those answering the survey) is getting older. I've noticed this too when attending. There are new and younger people attending, but generally the audience has been getting older. In the UK, this was identified in an technical article I read a few years ago (sadly I don't have a link to the source), which highlighted a shift in the late 80s/early 90s away from writing computer games on Spectrums, Dragons and Beebs to just playing consoles. I suspect the age of attendees at other technical conferences are also seeing a shift.

As noted in a previous post, I'm going to be looking at the Conference Survey software over the summer, and hopefully integrate it more with the Act software. I'm hoping this may encourage more to respond. I'll also be reviewing the survey itself, and looking at better and more relevant questions to include. If you have ideas of how to improve the survey, please feel free to drop me an email.

Enjoy :)

File Under: conference / perl / survey / yapc
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The Reasons Why

Posted on 25th March 2012

For those that follow the conference surveys, you'll be pleased to hear that I have now put the results of both the Israeli Perl Workshop and the German Perl Workshop online. These are the first events this year to take advantage of the surveys, although several more are to come.

This marks the second survey for the German Perl Workshop and notes some small differences, while it was the first for the Israeli Perl Workshop. I hope the future organisers can make use of the results and that they allow me to continue the surveys with these workshops next year, and for the years to come.

Although the Israeli Perl Workshop was in English this year, Gabor and I are hoping to be able to provide the survey in Hebrew next year. The German Perl Workshop marked the first survey not in English last year, and it helped to start building up a language pack, which can be used to plugin to the survey software. I plan to formalise this during the year, so that other events, using languages other than English, can still take advantage of the surveys.

Thanks to all the organisers and the survey participants for taking the time to respond to the questions. It is very much appreciated.

File Under: conference / opensource / perl / survey / workshop
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How Soon Is Now?

Posted on 27th November 2011

The YAPC Conference Surveys site has now been updated with the results of the Pittsburgh Perl Workshop and the German Perl Workshop.

The site has also been update to provide a tabbed display of the different types of event, to make it a little easier to find results. Over the next month or so I am looking to get more of the past data online, as well as the feedback that I normally send to just the organisers. I have lots of data waiting in the wings, and its only been my lack of free time that has prevented me from finishing off the sanity checks.

There are also plans for the future surveys, and as previously mentioned, the German Perl Workshop has given me the push to work with other languages. There is still some work to be done, but the first non-english language survey did seem to go very well. Perhaps understandably there are translations that I missed, so my next step is monitor (particularly for the results pages) London Perl Workshop what was missing, and provide Max (if he doesn't mind of course ;)) with the additional text for translation. I will then use this as a basis for all future workshops, which I will then provide via a git repo for anyone wishing to use the surveys in other languages. Note that for the short term the survey results will be presented in the same language the survey was presented, although in the longer term I would like to be able to allow switching the text (at least the questions) to english or other available languages.

The London Perl Workshop is still running, and has another 2 weeks to run. If you attended the LPW this year, and haven't completed the main survey or the talk evaluations, please take the time, as it really does help the organisers and speakers to make the events better and better.

If you're interested in running a survey for your event next year, please get in touch (barbie@cpan.org) and let me know in plenty of time, particularly if you'd like to run the survey in a non-english language.

File Under: community / conference / survey / workshop
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Die Mensch-Maschine

Posted on 10th November 2011

German Perl Workshop 2011 - Speaker Evaluations

I have now sent out all the talk evaluations from this year's German Perl Workshop or more correctly Der 13. Deutsche Perl-Workshop. If you were a speaker and haven't received an email, please check your spam folders first, and let me know (barbie at cpan . org) if you don't find it. The mail will have come from barbie at birmingham . pm . org.

My thanks to all the organisers of GPW2011 and everyone who took the time to respond to the evaluations. From previous experience the speakers have very much appreciated your feedback. I would also like to extend extra special thanks to Max Maischein aka "Corion", who took the time to translate all the questions, templates and emails into German for me.

The results of the main survey will be published soon on the YAPC Conference Surveys site.

This is the first survey that I have undertaken in a non-English language, and for the most part it has been very successful. While there have been some slight problems due to byte vs character lengths (I'll save my 'why-oh-why did we ever start with ASCII and not UTF-8' rant for another day), the work Max has done to provide all the translations has started me on a path to be able to accommodate other languages.

At the moment the plan is to create a GitHub repository of all the necessary files, with language branches containing the appropriate translations. Then should anyone wish to request a survey instance in the future in a non-English language, their first step will then be to provide the necessary translations for me. It currently takes roughly a day to set-up an instance, so drop-in replacements for these files will ease the set-up process. It will also mean that as time goes on and questions get added, refined or deleted, we can replicate these changes across all languages.

I'd like to see the survey site get more use in the future, and although I'm happy to run the survey sites, with the support of Birmingham Perl Mongers, the longer term goal has always been to allow others to create their own instances. With the official release of Labyrinth this year, much of the tool set is now Open Source. I still need to release the Survey Plugin for Labyrinth and the additional command-line tools used, but getting the language translations moving will be a big step forward. Hopefully I'll have more news in the new year.

File Under: conference / labyrinth / opensource / survey / workshop / yapc
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Do You Remember the First Time?

Posted on 4th October 2011

YAPC::Europe 2011 Survey Results

During August this year, in Riga, Latvia, YAPC::Europe brought together 285 people to learn, discover and discuss Perl. As previous attendees know the YAPC conferences are a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to the Perl community. YAPCs are now held all around the world and each is very different another. Each has their own charactistics, and they all get better and better thanks to the feedback from attendees old and new, which is why the YAPC Conference Surveys are well placed to concentrate that feedback for future organisers.

For YAPC::Europe 2011, the survey results are now online.

Although the responses where down from previous YAPC::Europe events, we still had over 50%, so thank you to everyone who took the time to respond. Interestingly of those who took the survey, none recorded themselves as coming from Latvia. I suspect this is in part due to the language barrier. As the surveys are in English, those that don't feel quite comfortable with the language might feel less inclined to feedback their thoughts and experiences. I'd like to be able to have the surveys available in different languages, but accumulating some of the responses, particularly the free text ones, may prove difficult. However, this is a goal for the future.

Unsurprisingly these days, we saw a large number of people attending who are regulars either to the YAPCs and Workshops or to the Perl community generally. At the conference itself we did ask how many attendees were at their first YAPC, and it was quite significant. However, we are still seeing roughly the same numbers, so we are not necessarily able to keep those new attendees coming back as regular attendees. In this survey however, no-one stated that they wouldn't attend another event in the future, so hopefully next year we should start seeing more familiar faces.

This year I plan to get the free text feedback sections online, and may well provide these for previous years too. I normally only provide these to the organisers (both current and succeding), but I think everyone could benefit from the thoughts and ideas, whether a YAPC organiser or an organiser of any other technical event.

Many thanks to all those who took the time to respond, both to the Conference Survey and all the Talk Evaluations. Your time is very much appreciated.

File Under: community / conference / opensource / people / perl / survey / yapc
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What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Posted on 8th September 2011

YAPC::NA 2011 Survey Results

During June this year, in Asheville, North Carolina, YAPC::NA assembled 251 people together to learn and discuss Perl, Perl projects and meet Perl people. The YAPC conferences are a perfect opportunity to tell the Perl community of your latest project, or to talk to other Perl developers face to face. YAPCs have now been running for 12 years, and each gets more focused and exposure than the last. In part in this thanks to all the previous organisers who have gone before, offering help and advice where they can. However, the YAPC Conference Surveys also help to provide value feedback to future organisers.

For YAPC::NA 2011, the survey results are now online.

While only 34% of all attendees responded, the feedback has still proved very helpful and provided me with some additional questions for the future. I was recently asked how I thought the YAPCs had changed, and one of the changes I noted, as is hinted at in the feedback, is that many of the talks now focus more on Perl frameworks and applications, rather than specific modules or techniques. In a way it highlights how Perl has grown up. Perl is still a language and tool to get jobs done, but now there are more stable and constructive ways of getting those jobs done.

Many thanks to all those who took the time to respond, both to the Conference Survey and all the Talk Evaluations. Apologies for the delay in getting the results online, but events with CPAN Testers have taken most of my free time over the last 2 weeks :(

File Under: conference / opensource / perl / survey / yapc
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Are We the Waiting

Posted on 27th August 2011

With over a week gone since the end of YAPC::Europe 2011, I'm please to see we already have 102 Conference Survey responses and 541 Talk and Course Evaluations submitted. This is once again a fantastic start to the responses and very much appreciated. However, there are still a further 165 who can still submit their Conference Surveys, and everyone still has time to submit feedback to the speakers of the talks and courses they attended.

If you haven't received your keycode email, please contact me and I will resend it. You still have 3 weeks until the close of the surveys, so please try and take some time to complete them. It really does help to improve the conferences for everyone.

For those interested in the results of the YAPC::NA 2011 surveys, although the speaker feedback has been sent out, I had to postpone my work on the Conference Survey due to some CPAN Testers issues and my attendance at YAPC::Europe 2011. As such, I am now preparing these results for the YAPC Conference Surveys website and hope to have an announcement within the next few days.

File Under: conference / perl / survey / yapc
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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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Questions & Answers

Posted on 9th May 2011

I mentioned in my last post that I was working on a Survey Plugin for Labyrinth. The plugin is used within the YAPC Conference Survey system, which has now been running for several YAPC events over the last 5 years. I had promised to try and release the complete survey site last year, but with it being a Labyrinth based site setup, I didn't want to release it without releasing Labyrinth first. Now that's done I can concentrate on getting the Survey Plugin and the complete survey system on CPAN.

This year I will be running the YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe surveys as per usual. However, this year I am delighted to say I have also been asked to handle the survey for the Pittsburgh Perl Workshop too. Hopefully if all goes to plan, this will provide the test bed for many other workshops to provide surveys.

The Conference Surveys themselves started in 2006, and have provided some very interesting feedback for organisers. While event organisers and myself never expect to get 100% response from all attendees, the levels that we do get is absolutely phenomenal. With this kind of success, I would be very interested to see whether the same Survey system can be used by other non-Perl events. There is certainly nothing that prevents a non-Perl (or even a non-tech) event from using the system. Last year I did have a query from a non-Perl event, but the system wasn't ready for a stand-alone release, and I wasn't able to set anything up. However, this year, with a CPAN release coming soon, I am more hopeful that others might be able to use the system.

If you are an organiser for an event where you think a survey would be useful for feedback, please do get in touch. If I cannot host an instance for you, once I get a full release on CPAN, I can provide help and advice for getting your own hosting instance running.

File Under: conference / labyrinth / perl / survey / workshop / yapc
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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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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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All Over The World

Posted on 19th May 2010

Last year I went to 3 conferences, YAPC::NA, YAPC::Europe and LUGRadio Live. All very different in their own way, although all Open Source. Due to other projects, work and fanmily commitments, it has take quite a bit of time to review all the photos. After several months, I finally found some time to whittle them down to the selection I have uploaded here.

The first conference, YAPC::NA, took place in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. The team have been holding the Pittsburgh Perl Workshops for several years now, and by all accounts they had been very well received. With the YAPC set of conferences having started in Pittsburgh, at the Carnegie Mellon University where this conference also took place, the organisers were quite proud to promote a sort of home coming for the event. It was a good conference, though my first talk was somewhat problematic as we couldn't get a laptop to work with the projector. Thankfully my second talk went without a hitch. My thanks to confound for introducing me to 'xrandr', which solved all the problems I had getting Ubuntu talking to the projectors.

I also took the chance to visit the city of Pittsburgh and take a look around, with Abigail and myself taking an amphibious vehicle tour. The city has a lot of interesting places to see, and I'm glad I got to see the Heinz Building, the Stanley Theatre (where Bob Marley played his last ever gig), the venicular railways, and the site of the Three River Stadium (Yes, the car park! I'd seen a documentary about the building of Heinz Field and the demolishing of the Three River Stadium, so was even more intrigued to have a guided tour of the new stadium). If you're ever near the city, I recommend a visit, especially to see the flood levels of 1936 (the waters peaked at a rise of 46 feet above normal!).

The second conference, YAPC::Europe, was in Lisbon, Portugal. The conference itself was packed full of talks, though I think my lightning talk, which I'd been refining over the previous few months, generated the biggest reaction. Not surprising really, as it reminded people just how productive the Perl community was, particularly regarding CPAN.

I had originally thought about hiring a car and travelling along the Vasco da Gama Bridge (at 10.7 miles long, the longest road bridge in Europe), and do the circuit via the monument on the other side of the Tejo river, and back to Lisbon via the 25 de Abril Bridge (Lisbon's other bridge). I didn't in the end, but maybe I can save that for another time. Instead fellow Birmingham.pm'er Brian McCauley and myself walked around the city and took in some of the sights. When we got to the castle we managed to bump into a few other attendees (Paul Johnson, Aaron Crane and R Geffory Avery), who also had taken the advantage to do some sightseeing.

The last conference I attended was LUGRadio Live. For a number of reasons I didn't put forward a talk this year, but suggested JJ should give a talk instead. With the radio show no longer running, the conference had much more of a grassroots feel to it again. There ware some good talks, a couple of famous names, but mostly it felt like it was one big Linux User Group meeting, which to a degree it was, just a bit more global than your regular user group meeting ;) The conference was dubbed 'Back To Basic', but that really only applied to the extravagance. The quality of the conference was first rate. Being in Wolvehampton, just round the corner for me, I didn't take the opportunity to do any sightseeing, not that Wolverhampton is exactly the kind of place to do any sightseeing. As it happens I had taken Dan to the event, who loved it, especially building the lego models with all the other geeks. The following day was OggCamp, and although I would have liked to have attended, I had other commitments so had to pass. I think having the two events side by side though was a great idea, as it gives both events to feed off each other.

This year I'm currently only planning one conference, YAPC::Europe in Pisa, Italy. All being well I may get to see the tower, but as I'll be flying in and out just for the conference, I don't expect to see much more. I'm still undecided whether to submit a talk, as I'm trying to think of a suitable subject. I don't like repeating myself, but my two biggest profile Perl projects I've now covered for a couple of years (CPAN Testers and YAPC Surveys), so we'll see.

More photos to come, as I find time to get through the plethora of photos I've taken over the last year or so.

File Under: community / conference / lisbon / lugradio / opensource / perl / wolverhampton / 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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April Skies

Posted on 1st May 2009

For those that might not be aware, I got made redundant on 31st March (the day after the QA Hackathon had finished). Thankfully, I start a new job next week, so I've managed to land on my feet. However, this has meant that I've ended up having the whole of April off to do stuff. My plan was to work on some of the Open Source projects that I'm involved with to move them further along to where I wanted them to be. As it turned out two specific projects got my attention over the last 4 weeks, and I thought it worth giving a summary of what has been going on.

YAPC Conference Surveys

Since 2006, I've been running the conference surveys for YAPC::Europe. The results have been quite interesting and hopefully have help organisers improve the conferences each year. For 2009 I had already planned to run the survey for YAPC::Europe in Lisbon, but this year will also see YAPC::NA in Pittsburgh having a survey of their own.

The survey site for Copenhagen in 2008 added the ability to give feedback to Master Classes and talks. The Master Classes feedback was a little more involved, as I was able to get the attendee list, but the talks feedback was quite brief. As such, I wanted to try and expand on this aspect and generally improve the process of running the surveys. Part of this involved contacting Eric and BooK to see if ACT had an API I could use to automate some of the information. I was delighted to get an email back from Eric, who very quickly incorporated an API that I could use, to retrieve the necessary data to keep the survey site for a particular conference up to date, even during the conference.

With the API and updates done, it was time to focus on expanding the surveys and skinning the websites to match that of the now live conference sites. The latter was relatively easy, and only required a few minor edits to the CSS to get them to work with the survey site. The survey site now has 3 types of survey available, though only 2 are visible to anyone not taking a Master Class. Those that have taken one of the YAPC::Europe surveys will be aware I don't use logins, but a key code to access the survey. This has been extended so that it can now be used to access your portion of the survey website. This can now be automatically emailed to attendees before the conference, and during if they pay on the door, and will allow everyone to feedback on talks during the conference. On the last day of the conference the main survey will be put live, so you can then answer questions relating to your conference experience.

I'm hoping the slight change won't be too confusing, and that we'll see some ever greater returns for the main survey. Once it does go live, I'd be delighted to receive feedback on the survey site, so I can improve it for the future.

CPAN Testers Reports

Since taking over the CPAN Testers Reports site in June 2008, I have spent a great deal of time improving it's usability for users. However, it's come at a price. By using more and more Javascript to dynamically change the contents of the core pages, it's meant that I have received a number of complaints that the site doesn't work for those with Javascript disabled or who use a browser that doesn't implement Javascript. For this reason I had decided that I should create a dynamic site and static site. The problem with this is that the current system to create all the files takes several hours for each set of updates (currently about 16 hours per day). I needed a way to drive the site without worrying about how long everything was taking, but also add some form of prioritisation so that the more frequently requested pages would get updated more quickly than those rarely seen.

During April, JJ and I went along to the Milton Keynes Perl Mongers technical meeting. One of the talks was about memcached and it got me thinking as to whether I could use it for the Reports site. Discussing this with JJ on the way home, we threw a few ideas around and settled on a queuing system to decide what needed updating, and to better managed the current databases to add indexes to speed up some of the complex lookups. I was still planning to use caching, but as it turned out memcached wasn't really the right way forward.

The problem with caching is that when there is too much stuff in the cache, the older stuff gets dumped. But what if the oldest item to get dumped is extremely costly on the database, and although it might not get hit very often, it's frequent enough to be worth keeping in the cache permanently. It's possible this could be engineered with memcached if this was for a handful of pages, but for the Reports site it's true for quite a few pages. So I hit on a slightly different concept of caching. As the backend builder process is creating all these static files, part of the process involves grabbing the necessary data to display the basic page, with the reports then being read in via the now static Javascript file for that page. Before dropping all the information and going on to the next in the list, the backend can simply write the data to the database. The dynamic site can then simply grab that data and display the page pretty quickly, saving ALOT of database lookups. Add to the fact that the database tables have been made more accessible to each other, the connection overhead has also been reduced considerably.

The queuing system I've implemented is extremely simple. On grabbing the data from the cache, the dynamic site checks quickly to see if there is a more recent report in existence. If there is, then a entry is added to the queue, with a high weighting to indicate that a website user is actually interested in that data. Behind the scenes the regular update system simply adds an entry in the queue to indicate that a new entry is available, but at a low weighting. The backend builder process then looks to build the entries with the most and highest weightings and builds all the static files, both for the dynamic site and the static site, including all the RSS, YAML and JSON files. It seems to work well on the test system, but the live site will be where it really gets put through its paces.

So you could be forgiven in thinking that's it, the new site is ready to go. Well not quite. Another part of the plan had always been to redesign the website. Leon had designed the site based on the YUI layouts, and while it works for the most part, there are some pages which don't fit well in that style. It also has been pretty much the same kind of style since it was first launched, and I had been feeling for a while that it needed a lick of paint. Following Adam's blog post recently about the state of Perl websites, I decided that following the functional changes, the site would get a redesign. It's not perhaps as revolutionary as some would want, judging from some of the ideas for skins I've seen, but then the site just needs to look professional, not state of the art. I think I've managed that.

The work to fit all the pieces together and ensure all the templates are correct is still ongoing, but I'm hopeful that at some point during May, I'll be able to launch the new look websites on the world.

So that's what I've been up to. I had hoped to work on Maisha, my other CPAN distributions, the YAPC Conference Survey data, the videos from the QA Hackathon among several other things, but alas I've not been able to stop time. These two projects perhaps have the highest importance to the Perl community, so I'm glad I've been able to get on with them and get done what I have. It's unlikely I'll have this kind of time again to concentrate solely on Open Source/Perl for several years, which in some respects is a shame, as it would be so nice to be paid to do this as a day job :) So for now, sit tight, it's coming soon...

File Under: community / conference / opensource / perl / website
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Guiding Light

Posted on 6th February 2009

In 2006 I, along with 3 others from Birmingham Perl Mongers, organised the 2006 YAPC::Europe Perl Conference. It was thankfully a great success and invigorated several with ideas of things that they could do to join or create communities. Whether that was forming a local Perl Monger user group or starting a code project that would eventually be submitted to the CPAN. However, one person was inspired to go to another YAPC the following year and then submit a talk and speak at the 2008 YAPC::Europe Perl Conference. Had the 2006 conference not been in Birmingham, UK in 2006, Edmund would likely never have gone to a YAPC, and never realised how valuable they are. Not just in terms of the presentations and speakers, but of the communities and projects that are discussed, that he might not otherwise be aware of. And perhaps most importantly, realise just how easy it is to be included into the community and how easy it is for everyone to make a difference.

At the conference dinner in 2008, Edmund was struck by the lack of younger members of the communty in attendance, and started to think about why. For some time I have been trying to understand what we as a community can do to bring new people into the community, and although my perspective has focused on YAPCs, it equally applies to projects and local user groups. However, there is one aspect that I had neglected, that was obvious to Edmund. Funding. Most of those we are trying to encourage to come along to a YAPC are likely to be unwaged or on low wages, and cannot afford the costs of travel and accommodation for 4-6 days.

Last week Edmund launched the Send-A-Newbie website, with the support of the organisers for the 2009 YAPC::Europe Perl Conference to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, together with several members of the Perl community who have voiced approval. It is a great idea, and is a great way to enable students in particular a chance to attend the biggest Perl developer conferences in Europe.

The initaive aims to send at least 6 people, although even if only 1 person is selcted to attend this year, I would consider it a success. As it happens some grant applications have already been received, so it is likely that at least 1 person will attend thanks to the programme. Hopefully more will be approved for grants providing the funding can be obtained.

So how can you help? Well if you have the ability to do so, please consider donating. Mentioned the programme to anyone who you think might be a worthy recipient of a grant, and get them to apply. Mention it at your local user group, and see whether anyone can help with a donation. In order to keep YAPCs and the Perl community healthy we need to encourage potential future stars that attending the conference is a worthwhile oppotunity. If they could benefit from a grant to cover their travel and accommodation costs, then it really is in yours and their interest to do something about it. Applications will be accepted until 1 June 2009, so there is plenty of time yet to promote and apply for grants.

File Under: community / conference / education / opensource / people / perl / yapc
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Washing of the Water

Posted on 27th August 2008

A couple of weeks ago I was in Copenhagen for YAPC::Europe, which was a blast. I did my Understanding Malware talk, which seems to have gone down well, and the posters even better!

Before leaving the UK I finally bought a new camera, a Canon EOS 40D. Unfortunately this was my first time using the camera and I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to get the same quality of photos as my Fuji FinePix 5100. As such don't expect anything too much from these photos. Hopefully over the coming months I'll get used to the camera and improve the picture quality.

For some personal observations of the conference, see my use.perl post about it. I may do a more detailed write-up about the talks I saw and the discussions I had too at some point, but that's it for now. Anyway, enjoy the photos.

File Under: community / conference / copenhagen / opensource / perl / yapc
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Living After Midnight

Posted on 22nd July 2008

So finally after several hours of trawlling through the 2,044 photos that I took over the weekend, I finally got down to the 744 that I'm going to publish here now. There are a few more from the video finale, that I'll post once the video is online and I can link to it. In the meantime, please enjoy.

Oh and there's a video in there too :)

File Under: community / conference / linux / lugradio / wolverhampton
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Running Free

Posted on 22nd July 2008

The previous post was just a teaser, here follows a longer more indepth writeup of the event that is LUGRadio Live UK 2008.

This last weekend was supposed to be the last LUGRadio Live. Thankfully the 4 Large Gents have since been persuaded otherwise. It was still a sad weekend though, as the podcast is now at an end, and I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the presenters of the last 5 seasons (I've been listening since episode 1) discuss various aspects of Open Source, and all the interviews and guests they've had. I completely understand why they've called an end to the podcast, but had felt we would losing an even bigger opportunity if they didn't continue with LUGRadio Live (or something like it). I spoke to Jono after Live & Unleashed and he confessed that the organisation for the event these days has been made much easier thanks to having a great crew, so there really wasn't that much of an excuse not to do it again next year. I for one am looking forward to it.

So what happened this year? On Friday night there was the pre-event party at The Hogs Head. Food was laid on, and pretty much half the pub was taken over by LRL attendees. I met Jayne, who I've briefly met before at a WolvesLUG social meeting, who turns out to be a close friend of one of Nicole's best friends. Now some would probably say it's a small world, but as you shall see later in this post, it's even smaller than that! The party went on well into the night, but after midnight I headed back to the hotel. The others meanwhile attempted to get into the Revolution Vodka Bar (who turned away around 30 Linux geeks ... with money to burn ... because one of them had trainers) and Reflex (it was shut), before heading to Jono's local the Gifford. It turns out that not many of the geeks were quite so into the Rock music playing as Jono, but at least it was serving beer.

The following morning JJ and I headed over to the venue to drop the Birmingham.pm projector off for the Atrium stage, and bring along the flyers for the nutsacks. Originally we'd been asked whether we wanted to do a stand for the exhibtion, but due to lack of time to arrange anything, we elected to simply create a thank you to the guys with a special postcard. JJ and I added the postcards to the already prepared nutsacks, and gave the rest to the crew who were in the middle of packing the rest. We then made our excuses and headed back to the hotel to lead The Britannia Breakfast Club (Greasy Spoon Edition) to the Adam Sweet recommended Top Nosh Cafe. Thanks to Adam for recommending it, as it really was great food and excellent value for money. While we were there, Peter Cannon (fellow WolvesLUG member) and his daughter came in for breakfast. I don't get to see Pete very often these days, so it was good to see him.

As I had stated on the secret crew wiki, that I would be bringing my camera (as always), when we got back to the venue, I set about photographing some of the setup. The queue was already getting around the corner, so there was alot of anticipation in the air. At this point we all thought it would be the last one, so it was quite interesting to note that everyone was in a very positive mood. Even those that had been considerably drunk the night before. The crew were all busy and the Atrium was a hive of activity. As Ron, together with Dave Morley, was a crew boss, it meant he wasn't going to get much chance to photograph very much. Thankfully, his daughter, Steph (also known to WolvesLUG as BabyRon), was also given photo duties and got to use Ron's camera. This meant that between the two of us we should be able to cover pretty much all of the event.

Doors opened and the mass hoard descended on the exhibition stands. Once things settled down, they then started to take their seats for the big opening. As the familiar theme rolled out of the speakers, a huge cheer welcomed Jono, Aq, Adam and Chris to the stage. Video cameras were rolling and shutters were clicking at a rate of knots. LRL 2008 UK was finally here. For those that may have been before or at least heard reference on the show to Chinny Raccoon, will probably be not surprised in the least that he featured again this year. However, perhaps not quite as he has been featured in previous years. With a big announcement from the guys, Chinny bounded out from side of stage and did a circuit of the atrium taking in all the photo opportunities, something that was to continue throughout the weekend. And so with introductions over, the talks began.

As I was trying to photograph all the speakers, I didn't get the chance to sit an listen to all the presentations, although there were a few I did manage to engineer sitting pretty much all the way through. I saw most of Bruno's "Baguette on Snails" talk, and was suitably impressed by the amount of thought that had gone into the presentation, including the progress bar having an ASCII art snail moving along it. Bruno is LUGRadio's equivilent to José Castro in the Perl community, both have a great sense of humour and can present talks like this with an absolute straight face. The amazing thing though was that Bruno had actual working code!

I also sat through the Gong-A-Thong, and while at other conferences, these kind of short 5 minute talks, usually have a bit of preperation, and an underlying message, here they are very much a get up on stage and talk about whatever comes to mind kind of thing. Some can pull it off, others can't. I'm not going to name names, but I did think some of the talks would have been much better had they had a much clearer message to convey to audience. However, the Gong-A-Thong is not really about the speakers, it's now about who is brave enough to don a pair of pants and parade about on stage. It hadn't been revealled who was going to take to the stage this year, although some did have some interesting suggestions. As the two specially recruited LUGRadio security advisors took to the stage, and the Rocky theme reverberated around the atrium, the one ... the only ... Chinny Raccoon entered from the rear of the courtyard. Except, it was Chinny Raccoon with just head, hands and feet ... and ... well ... see the photos! Once finally on the stage, the head was removed and MrBen was unveiled to the cheering crowd. It was a great start, and throughout it all MrBen played up to the role. Despite a dire warning should his wife or daughter get to see the photos, flickr proved too irresistable, and Heather was already asking why the costume had disappeared by the end of the day.

The final talk of the day I got to watch, was MrBen's "Supporting World Domination". It was an interesting talk, if only for the fact that he'd taken a step back and looked at what the Linux or Open Source community actually was, and how to reach those better that previously we perhaps haven't considered part of the community. The users of Open Source software are just as much a part of the community as those who post on forums and mailing list and submit bug reports. They help to spread the word, just by using the applications. However, what if they get stuck? How do we help them? We all know how posting a newbie type question is likely to get you ripped to shreads for daring to enter the realm of "real users", but don't they deserve to be given the support, after all we've persuaded them to use Open Source software in the first place? MrBen's idea is to enable an app that can be clicked and automatically put that user in contact with an expert, who happens to be online and willing to answer their questions. As it's just an idea there is no code, or plan, but nonetheless it made for some interesting thoughts.

Then it was time to record the final episode of LUGRadio Season 5, Live & Unleashed. If you weren't there you'll have to wait for the broadcast to hear all the discussion, but it was fun to have Chinny holding up the aplause sign and watching Jono and Aq try and figure out whether New Zealand was further away than Sydney, Australia! It is :) Now I mentioned at the beginning about it being a small world. Well it turns out that Keith White, who I know from Coventry LUG and Birmingham LUG, worked on a project at a University in New Zealand 3 years ago. One of the guys working there just happened to be the eventual winner of LUGRadio furthest travelled, Robin (I think?) from New Zealand! He has been over here to see some music festivals too, but engineered the trip so it coincided with LUGRadio. Now that's a small world. To end the last ever LUGRadio recording, there was cake. Steph had made a special LUGRadio cake for everyone, and after the first set of photos, it got cut up for everyone. I think Aq had the priviledge of having the first piece :)

After that it was time to find more food. After waiting for Mez to finish crew duties, our plan was to meet up with the Birmingham LUG guys at Spice Avenue. As I knew where it was, I wasn't too worried, about finding it. Mez had invited Miia along too, so we headed off to catch up with the other guys. When we got to the restaurant, none of the Birmingham LUG guys were there, but we were hungry so sat down to eat. Mez later found someone's number and called them to discover that Birmingham LUG had got lost and just walked into the first Indian restaurant they'd found! Oh well.

When we got back to The Lighthouse, we found the party in full swing. A little later the Karaoke session got under way. Personally I'm not into Karaoke at all, but I'm quite happy for others to have a go. Sarah from Skynet did an awesome version of Crazy, Neuro was most excellent with Ring Of Fire, Jono, Aq, Matt P Revell (I did amuse me to hear the compere prounouncing it Revel as in the sweets) and Chris all got at various points to sing a variety of tunes. Goaded by her mother (Josette from O'Reilly) and the rest of the Bytemark crew, I suggested Sylvie and Nick sing ABBA's Take A Chance On Me, despite the protest it took all of about 2 seconds to run for the microphone. They were both egging to do it again by all accounts too! The Bytemark guys got up, then the Skynet folks (doing a splendid version of A Fairytale Of New York) and in amongst them were a host of others, including Milesteg doing a couple of Neil Diamond numbers. The party was still going strong, but feeling tired I headed back to the hotel. After all I had to speak first thing in the morning.

I head back to the Lighthouse in the morning and waiting for the introductions. With those out of the way, I went to set up my laptop for the talk. Unfortunately my laptop wasn't in a very good working state, and apache ended up locking up, meaning I couldn't use the webserver version of my talk. Not a big deal, but I ended up using the slides I'd used in Chicago for YAPC::NA. It was only later I realised that I could have used the LRL prepared slides. Never mind, it only meant the title screen was wrong and the two extra slides I had for the talk weren't shown. However, the talk did appear to go down very well, with several interesting questions, and one person even got one of my quiz questions right. Alas I had forgotten the prizes, so I've taken his business card and will be sending him a poster this week. He did have to live in Sydney, Australia though didn't he! It was a decent crowd too, which was nice. I was a bit wary of how many would turn up, as it was the first talk of the day and Sunday is usually the quieter day of LRL. So thank you to all who came along. It was also probably the best presentation of that talk I've ever given too.

Following on from me was Agostino Russo (the "Wubi" guy), who I'd met the previous night in the bar. It was a shame that he was against the Mass Debate as I would have liked to have seen his talk. As it was I shot round the other rooms to quickly photograph the other speakers, then sat in on The Mass Debate. Sometimes the debate generates some interesting discussion, but this time around it wasn't anything that particularly motivated me. I did think there were some good arguments about why major distributors should NOT sync their release cycles though.

Next talk I mostly sat through was Matthew Garrett's "Power management that works". Matthew has spent a lot of time considering how power management works, and has largely come to the conclusion that (I'm paraphrasing) "why are we asking the user?" And he's right. A lot of the questions asked of the user make no sense, when the machine itself is intelligent enough to figure out how you are using it, and can set the right power setting appropriately. I didn't catch all the questions asked, but I would be interested to know some of the suggestions he had for better power management, especially when trying to conserve battery power on a plane.

Final talk of the day for me was Neuro's "How Second Life works, and how much we rely on Linux and Open Source". I've been aware of Second Life, but it's never been a game that has ever interested me to play. Because it happens in realtime, unless you're in the game constantly then you're not going to be able to take advantage of much of the game experience, at least that's how it seems to me. Plus I've never really been that bothered by MMORPGs anyway. It was interesting to see what some had done with the medium though. However, part way though Neuro's talk, Jono rushed out from side of stage, with Chinny Raccoon standing atop a sack-truck, holding a placard stating "FURRIES FOR JUSTICE", and headed across the cobblestones and headed for the door. It was funny, and I'm sure Neuro saw the funny side of it too, despite interrupting his talk.

After a few minutes all the talks wound up, and everyone headed back into the Atrium. The guys then began the final session of the day, the thank yous, prize givings and goodbyes. Someone won an Asus EEE PC from Linux Emporium, lots of Tuxs and Tshirts were given away (thanks for mine guys, much appreciated), Mrs Ron got a bottle of wine for feeding the crew, and the guys gave away the artwork that Chris Hayes had orchestrated as part of his Collaborative Art project on his exhibition stand. With the final goodbyes having been said, it was time to pack away. Once the majaority of people had headed out, we gathered Chinny, the crew and the guys together to get some photos done. Tony also had some great ideas for the final scene of the film he was planning to wrap up the event. So we took plenty of photos then too. I'll not reveal those yet, as it'll be worth waiting for the video.

This year was a blast. I had great fun, chatted to some great people, took loads of photos and generally just had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Thanks go to the crew and the gents for organising everything, you all did a stunning job ... again. And I look forward to LRL 2009. Till then... goodnight :)

File Under: community / conference / linux / lugradio / wolverhampton
2 COMMENTS


Bat Out Of Hell

Posted on 21st July 2008

So while several people I know have been telling everyone that they'll be at OSCON this week, I thought I'd mention that I've just been to LUGRadio Live, probably the best Open Source event ever :)

The event was originally billed as the last event LUGRadio event. The reason being that the presenters were finding it harder to prepare for the radio show recording, and have the time to edit and put it out, when they have work and family taking up more of their time. It was sad to hear that they were stopping the show, though understandable, but it was an even bigger disappointment when there was the prospect of no more LUGRadio Live. The event is more than just a conference, it's a great way for the UK community (although there are plenty of European and further afield attendees) to get together and catchup. As such a few of us behind the scenes had already suggested that something should happen. I'd suggested that another UK LUG take up the challenge and hold the event somewhere else in the UK. However, Dave Morley and Ron "BigRon" Wellstead had ideas to just do it themselves, seeing as most of WolvesLUG were on the crew and had been working behind the scenes for the last few events. Either way I would have been happy.

So it was with some relief that during the Live & Unleashed recording on Saturday, that Jono said that after the Friday night party, he was so overwhelmed with the comments from people, about how much they were going to miss the event, he was moved to discuss with Aq about doing the event again. Thankfully, they were both in agreement that is was worth doing. So even though the podcast will be no more, LUGRadio Live event will continue, which is great news.

This weekend was great fun, and I manage to take over 2,000 photos over the two days (and Friday night party), which I now have the pleasure of whittling down to a more manageable number to post here. I hope to get throught them all this week, so stay tuned for news of when they are uploaded. It was great to see the Bytemark gaming rig, which was a great success, and also to be able to say personal thanks to Matt Bloch for helping Birmingham.pm sort out their server. I'm also very grateful for the guys for the 1 or 50 special LUGRadio tshirts that I got as a thank you for yet again being their unoffical offical photographer for the event :) It was great to catch up with Josette and Sylvie for O'Reilly, as well as John Pinner from Linux Emporium (BTW thanks for the tshirt John), who had some ideas for an interesting conference next year, and Andy Robinson from OpenStreetMap. Novell (Ethne loves Geeko the chameleon), RedHat, Efficient PC, Beagleboard and the Open Rights Group all had great stands too, and all helped to make it probably the best exhibition area they've ever had at LUGRadio Live.

Also in attendance in the exhibition area were the Linux Outlaws, another Linux podcast, that are looking like they could fill the void for all those LUGRadio fans. I've only heard them being mentioned on LUGRadio, on recent episodes, so haven't had a chance to listen to them yet, but having had a chat to Fabian, they seem like really sound guys, and I'm looking forward to hearing all the back issues. They were also hoping to record an episode of their show at LRL, but I don't know whether they managed that.

This year, thanks to Tony and Laura, this event is probably the most filmed LRL too. Having organised an AV crew well in advance this year, pretty much the whole event was filmed in some form or another. I'm sure it'll be a while before the videos appear, but judging from the effort they put into it, it's going to make fantastic viewing. Also thanks to all the crew, and especially Mez and Chris for helping me out during my talk. The crew have become and invaluable part of LRL, and without them it really wouldn't be the kind of event that it has become. Remember these guys are doing it all for free, because they love being part of the whole experience and want to help put on the best show possible. It also helps that they are a great bunch of guys and gals.

But the biggest buzz about the whole event was Chinny. Thanks to Xalior, who had the outfit custom made, a lifesize Chinny Raccoon featured in much of the events over the two days. Big thanks to MrBen for being a great sport in the costume and generally putting on a great show. It's no surprise he is considered a lifetime LUGRadio Community Hero. Although after seeing the pictures from the Gong-A-Thong, his wife Heather is not so keen to let him out of the house for next year!

My photos will be online soon, so check back soon for them, in the meantime enjoy the tasters I've added to this post. There are plenty more to come :)

Some other blog posts have started appearing around the web, so it'll be interesting to read what others make of the weekend. I plan to write a little more later too. However, the one post that really says more about LUGRadio Live than anyhing else, is the one Laura posted about her and Tony filming the last ever studio recording of LUGRadio, and includes some of her highlights from the past LUGRadio Live events. Sums it all up for me too.

File Under: community / conference / lugradio / opensource / wolverhampton
1 COMMENT


Dead Fish Don't Swim Home

Posted on 21st July 2008

If there is a karaoke at some party or other, which I happen to attend, please note that I won't sing THAT song! No matter how much blackmail or incentive you offer. It's also worth reminding the culprits (Alex and Steph), who I work for. Revenge can be very sweet. As I mentioned to Alex afterwards, "how good is your spam detection?"

And if you're wondering what THAT song is, then you really need to think of the blindingly obvious.

File Under: community / conference / lugradio / wolverhampton
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Say Goodbye

Posted on 18th July 2008

Tomorrow will be the start of the last ever LUGRadio Live. Tonight Open Source and Linux enthusiasts will descend on Wolverhampton, to mark the beginning of a farewell party that is set to be remembered for a long time. The party starts at The Hogs Head in Wolverhanmpton city centre, with about 30 or so people already confirmed, and many more likely to turn up.

According to Chris, the Britannia is now full, and by all accounts pretty much everyone staying there is attending LUGRadio Live :) The final Live And Unleashed recording will be tomorrow night, with another party after it. The final day of the conference is likely to be a bit of a sad day. I'm doing my talk first thing on Sunday morning, so hopefully there won't be too many sad faces in the audience.

It's going to be sad to see the show finish, not least because I've met some great people because of LUGRadio, and been inspired on several occasions. The crew and community behind LUGRadio and the live event, are superb and deserve tons of credit for putting on one of the best Open Source events in the UK. I'm hoping that it becomes an inspiration for others, preferably LUG groups, to come up with an annual event to continue the community's desire to meet up in real life.

I shall be taking photos over the weekend, so expect to see a further post, hopefully next week, with all the best sights from the whole weekend. I'm looking forward to the weekend, but it'll also be a little sad to think that this is the end of an era.

File Under: conference / linux / lugradio / opensource / wolverhampton
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In The Clouds

Posted on 1st July 2008

My photos are finally online from the YAPC::NA Conference in Chicago. Although many of the outdoor photos have come out well, many of the indoor ones haven't. For the conference itself, the main room was too dark on stage to really catch the speakers well, and all though the other two rooms were well lit, the speakers always seemed to move at the wrong moment. I think it might have helped if I';d have used my tripod a bit more, but I really do need a good digital SLR.

I did want to add lots of tags and things to all the photos, but that's just going to have to wait until I have more time. In the mean time, enjoy.

For those that only want to see the conference related photos, these are they:

For those who just want to see the sights of Chicago, then you'll more likely want to see these:

As an added bonus I'm piecing together some of the photos I took during the Speakers Party, where we were able to get a grand view of the city. At the moment I have only uploaded 1, but hope to get the other two sorted soon.

File Under: chicago / community / conference / opensource / people / photography / sightseeing / yapc
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A Farewell To Kings

Posted on 30th June 2008

The guys over at LUGRadio have just released the latest edition of the show. They also reveal a rather big announcement, in that LUGRadio Live Live & Unleashed will be the last ever show by the team. This also mean that LUGRadio Live in a few weeks time, will also be the last ever LRL. I'm gutted as the show and event has become a staple part of my life for the past 5 years. As I knew the guys before they started the show, I was fortunate enough to be a fan from the very first show. And from such humble beginnings it's been amazing to see what the team have created. It is a credit to everyone who has been involved in LUGRadio, and the whole community that has built up surrounding both the shows and the events, that they have played a notable part of promoting Linux and Open Source. The quality of guest, discussion and inspiration has been excellent. It has always been fun and entertaining, but it has also strived to educate and pass on their passion for the projects, and communities they have introduced us to.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to play even a small part of the experience, and it has always been a joy to listen to the shows. I shall miss them. I'm fortunate in that I live not too far from the guys, so hopefully I will stay in touch and see them at Wolves LUG events in the future. But I will miss the all the LUGRadio Live events, where I get to meet so many other Linux and Open Source enthusiasts from around the UK and the World. Thanks guys, it's been a blast.

File Under: community / conference / linux / lugradio / opensource / wolverhampton
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Sweet Home Chicago

Posted on 23rd June 2008

Last week I was in Chicago for YAPC::NA. It was great event and a great city. I was there 2 years ago for the conference, and got to see some of the city then, so this time around I opted to find some other places to discover. I've still left plenty to discover, so next time I return I plan to finally get to go up the Hancock Tower and do the Ganster Tour.

The conference itself was at the IIT, on the south side of Chicago, and a short walk from the L. On the first day I gave a talk entitled "Understanding Malware", during which David E Wheeler thankfully caught me on camera, so at least I have one photo of me speaking :) On the second day I gave my "How To Be A CPAN Tester" talk, which seemed to go down well. I'll write more about the conference on my use.perl blog, but over the next week I hope to get my photos up online. Unfortunately the quality of the photos hasn't been as good as previous efforts, as I seemed to struggle with focus and light most of the time. Looking at some of the guys taking pictures throughout the event, I dearly need a DSLR. Hopefully this time next year my wish will come true.

My thanks to Theory for allowing me to include the photo he took of me at the conference here.

File Under: chicago / conference / yapc
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Where The Birds Always Sing

Posted on 4th April 2008

Peter N M Hansteen

Peter N M Hansteen

This week I was at The UKUUG 2008 Spring Conference, where I gave two talks on testing. While I was there I met Peter N M Hansteen. The name didn't ring any bells, and it was only when I was in conversation with Peter that he happened to drop the snippet of information that he was part of Bergen LUG, who implemented RFC1149.

Okay for most people that probably doesn't mean that much, but for real geeks this is one of the guys that implemented RFC1149!

So what is RFC1149? It's full title is "A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers", which also goes by the acronym of CPIP ... Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol. Yes you read that right Carrier Pigeon. There was a later revision of the RFC which allowed for Sparrowhawks, but in 2001 Bergen LUG took it upon themselves to attempt a practical experiment to prove the RFC1149 actually worked. You can see all the photos and reports of the event, to which they invited Alan Cox along as an impatial witness, on their website. Peter can be seen in this picture, on the far left.

The reason I know all this, is that in the first version of my Understanding Malware talk, I used it as a humous aside. Amusingly, Peter did a talk about Spam and Malware at the UKUUG conference. It's a small world :)

Incidentally my photos for the UKUUG 2008 Spring Conference are now online. Click the links below:

File Under: birmingham / conference / internet / people / ukuug
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Route 66

Posted on 7th March 2008

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm planning to attend YAPC::NA in June. I've now submitted my talk proposals for Understanding Malware and an updated version of How To Be A CPAN Tester. The deadline for proposals is next week, so hopefully I'll hear fairly soon whether they have accept either talk. I'm also planning to host a CPAN Testers BOF for testers, authors and interested parties to meet and discuss issues and/or the future of CPAN testing.

File Under: chicago / conference / opensource / perl / yapc
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Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?

Posted on 20th February 2008

LUGRadio Live 2007

LUGRadio Live 2007

LUGRadio Live UK dates have been announced as the weekend of 19th/20th July.

At the moment the guys are busy preparing for LUGRadio Live USA, so expect more details for the UK event after next month. The US event will be the first time the LUGRadio experience will have been seen on such a major scale outside of the UK. The guys seem suitably excited and I'll be keen to discover if the American event has the same manic and mayhem feel as the UK event. The UK event is very definitely about getting the Linux and Open Source communities together, to hopefully provide an opportunity to meet and greet with fellow developers or just people you meet on IRC or the forums. It doesn't have that corporate feel is much more laid back, thus having a much more social nature about it than many traditional conferences. Not to diminish the value of the talks and presentations, but the atmosphere is much more conducive to discussion, questions and feedback than more formal events. For me that has perhaps more value as I like to get feedback and ideas from others and some more corporate events often don't encourage that atmosphere.

In the meantime, if you're in the US and can make it to the West Coast over the weekend on 12th/13th April, checkout LUGRadio Live USA2008 and try and get along to The Metreon, San Francisco. As a tempter, watch the video trailer created by Tony Whitmore, AV coordinator for the UK event.

I shall be at LUGRadio Live UK, although whether that's as a speaker, attendee or member of the crew remains to be seen. I'm thinking of submitting my Understanding Malware talk, but seeing as it's about an hour long, and I definitely DON'T want to be on the main stage, I'm hoping the guys will agree to hiding me in a smaller room. They guys always manage to put me up against big names (Mark Shuttleworth and Chris Di Bona for the last two years), so this might be my chance to steal some of the audience back for the little guy ;)

As I don't specifically talk about Linux stuff, but more general Open Source stuff, I've often felt a bit of an outsider as a speaker. The Malware talk is again not about Linux specifically, and some aspects are not Open Source (for justifiable reasons), but the content, particularly for anyone interested in understanding what malware is and eager to gain some very basic hints and tips to protect your inbox, it's ideal. Seeing as most of the attendance for LUGRadio are knowledgeable Linux people, I'm hoping the talk will be of interest to a wide variety of people. I've now done the talk twice, for Leicester LUG last week and Coventry LUG last night. Both presentation went down very well and generated lots of interesting discussion afterwards. Seeing as some of these guys are very clueful sysadmins and developers, as a benchmark, I think the LUGRadio audience will love it. We'll see ;)

The UK event will be returning to Wolverhampton University Student's Union, the venue for the 2006 event. Personally I liked the Lighthouse, the venue for 2007, but I know the guys got heavily criticised for a variety of issues, that meant they had to reconsider the venue for the 2008 event. The SU venue is smaller than the Lighhouse too, which might cause some problems, as I can see the event getting a bigger attendance this year. For the past 3 years the attendance appears to have been increasing anyway, but in the last year, I am noticing more and more articles, blogs and posts about LUGRadio. I just hope there is enough space for everyone.

BTW if you're attending LUGRadio Live USA2008, please take a camera and post your photos publically. My site always gets a lot of hits for LUGRadio, and I'm sure the thirst for photos for the US event will be just as popular.

File Under: conference / linux / lugradio / opensource / security / spam
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A Light In The Black

Posted on 5th January 2008

Now that I'm looking to another year of the Birmingham.pm World Tour, with visits to a number of UK LUG and Perl Monger groups, LUGRadio Live (UK not US), the UKUUG Spring Conference in Birmingham, YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe, as well as possibly a few European Workshops too, I need to start think what I'm going to present. I like the fact I can go to Linux based groups and conferences and talk about a variety of Perl topics, as although I might not be an expert, I know enough to give an introduction in several areas at least. But for more Perl specific technical events, I really need to stick to what I know.

The problem is that I feel I've done enough with CPAN Testing, Phrasebooks and Selenium for the time being, and it does get a bit boring for both me and the audience if I'm repeating myself every year. I may do some update on CPAN Testing, as there are likely to be changes in the coming year, a lot of which is being worked on currently, but what else is there that I could present that would be of interest to somebody?

One talk subject that has crossed my mind has been to do something like 'Labyrinth - A Perl Success Story'. It's been commented a few times that within the Perl community we talk a lot about the possibilities (particularly with frameworks) rather than getting to the finished product. While Labyrinth might not be for everyone, it might possibly be something that works for some, and as a consequence might interest people who have been asking me what it is and why I wrote it. However, although it is related to web and content management it isn't the next Catalyst or the new Jifty. You might be able to draw similarities between them all, but there are also many differences. Labyrinth isn't a framework as such, it's not meant for high-availability websites, and it also doesn't have the large development team knocking out code and fixing bugs that the others have. It's just me. But it might have just enough functionality and usability for someone to pick it up and get a site running how they want it to work, without having to understand the magic internals of frameworks like Catalyst and Jifty. I wouldn't be talking about the internals anyway, as I would prefer to give examples of how I solved problems and interesting asides that led me to learn something new about web design. I'm just not sure enough people would find it that interesting.

Further topics that come from the guts of Labyrinth, and are things that I have been keen to see how other people solve the same problem, are user input validation and content output correction. At the moment Labyrinth handles these within the same codebase, and it works rather well. However, it seems rather the wrong thing to do, to present a talk where the code to do the job isn't on CPAN and is embedded in another system. As a consequence I've been thinking about abstracting the code out of Labyrinth and releasing it separately. It might make for an interesting discussion and may provide people with an reasonable example of how they can use one solution to treat their input and output.

I've also started thinking about doing a short talk along the lines of "My Favourite CPAN Modules". A number of people have done this in the past and at one London.pm meeting several years ago, Leon presented one that got me looking up a few modules I'd not really heard of before. It's probably a talk better aimed at local group technical meetings and maybe a Workshop if appropriate, but I've also been thinking it might be better to actually to structure several talks of this style, but with a theme. So one talk would be "The Web Edition" and feature several modules useful for website development, another "The Test Edition" feature several useful Test modules, and perhaps also "The Mail Edition" with a selection of useful email modules. I've made an attempt at this style of talk before, but got too involved with the mechanics, when really all you need is a quick flavour of what the module can do, with enough references for you to go and find out more yourself.

I still need something more concrete for LUGRadio and the YAPCs, but at least I have some ideas to work with now. If anyone has other suggestions, please let me know.

File Under: community / conference / labyrinth / linux / perl / yapc
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New Europeans

Posted on 16th September 2007

Back last year I was invited to EuroFOO. Having never attended this type of event I was a bit wary of what to expect. As it turned out it was rather an interesting couple of days. For those who never been, the event is a mini conference with the scheduled more or less decided after the welcome session, on two large whiteboards, with the attendees themselves allocating themselves to the available timeslots. To a degree it is a free for all, but there are enough clever people here, including several who were well prepared, who were able to pretty much fill all sessions within a few minutes.

The sessions themselves were a complete mixture of ideas. Some were an opportunity to show off cool apps, some focused on "mashups", others were discussion forums and several others were just whatever seemed like a good idea. Although there were a few sessions that stood out as worth attending for me, there were plenty of others that I could drop in or out of and either enter discussions or just play the part of observer. From a personal point of view I took a lot away with me, but I think if I'm ever invited next time, there are a couple of presentations I could bring with me. I'd certainly feel more confident about suggesting a session next time. When it's your first expereince of something like this, it's a bit daunting to stand up in front of so many talented people.

One aspect of the event I enjoyed was spending breakfast with Allison Randal and Gnat Torkington, and being introduce to Tim O'Reilly. Being quite a quiet person, I'm not the sort to stand out at something like this, but it was nice to realise that I did know quite a few people. On the last evening it was also great to meet Robert Lefkowitz, as it gave me the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed his talks that I heard via IT Conversations, on "The Semasiology of Open Source".

I also got time to chat to Damian Conway, Piers Cawley and Mark Fowler, which was great as I don't often get to see them these days, and when I do they're often busy preparing for talks or only standing still for a short amount of time. The weekend for me was a great success and if you're ever invited, I heartily recommend going along.

File Under: conference / opensource / technology
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Light Of Day

Posted on 25th August 2007

Back last year, I went to LUGRadio Live and was extremely impressed, as most people were, with the plasma screens around the building, particularly with the imagery they were displaying. It turned out that Aq had written it as a quick PHP/HTML hack. It certainly did the job and impressed me so much that I asked if I could use for the YAPC::Europe conference we were hosting in August. Aq was delighted.

The original code was written in PHP, but seeing as I don't do PHP, I rewrote the whole thing in Perl. I simplified some of the HTML and CSS, but essentially it was still the same concept. We lauch the code for YAPC::Europe and again people were suitably impressed.

Since last August I've been meaning to package up the code and release with a proper Open Source licence. I asked Aq whether he minded me using the Artistic License as used with tradional Perl libraries, and he was happy to release it. So here it is ... The Plasma Application.

All being well the guys in Vienna might be using it for YAPC::Europe 2007, but we'll have to wait and see.

File Under: conference / opensource / perl / web
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The Gnome

Posted on 25th July 2007

Last week I attended GUADEC. This year it was hosted in Birmingham, so it made it rather easy for me to get to. There was a lot of good talks, and it was nice to be able to put names to faces that I've heard mentioned for so long. I'm not a Gnome Developer, so this was definitely very much a user experience, but having said that, there were several applications that looked interesting enough to make me wonder about seeing whether I could add Perl bindings. I plan to get a full write-up soon, but first off here are all the photos:

File Under: conference / guadec / opensource / photography
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Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)

Posted on 9th July 2007

The Crew

The Crew

Four Large Gents

Four Large Gents

As if I haven't mentioned it enough, this weekend I went along to LUGRadio Live in Wolverhampton. It was a fantastic event, as always, and I had a great time meeting people, seeing some interesting talks and taking lots of photos. I was a little disappointed to hear Ade has decided to leave LUGRadio as a regular presenter, but I'm sure Chris Procter will do an admirable job in his place. To read my more technical writeup of the event see my use.perl journal. To see my photos, click the links below :)

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource / technology
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Video Killed The Radio Star

Posted on 7th July 2007

Today is the first day of LUGRadio Live. Well actually it could be considered the second day, as many of the attendees were assembled in Wolverhampton last night. I had to miss the festivities last night, so I'm hoping I can make up for it tonight :)

Several local user groups will be attending, so I'm hoping to see a lot of familiar faces. I'll be taking lots of photos, and this year I hope to have them online soon after the event, not nearly a year later!

File Under: conference / linux / lugradio / opensource
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I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide

Posted on 5th July 2007

The 2007 YAPC::NA Organisers

The 2007 YAPC::NA Organisers

Finally got the time to sort through my photos from last week. From over 2,000 photos, I've got them down to just over 700. There are still a few in there that aren't quite as good as I'd like, but then until I can freeze people in time before taking the shot, I'm going to struggle with the current camera. I'm looking at to getting a DSLR at some point, so hopefully I won't get so many blurred pictures then. Still I'm pleased I managed to get quite a selection that I did like.

For those who discover this entry by searching for YAPC::NA, here are all the photos I have online:

I also took some videos of Luke Closs and the Lightning Talks, so once I've converted them I'll get those online too.

Last week was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I got to go. Looking forward to YAPC::Europe now :)

File Under: conference / houston / opensource / perl / photography / space / technology / yapc
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Heaven, Hell or Houston

Posted on 3rd July 2007

YAPC::NA 2007

YAPC::NA 2007

Last week saw me attending the 2007 YAPC::NA Perl Conference in Houston, Texas. Well not just attending, but speaking too. I did 3 regular talks, hosted one BOF and took part in another. You can read the full gory details over on my technical journal.

The conference is a grassroots affair, and is now traditionally hosted annually by the local Perl Monger user group. This year it was a joint effort by Houston.pm and BrazosValley.pm, and was an admirable effort considering that none of the organisers had been to a YAPC before. A number of people had said they weren't attending because it was Houston, but seeing as the town is famous for Lyndon B Johnston Space Center and ZZ Top, I couldn't believe it was that bad, and indeed it wasn't. Though I didn't get a chance to wander around the town, as the University is quite a distance from the town centre, and the local transport system consists of taxis.

I have lots of photos to get through, including a trip to the Space Center, which I'll be posting soon, and I'm getting better with my camera. I seem to have taken several good photos, but having said that there were the fair share of blurred or out of focus ones too. At a conference like this, it gets frustrating when I think I've taken a good shot, then later view it on the laptop and discover it isn't as good as I thought. You never get a second chance. But I am getting better at holding the camera still and taking some nice closeups.

YAPC::NA 2007 This Way

YAPC::NA 2007 This Way

Since I bought a 2GB xD memory card, I can now take 30 minutes worth of video. It meant I was able to video a few talks, but it also meant I discovered more of the limitations of the camera. The camera's main function is to take pictures not video, so some aspects are understandably lacking when taking video, such as being able to zoom in/out. Although you can adjust zoom before videoing, once you press record it's fixed. I assume this is because the problems with auto-focusing. Still it did mean I got to watch the talks again later :)

While Houston was hot, it was pouring with torential rain when I arrived, and did so during my stay there too. The humidity was high and occassionally felt like I was breathing in water, but for the most part we were inside in the air-conditioning, so it wasn't really that much of a problem. Apparently the cockroaches are much more of a problem, though I only saw a few on the pavements. Those staying in the dorms seem to see them at every turn. We even joked that Jose was taking a family home with him. What I saw of Houston I liked, but had they had a decent local train or bus service I might well have visited more of the town.

The conference itself was good, and I got to speak to several people, both familiar faces and newcomers. It meant there was quite a difference in the expectations and the response to talks. I think most got something out of the event, but I can't help think that the beginner type talks were a bit thin on the ground this year. I'm going to see whether I can change that and plan to work on some new material to have a go at for next year. If nothing else, it'll provide plenty of material for the 2008 Birmingham Perl Mongers World Tour :)

File Under: conference / houston / opensource / yapc
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Breaking The Habit

Posted on 21st June 2007

I spoke at the OpenAdvantage Open Source Showcase yesterday. It was intriguing to see how some other speakers took the brief of "introduce why you use open source" to mean "a free 10 minute marketing exposure". While I certainly have nothing against small businesses trying to promote themselves at these sort of events, it would have been nice for them to better explain why they chose to use Open Source Software. Some did, albeit briefly, some explained the benefits they've gained (Birmingham Friends of The Earth was certainly a good example), but most took the time to explain how big their client portfolio was. The people in the room largely were small businesses and were looking to understand why they should consider Open Source.

One presentation failed to even mention Open Source or any Open Source product. It was only later I discovered that the hardware product worked with a Linux kernel. It was a sales pitch from start to finish. The presenters wife was sat next to me, and kept adding commentary to those around her, to follow up statements made by the presenter. It was a bit bizarre, and a bit out of place I felt.

My talk, using Labyrinth to provide an example, was really about why I chose Open Source and specifically Perl to implement the website application. I started by explaining my background, not in any great detail, but enough so the audience could understand that I had a history of programming and IT, long before Open Source and Free Software was consider the movement it is today. Whereas most other speakers were able to say they had been doing their particular field for 4-8 years, I was able to state that I have been a programmer for nearly 30 years. I also come from a very different perspective, that of someone who is a true developer. The only other developers were Kat and Dave, who did the presentation about PHP before me. Pretty much everyone else had a much more user perspective. With 13 presentations, it was an odd balance that only 2 were not user experiences.

If I was attending to represent my own company, then while user experiences would be very useful to prove that my business could benefit from using Open Source, I personally would like to understand what benefits that the actual developers see and the future for Open Source, which you're not likely to get from users. There was one presentation from a lawyer about licensing, which pretty much reaffirmed what most of us understand about licensing issues, which was well placed, as it is a subject that does worry some businesses. While some may be just interested in the cost aspect to begin with, ultimately the subject of support and longevity does get thought about. Users often can't explain those, so it would have been nice to have had a Linux distro developer or other Open Source software developer to give that sort of perspective.

There wasn't much Microsoft bashing, which was refreshing, but rather reasoned arguments why proprietry software didn't work for these particular business. One speaker gave a price list for seven basic development machines running Windows and another seven running Linux. The final cost compared £10,000 with £4,500. I did have to smile at the claim that they didn't need AV software on the Linux machine, but resisted the urge to note that Linux isn't virus-free. I originally did offer to speak about why MessageLabs use OSS, but Elliot from OpenAdvantage felt that the Perl talk would be more appropriate. Now having done the talk, I would have to agree.

The event was well attended, with about 50+ people in the audience, and generated a lot of discussion. I hope they get to invite me to another event in the future, and this time I might not over run :)

File Under: birmingham / conference / opensource
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Rockin' the Paradise

Posted on 25th May 2007

The Sears Tower, Chicago

The Sears Tower, Chicago

In June 2006 I attended and spoke at the YAPC::NA Perl Conference in Chicago. It was great to meet up with several people I'd met in Toronto, but it was also a bit odd discovering that I wasn't as anonymous as I was last year. In Europe more people recognise me as I've been to every YAPC::Europe Perl Conference and have been involved in several other activities where people have got to know me. But apart from my appearance at OSCON in 2000 (when nobody bar the London.pm guys knew me), I wasn't expecting to be so easily recognised. It was good to put a number of names to faces though and it was a very enjoyable conference.

There was one downside though. On the morning of the last day of the conference I got called by work. Seeing as I was part of the CPR team, I was oncall 24/7 regardless of the fact I wasn't in the UK. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about it conflicting with my talk as I'd already done it. However, it did mean I had to disappear for a while as I set up jobs to go and do the task I needed to do. I'm rather glad that firstly I used screen and secondly that I'd got all the jobs running that I needed to. As while getting up to plug in the power cable, my laptop got knocked on the floor. Had I powered down and shut the laptop, it might not have been so bad, however, it was open and running. I managed to truly trash the laptop, as later investigation seemed to indicate the bus connector to both the DVD/CD writer and the hard disk drive had been damaged beyond repair. Despite swapping the HDD to another laptop, it also appears I complete wrecked the connectors to the HDD. There wasn't enough on the drive (apart from the photos I'd taken over the first few days) to warrant paying for it to be scanned professionally, so it got binned.

At first I thought that I'd now lost all my photos from the conference and was a little downhearted. As a consequence I didn't take the camera to the speakers dinner event that Josh and Heather had laid on after the conference, and I didn't bother taking any photos the following day either. Thankfully, JJ gave me a program to recover image files from portable media, and got back pretty much everything bar the first day of the conference, which unfortunately are now lost due to me writing over them with pictures from the last day. The lesson I've learnt is that to use multiple media to record photos and don't write over anything until you've had a chance to back them all up safely.

The conference was great though, and I did enjoy wandering around the city. On the first day Cog and I went up to the Skydeck of The Sears Tower, walked down to see The Water Tower and visited The Apple Store, where we caught quite a cool band, called The Ruse. For the Early Arrivals Dinner, we ended up near Wrigley Field, where the White Sox play, while the conference itself is close to ? where the Cubs play. Didn't get to see a game, but I do plan to revisit the city again. I never even took the time to check out any blues clubs, so I owe it to myself to go back really ;)

This year's conference is in Houston, so I'm hoping I can go and visit the Saturn rocket at The Lyndon B Johnson Space Centre while I'm there.

File Under: chicago / conference / perl / yapc
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Wordy Rappinghood

Posted on 12th May 2007

You may have noticed the addition of the image links on the side panel (unless you read this via a syndication feed). I am now officially scheduled as both a speaker and BOF leader at both this year's LUGRadio Live in Wolverhampton and at YAPC::NA in Houston. Click the links for more info.

At LUGRadio I'll be doing my Selenium talk that I've been presenting at several of the events on the Birmingham Perl Mongers World Tour. I wanted to speak again this year, but was struggling to think of something to speak about. Aq saw me do my Selenium talk and insisted I do that :) I'll also be organising a Perl Mongers BOF, which is primarily to encourage attendees to get involved with their local Perl Monger group, but will probably be a general Perl thing. If you're going to the event, please come and say hello.

However, before LUGRadio Live I have to prepare myself for the North American YAPC. Unwittingly I've managed to volunteer myself for 3 talks (lasting over 2½ hours), together with a 1 hour BOF. However, I'm also likely to be involved in 2 other BOFs, so I'm going to be extremely busy during the conference. Thankfully all the talks will be based on presentations I've given before, so I don't have to start from scratch, although there is a lot more material I'll be adding.

I'm quite surprised that the Houston guys have accepted me to talk so much. But seeing as both YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe last year and this year have extended the event to fill 4 rooms, they can have a wider breadth of talk subjects and accept more talks. This will be my 10th YAPC, although only the 6th I've spoken at. I'm really looking forward to going, but I keep getting warned it'll be hot. Just so long as they serve Guinness I'll be happy ;)

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource / yapc
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Radio Free Europe

Posted on 26th April 2007

LUGRadio Live 2006

LUGRadio Live 2006

I've been wanting to upload my photos from LUGRadio Live 2006 for sometime, but just haven't had the time to sort through them. The event, organised by the presenters of LUGRadio, was great and I got to see several people I knew and even more that I didn't. I was asked to speak at the event, as I was in 2005, when I had already planned to speak in Toronto for YAPC::NA, and did a presentation about how MessageLabs use Open Source Software. The talk happened after I picked up Ade and took him to a WolvesLUG meeting and we talked servers all the way there. He was quite taken aback with the idea that we manage over 3,500 Linux servers in our infrastructure.

Unfortunately no-one took any photos of me during my talk, but I did get to take several of everybody else. I'll be speaking again at this year's event, so I hope to be a bit more organised and get someone to take photos of me too. The event took places over 2 days with a "disco" on the saturday night. It was a fun packed weekend and lots and lots and LOTS of Linux and Open Source related stuff to talk about. The guys put me up against Mark Shuttleworth, so I didn't get to see all of his talk, but I was quite pleased that I still got a decent audience. Obviously not everyone was that interested in what Mark had to say ;)

Anger, Bald, Beard & Ging

Anger, Bald, Beard & Ging

The second day of the event ended with recognition awards for various members of the community and the crew, leading up to the finale of the live recording of LUGRadio Live And Unleased, which went down rather well. With that the event was over for another year. The Four Large Gents has specially commissioned T-Shirts for the event, and seeing as it was a sunny day, Big Ron, Seth and myself grabbed the lads and took them outside for a fun photoshoot, with the idea that they could use the photos for promotional material in the future.

I've booked the hotel for this year's event and am looking forward to speaking again. This year I'll be talking about Selenium, which I've been presenting at various LUG groups on the Birmingham Perl Mongers World Tour. The benefit of doing it on the tour is that I've been able to see what works and what doesn't and improve the talk all the time. Plus as I've got more familiar with Selenium, I've been able to add more tests into my live demo. All being well it should be all shiny and slick by the time of LUGRadio Live 2007. Hope to see you there.

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource
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