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davebaker (4482)

davebaker
  davebakerNO@SPAMbenefitslink.com
http://benefitslink.com/about.html

I'm married and living in the mountains of western North Carolina with our 14-year-old son. I've loved Perl since 1995, when I started a web site that became my livelihood when I discovered employers would pay to put help wanted ads on it.

Journal of davebaker (4482)

Monday June 23, 2008
06:42 PM

Missing the sound of an elevated train roaring by...

[ #36758 ]
YAPC 2008 was great. I spent an entire week in the dorm (South Hall), and now I find myself missing the noise of the Green Line as it rattles through the center of IIT.

My room was just down the hall from the dorm floor's lounge; several hackers were glued to monitors on Sunday night when I arrived. I think I made a boob of myself by plopping down on the sofa to chit-chat, during what I later learned was a Perl 6 pre-conference hackathon (or was it Parrot?). If the project takes longer to complete than hoped, now you'll know why :-)

It appears the architects of IIT tried hard to make the campus interesting in a stark "we're engineers" kind of way. I think they tried too hard. Seemed plain weird and sterile to me.

Some of IIT is practically falling down. The metal framework of Hermann Hall is corroded badly inside.

Chicago's South Side has made amazing strides since I lived there (Hyde Park) from 1979-82. Many of the housing projects have been torn down, and I saw about a half dozen that were simply locked and closed, when riding in a car up State Street on the way to Cermak (for Chinatown). I felt safe on the IIT campus, but I wouldn't have wanted to walk or bike up State Street too very far.

Somebody coming to the conference walked from the loop down to IIT well after midnight. Yikes.

The kids at IIT running the dorm front desk were friendly. They looked so young! One woman wore a shirt that said "I won't need my morals until the morning." I wanted to explain to her how that approach is outrageously stupid and emotionally and potentially physically crippling, but I know she wouldn't have listened. I wouldn't have, at that age (and made all the same mistakes). It's a shame.

Almost all of the participants were younger than I am (closing in on 50). It was energizing; I didn't feel older, until encountering the mirrors in the men's washroom.

It had been a long time since I used a shower in a washroom; I forgot to bring a robe with me so there was always the dilemma of "should I wear jeans down to the shower and hang them on the hook, or just wrap the towel around my butt?" Fortunately for other first-floor residents I was not seen in transit in either mode.

It was amazing to me that everybody at the conference -- I mean every single person -- was so friendly. I never ate a lunch or dinner alone, because I'd approach somebody or some group and say "you guys going out to eat?" The answer was always, "sure, come on." I made at least 10 new friends.

It was refreshing to be able to talk about programming with programmers. I am only an amateur, although I do the Perl programming that runs my site's content management and a job board. Programmers were delighted to tell me about the joys of managers, commit bits and version control. These are things that I haven't learned from the online Perl resources. Programming for a living sounds hard, with pay that doesn't reflect the value of the programming to the enterprise. Maybe this is one reason why the conference attendees were happy to spend so much time talking about and thinking about Perl. You've got to truly love what you do in order to put up with the business side of $work, I'm guessing.

Some of the presentations could have been better, so hey, I want my $85 back (gawd, that's a ridiculously low figure). Several were outstanding. If you get a single really useful idea or insight from just one presentation then you've gotten your money's worth right there. For me, that would have been Adam Kennedy's "Nothing Can Go Wrong Again."

The auction raised about $3,000 for the Perl Foundation, I think. It was fun and well-handled by auctioneer Uri Guttman, the Jerry Garcia of Perl. The location was terrific -- a student union down in a basement, which included a bowling alley and pool tables. It was almost as fun as the boat trip in Toronto at YAPC 2005 (my only other YAPC).

Food at the student center adjacent to the dorm was pretty decent. Also, a lunchtime outdoor sausage grill arranged by Chicago.pm (I think) was cheap and delicious.

One of the reasons to attend a YAPC is to get a look at the people who are behind particular open-source projects or companies. I got to hear and meet JT Smith of WebGUI, Patrick A. Michaud of Solstice, and have lunch with Mark Stosberg and the other CGI::Application users/writers.

And yet people don't come to YAPC to be impressive. They come as they are, to talk about code. It's refreshingly free of marketing puff. Even the presenters from commercial firms talk about their code, and what theirs does that other modules/frameworks might not.

Some people are very impressive without trying. Engage them in a conversation about code and you find yourself sipping from a firehose. They're not only productive in numerical terms of modules, they also have logical, incisive thinking that I remember experiencing with law school professors. They take the code seriously but not themselves. They're wearing the doofy T-shirt and lanyard just like everybody else.

Josh McAdams is as dynamic and friendly in person as he sounds on his Perlcasts.

A couple of things were a little irritating about the mechanics of the conference; of course, nobody's a professional conference host and the conference overall was a big success. But for what it's worth:

  • Many of the speakers didn't speak clearly and directly into the microphone, or didn't hook it up right to a lapel, which made it hard to follow the speech, especially from the back of the room. The mikes were professionally wired to amps and speakers, but nobody was in charge of turning up the volume or adjusting the angle of the mike. Perhaps the sponsoring organization should formally introduce each speaker and then stand by to make sure the sound is working well. Sometimes the mike was turned up way too high.
  • Sometimes the rooms didn't have enough chairs. Somebody could run out and get some more folding chairs if they're needed.
  • The coffee ran out each day (the regular one).
  • On the second day, the map of conference rooms didn't go up until mid-morning. People need a big, clear map with arrows on it and a schedule posted next to it.
  • Some of the conference attendees are there for the first time, so it's not good to start the conference with as much administrative-type stuff as occurred on Monday. The Perl Foundation annual report would be better on the second or third day, and probably could be done in a 25-minute slot rather than 45. Also, the "guide to the Perl community" presentation is worth hearing and is amusing, but not as the first presentation. Newbies didn't understand many of the jokes, and those who are already in the Perl community probably didn't learn anything new.
  • Larry's keynote should have been the keynote -- the first presentation of the conference, or at least the first one after the "how to get the most out of a YAPC" presentation.
  • Larry's presentation was too dense for me. A keynote presentation needs to be more of an overview (state of the Onion) or take a "lighter" approach, such as the talk in Toronto in 2005 about what it takes to make a community.
  • Nametags (the thing on the lanyard) need to be EASY TO READ. An unfortunate choice of colors and fonts meant that it was basically impossible to read the other person's name tag. I thought this was a huge problem, given that one of the principal reasons for attending a YAPC is to meet people, especially those whom you've never met in person but whom you know from their nicks on PerlMonks and mailing lists. I was on the lookout for scrottie, for example, but there was little hope that I'd be able to figure out who he was. (I think he was there.) Perhaps replacement name tags could have been printed during the morning on Monday and supplied by the end of the day. It would have been worth doing.
  • Attendees should be given a list of the other people who are attending, showing their nicks, their real names, and their email addresses or some other address. That way it would be possible to get in touch with somebody afterward, if you forgot to get a card or to write down his or her email address.
  • The YAPC mailing list was a great way for people to keep in touch with each other during the conference, in addition to the IRC back channel. ("Anybody find my keys?", etc.)

I am very glad I made the trip. Thanks very much to Josh McAdams, Pete Krawczyk and everyone who worked to make YAPC 2008 possible. Great job.

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