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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Thursday July 17, 2003
01:12 PM

OSCON: tech

[ #13512 ]

Yes yes, Nat, enough about your friends and your conference scheduling toys. What about the sessions? What was hot? What was not?

RT was definitely hot. Everyone I spoke to who had been in an RT session came away raving. I even had one guy send me email looking for the online evaluation forms because he'd had to run away after the RT tutorial but wanted to make sure to give his feedback. Jesse was talking about RT work he'd done for a UK security organization, building an incident response system out of RT. It's apparently the only free one of its kind. As always, I predict RT will go bigger and better places.

Ruby and PostgreSQL were both topics that I'd heard a few people talking about last year, but which everyone seemed to be talking about this year. The war between PostgreSQL and MySQL continues to rage, which is disappointingly stupid--they should be trying to steal installations from Oracle, just as Perl and Python shouldn't be fighting with each other, they should be taking the battle to C++ and Java.

George Dyson's keynote on Von Neumann was utterly brilliant. He really knew who his audience was, and targeted the talk directly at them. He did a great job of drawing parallels between the very early days and the present time, with some hilarious slides showing the trials and tribulations of the early computer hackers. The scribbled paper showing "Let a word (40 binary digits) be 2 orders, each order = C(A) = Command {1-10,21-30} + Address {11-20,31-39}" was incredible--as he said, it's like the "Let There Be Light" of computing.

Ward Cunningham was the talk of everyone, whether his fit project or his Wiki fame. Another Portlander, Dave Thomas, was also the subject of much discussion--his Ruby tutorial was very well-received, and his Pragmatic Programmer book garnered a lot of attention.

Robert Lefkowitz gave a great talk about business models. I cornered him afterward and asked him "so your talk basically seemed to consist of `hey open source people, if you believed [this thing that you say about open source], you'd do [this self-destructive logical corollary]'--did you mean that?" and he laughed and confessed that he had originally written the talk with a conclusion but then realized he didn't really think his conclusion was right, so he turned it into more of a "food for thought" talk. It was great--I have it on video, so expect it to go up as soon as I figure out Final Cut Pro :-)

Maciej Ceglowski was the Perl find of the conference for me. He spoke at our etech, and came highly recommended by Rael, Schuyler, and Ken Williams. So I made a point of giving him a session (which he turned into the very successful "building a better search engine" talk) and a lightning talk (in which he talked about his archive of raw blog material and the kinds of information you can extract from it). He's really thoughtful and razor-edge smart, and reminded me a lot of Sean Burke (but without the frenetic blog).

I heard both sides of Perl6 at the conference. Some folks were enthused, particularly by Damian Conway's utterly mindbuggering implementation of a heap of Perl6 patterns in under a thousand lines of Perl. He very cleverly reused one of the most complex parts of Perl5, its regular expression engine. Larry (Wall) also raised interest with his announcement of Ponie, Arthur Bergman's project to reimplement Perl 5 on Parrot (yay Fotango for sponsoring this!). But I also heard a few people (including one I respect a lot) saying "if Perl 6 doesn't come soon, I'm giving up". I tried to encourage them to take my philosophy: I'll worry about Perl 6 when it's something I can install on my machines. Until then, I'll worry about Perl 5 and what I can do with it.

The Ticketmaster (aka CitySearch) talk on open source patronage had everybody talking. Ticketmaster pay for Stas Bekman fulltime to work on mod_perl. Sean Moriarty, who gave the talk, presented very convincing arguments to the effect that Ticketmaster get lower costs and better issue response from this system than they do from their commercial software and support. I (and everyone else at OSCON) would love to see this patronage model grow and spread. (Major kudos to Ticketmaster for hiring another great mod_perl guy, whose name I'm not sure I can reveal at this point--these guys, like Amazon, are hiring up the cream of Perl because they see clear business benefits for doing so)


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  • The war between PostgreSQL and MySQL continues to rage, which is disappointingly stupid--they should be trying to steal installations from Oracle, just as Perl and Python shouldn't be fighting with each other, they should be taking the battle to C++ and Java.

    The cause of the infighting is obvious. Everyone likes to think they've made the right choice, so everything else must automatically become the wrong choice. This is sad. Personally, I think Java is a fine language -- if you have the right problem

    • Personally, I think Java is a fine language -- if you have the right problem space. I once found myself in the position of recommending Java over Perl due to this, but have listened to people be absolutely astonished that I could even think such a thing.
      I say with no malice or sarcasm: I'd be fascinated to know what this problem space was.

      You are what you think.
      • No worries, I realize your question was legitimate and while I'm answering at length, don't take that to mean I misunderstood your intent :)

        I won't go into detail about the particular project, but as a general guideline, I think it's fair to say that while Perl can tremendously increase the productivity of individual programmers, Java is still a safer language for many programmers.

        In Java, you have to go out of your way to forget to check whether or not your file access was successful. There's not real

        • Hm.

          I guess there's a certain divergence in philosophy to some degree. "We want it to be easy to produce powerful things" versus "We want it to be hard to really screw up too badly". (I suspect highly that it makes it sound like I'm not an advocate of the second view. Philosophically, I do disagree with it. I suppose it's like the difference between anarchy and "relative policing" -- if you've got only self-restriction, you have a theoretically high freedom to do good things, but there's always some sc


          You are what you think.
        • Perl is concise and powerful; Java is verbose and safe.
          That's probably the best two-sentence summary of the languages I've read.
      • Just to echo Ovid's points above....

        I was talking about Perl with a hacker who is now managing a well-funded startup. Now that he's a Real Manager, he has to look at everything with conservative glasses.

        If he had a project in mind, had good Perl programmers available, and was reasonably confident that he could find more of them to extend/replace his team, then he'd spec out a project to use Perl. Yes, he'd pay more per programmer and they'd get done faster, but his primary goal is risk mitigation, not

  • Maybe that is why I have been ignoring Perl 6 ... so I just won't get anxious about it or get my expectations up or whatnot. But really, it is more along the lines of what you said about Perl 5 ... I am busy doing stuff. I won't worry about something that doesn't exist when I can do stuff with something that does.