Leader of Birmingham.pm [pm.org] and a CPAN author [cpan.org]. Co-organised YAPC::Europe in 2006 and the 2009 QA Hackathon, responsible for the YAPC Conference Surveys [yapc-surveys.org] and the QA Hackathon [qa-hackathon.org] websites. Also the current caretaker for the CPAN Testers websites and data stores.
If you really want to find out more, buy me a Guinness
Last week I got to go to Houston for the 2007 YAPC::NA Perl Conference. I'm having trouble writing everything down that I wanted to remember and work on, not because I'm my usual forgetful self, but because there was so much going on. I didn't get to see everything I wanted to see, but I did manage to talk to several people about CPAN Testing and organising YAPCs/Workshops.
There were several talks that on the face of it were potentially very enlightening, but when I actually attended merely touched the surface. In some instances I can see the point of that style of talk, particularly for newcomers, but there were some areas that deserved a better more in depth discussion. I won't point fingers as that wouldn't be fair, and I'm possibly the only one who wanted more form those talks. Plus it's quite possible that some members of the audience of my talks wanted more too. All the talks that I attended had a decent audience, except James Keenan for his 9am last day presentation, but then any 9am last day slot really is a bad one to get and I think even Damian or MJD would might suffer with attendances then.
The conference started with Cog's keynote. Due to the delay in getting breakfast, I missed this again. I'm seriously considering camping out at Vienna to ensure I don't miss it a third time! Larry's keynote followed, which rolled into a presentation about Larry life through the use of hats. Unfortunately he was competing with the bagels and pastries, he faired well
Considering the attendance was low this year, around 200 compared to over 400 last year, it was good that the presentations were mostly well attended across the board with presentations covering a wide range of skill level and subject matter. It would have been nicer if more people could have attended, but I heard many suggest a number of notable speakers and attendees didn't come because "It's Houston!" I'm rather surprised at this, as although yes it's hot and yes we had thunderstorms, we were mostly inside and pretty much unaffected by the world outside
Thankfully, my talks seem to go down very well and I had some good feedback from all of them, which was great
It was good to get into several discussions after the talks, as I got several ideas for other talks. Some where extensions to existing talks, while others were prompted by the lack of talks on a particular subject. One such subject was Test Modules. While both my long talks talk about testing, they don't specifically cover things like TAP, Test::More or Test::Harness. Once upon a time there were several of these sorts of talks being submitted and presented, but this year there wasn't anything like that. Well actually that isn't quite true, as Steve Lembark did talk about testing, but at a much more expert level than the types of talk I was thinking of. Every year we have attendees coming to a YAPC for the first time, several of whom are still getting to know Perl. My talk, Preparing For CPAN, was definitely aimed at this kind of audience and it would be useful to have a few more that featured a 'getting started' style of approach. They were certainly the most interesting talks when I first started attending YAPCs. So, using colleagues and Birmingham.pm as guinea-pigs, I hope to create a few introductory talks over the next year.
The last conference session I attended on the first day was the YAPC BOF. I attended partly as a representative of the YEF (YAPC Europe Foundation) Venue Committee, of which I'm the current chair, but also because I have a desire to ensure that the YAPC conferences on both sides of the Atlantic have access to as much knowledge and resources as possible. One of the failings of many YAPCs has been the lack of guidance for the current organisers. Everyone always thinks it's a great idea to host a YAPC, but often start to falter once they discover there are several aspects of organising a conference that they either know nothing about, or hit problems they don't know how to solve. Much of what goes into organising the conferences these days can be done remotely, leaving the local crew to concentrate on the things that are either particular to their conference (the website) or the location (venue, directions, accommodation). Even sponsorship coordination can be helped by previous organisers, as they already have the contacts, and can help to coordinate introductions or even handle that side of things for the current organisers if they so choose. In part I've also volunteered to help tidy up the yapc.org pages, as they do need a facelift. Any company looking to find more information about YAPCs, and potentially becoming sponsors or send staff for training, are likely to be left rather confused as to the merits by looking at the current site. By adding more relevant content, references to resources for organisers and current content pointing to all the conferences, workshops and hackathons being held around the world, we can hopefully provide a more appealing site to help promote Perl and the community experience. The YAPC discussions went on well into the evening, forcing us to decamp to the hotel restaurant for food and beer. As a first night, it was extremely productive and I'm quite positive that the conference experience for all is going to benefit from the discussions.
It should be noted that the Houston T-shirts were really nice and I thought the logo was particularly cool, merging the onion with the NASA logo. Although I did wonder whether they got permission for that
Day two was a full day of regular talks. I mostly sat in on the Mediterrean Room or the Cougar Room, as the main hall was Perl 6/Parrot day. I don't know how well attended the main hall was, but certainly the smaller rooms seemed very popular. My biggest disappointment was not realising the scheduled had change from that printed in the booklet, and as a consequence I missed the beginning of Luke's Selenium talk. I've been getting into Selenium in a big way (I'm even doing an introductory talk at YAPC::Europe), and have quite a thirst for more. However, one aspect of using Selenium, which has been infuriating, has been getting it to open Firefox on Linux. Both Luke and Evan Carroll tried to help, but both had to give up
It seems I managed to miss a couple of good talks, partly because I was speaking at the same time. I really wish I'd seen Casey's MochiKit talk, as I heard several positive comments afterwards. I haven't been doing any AJAX stuff yet, but I'm seeing more and more good reasons why it's useful to include some of the features it offers.
The conference dinner and auction went down well too for the most part, and the auction didn't drag on too long. This was something that Birmingham was guilty of last year, and I think the YAPC::NA format of holding a silent auction and the more vocal auction helps to avoid this. Although it was pointed out that the spirit of the auction was lacking in America, as European audiences get the humour and comradery much more than they do in the States. The reason for the auction doesn't seem to have been made clear though, as the whole point is to help raise funds for the organisers and TPF, which in turn helps to fund future Perl events. This was something we made absolutely clear last year, as previously it has been a confusing point for new attendees to understand what the fuss is about. As a consequence it was noted that some auction winners felt they had got a good deal on the books they won, because they paid less than what they would have in the shops. In one respect that's a fair point, but in another the books are donated for the auction, and the money raised does go into the pot.
I actually think that the book donations are not as popular as they once were. Looking at the silent auction activity, and the desire to bid on the books during the vocal auction, there wasn't a great deal of interest. Mostly I believe this to be because most of the attendees already have these books and don't see the point of bidding on yet another book, just for the sake of looking like they're donating to TPF. I deeply regret not bringing some of the Birmingham YAPC::Europe shirts with me, as those are the kind of rarities that might actually get people bidding in higher numbers. T-shirts always seem to go down well at European conferences anyway. Unfortunately I completely forgot to ask Jeremy whether he wanted to send any of the Houston shirts to Vienna, as I would have gladly taken a back with me, as my luggage capacity was well within the limits.
The last day is always a bit of a wind down, and once my third talk was over I was finally able to relax. It meant I quite enjoyed the final run of talks, without think if there was anything I should change in mine. There was one quote that stood out from one talk, that had the person who said it wishing the ground would swallow them up. However, I'll save that snippet for later, as the quote made me thinking of something else, totally unconnected with the topic and the talk, that warrants a separate post.
Once the morning session of talks were done, the whole assembly sessions begin. First off with the Lightning Talks. This year there was a good selection of strong talks, and I was pleased to see some first timers up there, doing exactly what the lightning talks were design for. Giving them a chance to get a taste of being a speaker and/or sharing their latest cool thing or idea with the group. However, one talk made me think the format wasn't quite right. Paul Grassie's presentation was fantastic, and I hope he feels inspired to actually take the time to expand on his 5 minutes and do a 20 minute version at next year's YAPC. It was a very serious subject, but was scheduled between two very humourous presentations. As such Paul felt slightly compelled to add a little humour to the beginning of the talk, which it didn't need.
I've since discovered that some are very reluctant to give people like Damian Conway and MJD a chance to take part in the Lightning Talks sessions, because they might overshadow others. This I can understand, but Damian and Mark are great speakers and why shouldn't they have a chance to entertain and enlighten in their 5 minutes? Many of the experienced speakers purposefully craft comedy talks now for the Lightning Talks, and they definitely have their place, but what about the first timers, or those with a serious subject to convey, how can they best be accommodated? I've already emailed Geoff, so I hope he doesn't mind me airing my suggestions here too.
Firstly, the likes of Damian and Mark, have the ability to inspire and entertain, and deserve a chance to be heard. Secondly, the comedy value is an essential part of a YAPC, as it's a grassroots conference and follows two and half days of often intense discussions and learning. Both deserve a place in the Lightning Talks schedule, but I think they should appear as straight run at the end of the schedule. Thirdly the serious talks, should be clearly emphasised as such, and perhaps a 5 minute break is needed between the serious and comedy talks, to underline the difference. Lastly, what about the daunting prospect for a first timer getting up in front of 200 or more people, to try and convince and/or entertain the audience? Rather than a single full-on Lightning Talks session, I think it would benefit the first timers to have a smaller "Lightning Talk (First Timers Only)" session scheduled in amongst the other regular talks sessions, perhaps at the end of the last morning of the conference. This way a smaller number of attendees would likely come along, and the first timers might not feel so intimidate into getting up on stage to talk about their topic of choice. I'm eager to find ways to encourage new speakers to get involved, and I these changes might help. I think it's up to Geoff though to decide whether he wants to figure out a way to incorporate these suggestions, but I would like to see the speakers of future YAPCs given more opportunities to take part. After all it's their conference too
Of the Lightning Talks presented, the standout presentations for me, aside from Paul's "Parental monitoring", were "Perl Programming in Japanese", "Wetware Hacking: an introduction to NLP for geeks" and Cog's "What I learned in Houston". José has hit the Perl scene much in the same way Damian did several years. Their talents and styles are very different, but they have both energised events like YAPCs from the very moment they appeared at one. It's why Birmingham asked José to present a "How to get the most out of a YAPC" keynote last year. He understands humour, and knows how to use it appropriately. His lightning talk was no exception, and was a fitting end to the session. He finished off by mentioning his idea for a European Perl Tour, which is something he's been hatching for awhile, and something I would love to be involved with. My only worry would be whether travellers on the tour would get burnt out by the time they hit YAPC::Europe. But it would be nice to get more non-European based speakers over to Europe.
I know Bill Odom was a bit daunted having to perform the final keynote, but he carried it off well. It started with a bit of humour, ended with quite an uplifting tone, with a few good stories in between. The final scheduled session of the day though I've always found a bit odd. The Town Hall Meeting. I get the idea, and in principal it is a good idea, but I have yet to see it work very well. It always means the YAPC::NA ends on a downer, with people silently slipping away and never gives the conference the proper ending it deserves. In this regard the YAPC::Europe conferences do much better. There is a definite end and a final goodbye. The Town Hall Meetings always seem to ramble on until gets late and we're told to move out so the crew can tidy up. I'm not sure how these could be better presented, but I do feel that future YAPC::NAs need to think of a better of wrapping up. The Town Hall Meeting did raise a couple of good points though, and generated some discussion about writing a 'perlsocial' man page to better explain the Perl social activities, so that anyone looking to find more information has at least a central store to refer to. Edgar has started this off, and Cog is planning to take the action to develop it further under his role as Community Liaison for the TPF.
The biggest downfall for Houston, was actually something that was completely outside the organisers' control. Transportation. Houston has very limited local transportation infrastructure, to the point where everybody is expected to drive everywhere. Nowhere was this more apparent than when Cog and myself planned to visit The Space Center. We nearly booked a taxi, until another attendee came through with a car. Even getting to the Arrivals Dinner proved
Considering none of the organisers had ever been to a YAPC, and used experiences of previous organisers and the documentation I provided to Jim following Birmingham's experiences, I think they all did magnificently, and can consider themselves veterans of the elite club of Past YAPC Organisers
I managed to video Luke's "Juggling For Geeks" talk and several Lightning Talks, and also have several thousand photos to get through. I'll post links once I finally get them online, including our trip to the Space Center. For the videos, I want to compress the videos down to something more manageable, as Luke's 25 minute presentation currently takes up 1.5GB. I don't have a Mac, so don't have access to all those "cool" iTools(tm) that all the cool kids keep mentioning, but I would like to find something that can help me either on Win32 or (Debian/Ubuntu) Linux. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know?
That's all I can think of for now, but I'll post anything else as I remember it. Looking forward to next year now, wherever it might be.