Monthly Archive for July, 2009

OSCON 2009

It’s time again for the annual OSCON report.

OSCON 2009

The conference

Every other OSCON that I’ve been to (since 2003) has been in Portland, and in some ways the two have become synonymous for me. I’m not taking the move to San Jose very well. There are a variety of little things, like the fact that you could end up walking 1/4 of a mile to get from one talk to another only to end up reversing the trip for the next session. At the end of Thursday, I bagged going to a talk because I was tired of walking back and forth. I had a bad experience (much worse than usual) with the WiFi connection in the hotel where I was staying, something that I don’t tolerate very well. The fact that the hotel acknowledged the problem and then offered drink vouchers as an apology didn’t help any. I had to ask the checkout agent to remove the charges for the days that I got under 20kb/s. If you take the view (which I do) that OSCON really starts at 6pm and ends at 3am, then downtown San Jose doesn’t really hold a candle to downtown Portland. My understanding is that OSCON only has a one year contract for San Jose, so maybe we’ll get something else next year. I hope so.

Another thing about OSCON relates to the attendees themselves. I was unsurprised to hear that attendance was down. The combination of the economy and the move away from Portland could explain some of that. The lunch hall seemed pretty full (and the food was very good for a conference lunch – maybe the best I’ve ever had), and it seemed a decent size to me. What I noticed was something else. Normally when I show up at OSCON, even on the first day of tutorials, it is pretty hard to go very far before I run into someone that I know. This year that was not the case, and I don’t feel that it improved that much once the conference proper began. In combination with the move to San Jose, this had a pretty major impact on the value that I got out of the conference.

The talks

OSCON 2009

This year I wound up all over the map session wise. I took in some sessions on tools: The SD distributed bug tracker, and Theo Schlossnagle’s talk on his new monitoring system, Reconnoiter. I also attended Tom Preston-Warner’s talk on github. His talk ended up being much more about git in general. I was hoping that he would have more to say on the social/community behaviors that they’ve observed on projects on GitHub. There’s not a lot of data on how the use of DVCS’s is impacting the social/community dynamics of open source projects, and the folks at github are in a unique position to observe some of this. Maybe next year.

I also continued to gather more information on things related to cloud computing. In this case there was some storage stuff in the form of Neo4J and Cassandra. Adam Jacob’s s talk on Chef was well attended despite being in the last session block of the conference, and people stayed well past the ending time for the Q&A. Reconnoiter also falls into the cloud tools space. I attended Kirrily Robert, Yoz Grahame, and Jason Douglas’ talk titled “Forking Encouraged: Folk Programming, Open Source, and Social Software Development“, hoping to glean some insight or data into “fork oriented” open source. That wasn’t really what I got. The talk was fairly philosophical for a while. The most interesting (and surprising) part of the presentation was a brief demonstration of Metaweb’s new Freebaseapps.com, which is a development environment for Freebase which embodies some of the principles discussed in the philosophical portion of the talk. From my cloud computing oriented point of view, it looks to me like an “IDE for the cloud”. I need to dig into this a bit more.

One topic which was brand new to me this year was R, which is a functional language for statistical computing and graphics. I’d been hearing a little bit of buzz on R via Twitter, and I was just invited to join the advisory board for REvolution Computing, a startup that is working to foster the R community and to support those users that want a more commercialized offering of R. Since I didn’t know much about R, I found Micheal Driscoll’s talk “Open Source Analytics: Visualization and Predictive Modeling of Big Data with the R Programming Language“. Analytics of all kinds are going to be much more important as the amount of data in web applications grows. If you are interested in big data, and don’t know about R, that seems like a problem. I know that I am going rectify my own personal lack of knowledge.

My talk

As in previous years, I gave a talk at the conference. One of the presentations that I’ve done in several places has a large section about the problem of programming concurrent systems, motivated by the arrival of multicore processors. For OSCON, I took that section of the talk and expanded it into a session of its own. Despite two one hour out loud run throughs, I still got the pacing a little bit wrong and had to rush at the end to get all the content in. If I’m not careful this is going to wind up turning into a three hour tutorial. I’ve embedded the slideshare version for those of you that are interested.

Photography

OSCON is a significant event for me photographically, since OSCON 2005 happened days after I got my first digital SLR. It’s also one of the times that I usually see my friend James Duncan Davidson, who has been one of the people that has helped me along my photographic journey.   

This year things were a little different. Regular readers will know that I am getting a little burned out on conference photographs. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and shot a lot of pictures. After a while, they start to look and feel the same. It’s hard for me to both concentrate fully on the conference, the talks, the hallway track, etc, as well as concentrating on doing stuff that would be interesting photographically. All of which is a long way of saying, “I shot less. A lot less”.

One other reason that I don’t feel bad about shooting less at OSCON is that Duncan is there. Or normally he is. This year, he was absent because he got the nod to be the main stage photographer for TED Global 2009. Those of you who follow Duncan will know that when he needs a second camera he turns to Pinar Ozger. They’ve been working together for a while, but I’ve never met Pinar in person, because I don’t usually end up at the two camera events, and the one time that she, Duncan, and I were all in the same place, we just never ended up meeting. So this was the year that I got to meet Pinar – we bumped into each other at the OSCON speaker’s party and had a great chat. This was also my first time to really get a sense for her eye. When you second shoot for someone, you try to follow the lead of the main photographer. So I am the most familiar with Pinar’s work when she’s working with Duncan. Since she was the lead this year, I (and everybody else) got to see her eye at work. There are some wonderfully artistic shots in her coverage of the show.

One person that you’ll see in Pinar’s set is photographer Julian Cash, the head of the Human Creativity Project. I first met Julian at ApacheCon in San Diego back in 2005. At the time, I didn’t really know much about photography, and I didn’t really get to see much of what he had done with his light painting portraits. Today, I have have much better appreciation for his light paintings. He did one of me at the MySQL conference earlier this year, and he did a bunch at OSCON too.

The photographic tradition at OSCON is going strong.