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:
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.