Monthly Archives: August 2012

Vale John Hunter, author of Matplotlib

In my BSc(Hons) thesis, which I submitted in 2010, I commenced the acknowledgements as follows:

First, a hearty thanks to people whom I do not know: The developers of Python, Numpy, Scipy, the Python Imaging Library, Matplotlib, Weka, and OpenCV; you have collectively saved me much boring work throughout this past year, for which I am truly grateful.”

So to hear of the sudden death of John Hunter, creator and maintainer of Matplotlib was truly saddening. Matplotlib is one of those pieces of software absolutely instrumental in Python’s takeup as a language in the fields of maths, the sciences and engineering. When I was a student, I’d find myself using Matplotlib very often — it was the best there is.

Tragically, John Hunter was in his mid-forties, and left behind a wife, and three young daughters. Numfocus has created a memorial fund to care for and educate his daughters. I’ll be contributing to this fund as a way of thanking the Hunter family for John’s contribution to my own work.

Fernando Perez of IPython fame has written up a substantial post about John’s contribution to the community. PSF member, and PyCon US chair, Jesse Noller has also written a tribute to John.

It’s a somewhat strange feeling — coming to realise the contribution of one person only after he died. Such is the way of Open Source — the impact of the tools we use and develop become more important than the people who develop them. And sometimes, developers are just happy to let things be that way.

On the Tasmanian Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2012

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled Python community discussion for something completely different.

The Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2012 passed the lower house of the Tasmanian Parliament today. As a passionate supporter of marriage equality, it would be wrong to not let this moment go unnoticed.

I read the bill in full this week (you can find the text of it from the Tasmanian Parliament web site), and was quite disappointed by it. Basically, the bill defines an institution called a “Same-Sex Marriage” under Tasmanian Law. “Same-Sex Marriages” are defined as follows:

“the lawful union of two people of the same sex, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”

That is to say, it defines a union, available exclusively to same-sex couples. There are many provisions of the bill that I personally hold grave concerns about, and I feel that celebrating the passage of this law as a victory is counterproductive to those fighting for marriage equality at a Federal Level.

My friend, Michael Cordover, who’s more deeply versed in the law than I am, posted the following to his Facebook feed this evening, and I asked him to reproduce it on this blog so that it might reach a greater audience.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything he’s written (I’m not going to be drawn on the constitutionality of the bill), but his words have encapsulated most of my thoughts, but with the added gravitas of someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.

I am a deeply passionate supporter of marraige equality. I think there is no rationally based oposition to permitting same-sex marriage which is not homophobic. But I do not support what the lower house of Tasmanian Parliament has done today. Here’s why.

Because I support equality

The Tasmanian bill, by necessity, produces “same sex marriages” which are a different institution to that which we know as marriage in Australia. The entire basis of the argument as to its validity under the constitution (and we’ll get to that in a second) is that it covers something different to the Commonwealth Marriage Act. I want homosexual marriages to be recognised. These are civil unions with a misleading name. It is a separate and lesser institution. It’s not even the separate-but-equal, which I maintain is not equal at all.

Because it’s unconstitutional

The argument goes that because the Commonwealth Marriage Act defines marriage to mean only that which is between a man anad a woman, it is not intended to exclude marriages between same sex couples. As marriage is a concurrent power under s 51 of the Constitution, that means states can legislate for same-sex marraige. This relies on a claim that the Marriage Act was not intended, at the time of the 2004 amendment, to “cover the field” which includes same-sex marriage. I have been wrong before about High Court decisions but I think any argument that this bill is not invalid by virtue of s 109 of the Constitution is academic at best. I don’t think a High Court decision to that effect would be good law, I don’t think it would be based on a proper examination of the issues, and I certainly don’t think its likely given both the way in which the Court has interpreted s 109 in the past and the way the current Court has been dealing with questions of the division of powers.

Because it promotes complacency

The message that is coming out is that this is the end. That Tasmania has finally done what the Commonwealth refuses to do so we’re first and we’ve done the right thing. We haven’t. If one person says – and I guarantee [one] will – that we don’t need a change to the Commonwealth Marriage Act because of the passage of a Tasmanian Act, that is a harm. Does anyone think instead that people will start lobbying for change to the Commonwealth law as a result? Perhaps. Perhaps it’ll be a “well it didn’t destroy the world” argument. I mean, just because we already have that argument for Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United States, doesn’t mean it won’t be strengthened by adding Tasmania.

Because it’s misleading

This I think is the worst thing. If this passes the upper house, people will get married and they will expect it to stick. They will be devastated when their marriage isn’t recognised by Commonwealth law. They will be devastated when their marriage isn’t recognised in Victoria. They will be devastated when they find all the red tape they’ve gone through is ignored by everyone outside this tiny little island. And they will be most devastated when the High Court finds that the law is unconstitutional. These people will be hurt because the Tasmanian Parliament is making a promise on which it can’t deliver.

A few final thoughts

That the Commonwealth Marriage Act discriminates against same-sex couples is simply unjustifiable. That moves to amend that Act have failed is disheartening. This is my number one issue. I believe it’s a heinous form of discrimination that is easy to fix. I believe the purported political gains are meaningless. I try to convince everyone I meet of my position and because of this issue – like few, if any other issues – I will stop talking to people. I have left friendships for their failure to support same-sex marriage; I have argued for hours on the topic; I’ve pursued lines that I know I can never win; and I’ve cried when people remain unconvinced. Believe me when I say I want marriage equality. But that’s not what this is. This is a sham. This is the Tasmanian Parliament making a statement it’s made before, but now with a promise it can’t keep. So I don’t support it, and I’m not ashamed to say so.

Michael’s words are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

Memoirs of a PyCon Australia organiser: Part 1 (of no idea how many)

This past weekend saw the staging of the third PyCon Australia conference. It’s been a very long time coming, and the subject of countless hours of hard work by myself (chasing sponsors, arranging to fill a programme, and ensuring delegates attended the conference), not to mention my amazing co-organisers, Joshua Hesketh, Matthew D’Orazio, and Josh Deprez.

PyCon Australia 2012

We held the conference in Hobart, my home city, and the capital city of Tasmania – this follows two successful conferences in Sydney. Despite a lot of scepticism about Hobart as a venue for a conference, we managed to attract 240 signups (placing us somewhere in the middle of the first two Sydney conferences in terms of attendance (woo!)).

CodeWars at PyCon Australia 2012

The first conference activity, the CodeWars programming tournament, started on Friday evening, with teams of up to 4 competing to solve programming problems against each other on projectors. This was a great event, which let delegates meet and greet each other before the conference started, and we’re very thankful to our event sponsor, Kogan, for helping us to make it happen.

This year, we were graced by the presence of two overseas keynote speakers –– Mark Ramm, the current engineering manager on Canonical’s Juju project, and Kenneth Reitz, the chief Python guy at Heroku.

PyCon Australia 2012 - Opening

Mark’s passionate and entertaining keynote delved into the murky waters of product management, and showed that applying the tools of testing and scientific process to product development and evaluation was something well in the reach of everyday engineers, even those with small projects. A smattering of war stories from his days leading product management at SourceForge rounded the talk off. It was a great way to start the conference, and it really helped set the informal, enthusiastic tone of the event.

Kenneth Reitz at PyCon Australia 2012

Kenneth’s talk dwelled on his philosophies of designing libraries in Python. He’s the developer of the python-requests HTTP library –– a library that has taken its rightful place as the obvious way to do HTTP in Python. His keynote gave us some strong insights into places where Python can make itself more accessible to newcomers, as well as being easier to remain involved for developers who use Python in their day-to-day lives. Kenneth’s presence was a great asset to the conference –– through his keynote, and also by making himself readily available to chat with delegates in the hallway track. Hopefully we’ll be seeing him back at PyCon Australia in future years, with more of his Heroku colleagues.

PyCon Australia 2012

Our conference dinner was held at the beautiful Peppermint Bay restaurant near Woodbridge (some 30km South of Hobart); delegates were delivered there by the fast catamaran, the MV Marana. We saw some excellent views of Hobart at twilight – the silhouettes of Mt Wellington and the Hobart Hills were quite spectacular. Unfortunately, the river got a bit choppy near the entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux channel, which left a few of our delegates feeling a bit worse for wear. Luckily for us, the dinner itself was a fantastic evening of socialising, and finding out about other delegates’ interest in Python. It was a great event, with great food, and we’re going to have a lot of difficulty topping it.

PyCon Australia 2012 Sprints

There are countless people who made an amazing effort to help improve our conference, including our volunteers, our speakers (some of whom stepped in at the very last minute to help improve our conference), Ritual Coffee (who produced their own custom blend for the conference, named “African Swallow“, no less!), the venue staff at Wrest Point (especially Kelly Glass, who’s put up with my worrying about conference rooms for several months now), our sponsors (who helped to keep the conference itself affordable), and many many more. It’s helped make my life as an organiser so much more tolerable.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I expect that I’ll have a follow-up to this post, dwelling on what we did right as an organising team, and how we can improve for next year. Incidentally, the conference will be run in Hobart again next year – if you’re in a position to help out with sponsorship, shoot me an e-mail at, and I’ll get a prospectus to you as soon as possible!