Yearly Archives: 2012

More from Bruce…

Hello! Have you missed me? It’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on what’s happening in the world of PyCon Australia, so I figure it’s probably about time we did that. And it’s good that I’m doing so, because a lot of things have happened since the last time I did so!

Talks, talks, and more talks

Our Call for Proposals closed its doors on Friday 4 May, and we’ve been absolutely blown away by the level of response that we’ve got from Python developers around Australia and the rest of the world. We received 59 proposals to speak, across three categories of presentation, which is far and away the biggest response this conference has had in its short history. So, to all of you who proposed presentations, give yourselves a pat on the back.

To put this into perspective — we have approximately 30 positions that we can fit presentations into. Our review team (who are, by the way, doing an incredibly awesome job) have the mammoth task of figuring out which talks will actually make it into the conference: they’ll need to cull approximately half of the proposals that we’ve received. It’s something that we really weren’t expecting, but I think the review team are up to the task.

With this in mind, it’s going to take us a few days more than expected to sort through the proposals, and we won’t be meeting our deadline of 18 May for sending out notifications. It won’t be too much later than that, but we still apologise for the delay. If you did submit a talk, don’t worry too much about missing out on Early Bird registration rates — we’ll be extending Early Bird pricing through to June 30 for everyone who has submitted a talk. I hope this is OK by you!

We want you to come to our conference

And the best way to make sure that you can actually come to the conference is by signing up for our Early Bird registrations! These have been open for just over two weeks now; and with three weeks left to go, just over a third of our available early bird tickets have been sold. Our early bird registrations represent a substantial discount on our normal registration rates, and they also guarantee you a spot at our conference dinner (which is both space-limited, and is seriously not to be missed).

Early bird regos are available for the first 60 Enthusiast or Professional tickets sold; all the relevant info is at our website.

… and that means all of you!

We’ll be reprising the very successful gender diversity grants programme that PyCon Australia launched with Google last year; in a much-expanded form. Last year these grants helped many deserving women attend the conference with subsidised registration, and some travel allowance. This year, the grants programme will offer travel assistance to many more deserving female delegates. We’ll reveal more details later, but needless to say, we’re very excited.

fin.

Well, that’s it for now, I hope you’re as excited about the conference as I am. It’s shaping up to be really quite special, and I can’t wait to share more of our plans with you. See you in August, and get registering!

PyCon Australia early bird registrations now open!

For fear of spamming EVERYWHERE with the news, I include just the tl;dr:

tl;dr: PyCon Australia early bird registrations are now open! Find out more at http://2012.pycon-au.org/register/prices, including details of our accommodation programme.

The full media release on the opening of registration can be found at http://2012.pycon-au.org/media/news/15

Hope we see you all registered soon!

Talk — Android: The year of Linux on the palmtop?

Here’s my talk from the Hobart TasLUG meeting yesterday (18 April 2012) on the features of Android from the point of view of a Linux user — both from a technical perspective, and issues arising from Android’s unique status as an Open Source OS for cellphones. If you want to download the video, you can download it, or watch it in the embedded format later in this post… Enjoy!

OMFG! OSCON!

Since I enjoyed presenting on Android development at last year’s OSCON in Portland, it seems as though I shall be returning to do it again this year!

I’m presenting Android-Fu: Awesome apps for Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond at OSCON 2012. It’ll be on Tuesday 17 July at 9:00am, and will be a comprehensive look at things that modern Android tutorials should teach you, but tend not to.

On a related note, I’ll be travelling through the USA a bit on either side of OSCON. I’ll be in New York from (late on) Monday 9 July through Friday 13 July, and Seattle from Saturday 21 July through Monday 23 July. So if you happen to be reading this and would like to direct me at coffee whilst I’m there, let me know!

More pontification on alcohol at conferences

This post started off as a reply to a comment (by “Alan”) on my previous post on this topic, but it got a bit long-winded, and raised a few clarifications of my own viewpoints on this matter. So it’s turned into a post of its own.

So, before I start this, nothing against the organisers or team surrounding OSCON. I loved my experience speaking, and attending the main conference event, and I’m coming back to OSCON to speak again this year. The reason why I pick on it is because it’s the one large American conference that I’ve been to, and it provides a nice contrast to the grassroots-style conferences that I’ve been involved with back home. It also exhibits some very specific examples of fostering that “culture of exclusion” that could be fixed with a few minor policy changes.

So, without further ado, here’s me addressing the points in Alan’s comment.

Could it be that this and the “brogrammer” culture is a problem that is more present at JSConf and Ruby conferences than Python?

I certainly agree that this culture does peak around various types of communities — for instance, Ryan’s post on the “Culture of Exclusion” speaks very specifically of JSConf and various Ruby groups, and in my own experience this sort of culture doesn’t seem to be prevalent at PyCons. However, to say that it’s attached to a small subset of communities is probably quite unfair — OSCON is very much a multi-community conference, but there’s still quite the drinking culture attached to it. Likewise, it seems to me that the Ruby community in Australia isn’t quite as drinking-centric as the examples that Ryan put forward.

You don’t hear anything about sexist COBOL programmers or late night binging at Java conferences from what I can tell. Even PHP seems to have grown up.

I think the likelihood of these sorts of things to occur really does depend on the level of “community” that is attached to a given language or technology. As an example here, people doing Java coding are almost certainly doing so because they work for in a corporate environment. Ruby and JS people are doing so because they work in a “startup” environment, or they’re doing it for fun. The companies that form the founding groups around a conference will often bring their culture along with them. It’s interesting to consider why this doesn’t happen so much at Python conferences. I don’t have any particular answers here — indeed, it’s quite the paradox, because I’d have considered Python to be more of a “startup” type language, and one would assume that would bring the “startup” culture into it. Perhaps it speaks of the values of those who started gatherings for Python coders?

Are these excesses a problem at conferences in general? Is this an American thing? Or even a Ruby/JS thing?

Is it a problem with conferences or communities, or is it a much more widespread cultural issue (as in e.g. American youth culture) that has just become more visible for us recently?

Excess is something that needs to be managed — it’s very easy for a conference organiser to say “yes, you can provide an open bar at this event” to a sponsor, and sponsors get quite an amount of good will from it (free alcohol doesn’t upset people, non-drinkers won’t speak up). It’s also pretty clear to me that if an open bar is offered, there’ll be a group of people who will take it up, regardless of the community that centres around the conference.

So the conferences that suffer from this sort of problem are the ones which either don’t have a policy of limitation of alcohol sponsorship, or those that actively encourage a culture of drinking (the sort of things that Ryan Funduk talks about in his article). I doubt there’d be open bars at any conference if there weren’t sponsors who were willing to fund them.

The onus is therefore on conference organisers to make sure that they don’t encourage binge drinking. In particular, this involves limiting the amount of alcohol sponsorship a conference is willing to accept — we at PyCon Australia are doing this by only providing tokens for drinks at our alcohol sponsored events (with the exception of at the dinner, where the open bar is time-limited, and comes with food and other entertainment).

What distinguishes conferences and communities that have this problem from those that do not?

Conferences can send out a message about this culture: For example, offering OSCON offers free attendance to the drinking events, but not to the main content of the conference; this can be compared with Linux.conf.au, where you have to pay extra to attend the drinking session. The contrasts between these arrangements provide quite the subtext between the values of the two conferences — intentional or not. In my view, OSCON providing such a ticket says that the “base level” experience of the conference is one where you go to all the parties, and the talks and tutorials are the “added extras”. For LCA, it’s the other way around.

So in summary, there are plenty of factors that surround the discussion of alcohol at conferences. I think it’s an important discussion to have, not least because it presents as a diversity argument in very much the same way as the gender diversity argument has presented itself over the last few years — conferences should always be looking at the messages they send out about the communities they wish to foster, and ensuring that they’re inclusive towards everyone in that culture.

Do Australian tech conferences suffer from “A Culture of Exclusion”? How do we avoid it?

I spotted this interesting article by Ryan Funduk, on the culture of exclusion generated by piss-up parties at tech conferences — primarily at conferences in America, but the issue is certainly prevalent in other places.

I attended OSCON last year, and whilst OSCON is clearly not as bad as the type of events that have been highlighted in this writeup, there were still plenty of events that were promoted by the conference and their sponsors, but clearly served only as an opportunity to booze up some delegates. In fact, there was at least one such party advertised in the conference schedule each night — peaking on the Wednesday where there were three such conference parties advertised on the conference schedule, cleverly paced for two hours so that delegates could move on to each of the parties as the previous one wound up.

I personally feel as though these sorts of events have no place being actively promoted by the conference schedule. There are several good reasons for this that are all detailed in the parent article, but they all boil down to the fact that not everyone drinks. Parties where the key attraction is drinking only attracts those who drink. By advertising such events as part of the programme, they create cliques within the conference community that aren’t defined by the community that the conference serves to support.

Worse still is when such events are not run with alternatives available, because this strongly promotes the subtext that drinking is the only way to socialise at the conference. So a delegate who doesn’t drink will not fit in to any part of the conference, because there is no well-established way for non-drinkers to find each other.

As an active participant in tech conferences in Australia, it’s important to reflect on criticisms of such conferences in other countries, as well as here, to make sure that we’re providing a culture that actively encourages any delegate who chooses to attend — regardless of age, gender or lifestyle choice.

In the case of conferences run in Australia, I don’t believe that the issues of Alcohol-driven events are near as much of a problem as they are in America.

At Linux.conf.au, since the demise of the Google Party (an event very much brought over by American employees of Google), I don’t think I’ve seen a single event associated with the conference where drinking was the sole purpose of the event. One exception of this is the Professional Delegates Networking Session, however, I have always seeked to run a non-alcohol driven alternative against it. As a non-drinker for most of the LCAs I’ve been to, I don’t think I’ve lost out by not participating in the drinking.

At PyCon Australia, we’ve been careful to not offer up any events with an open tab — companies who want to sponsor alcohol have to do so in a way that ensures that the amounts provided are limited, and any foray into dangerous territory comes at the expense of the delegates. There is no conference event planned without a defined activity, and in every case, the presence of a bar at the event is clearly a distant second in terms of priorities for the organisers.

One of the great successes over the past few years in Australia has been ensuring that toxic cultures within the tech community aren’t tolerated. I think it’s imporant that we look at everything we do with a critical eye. I’m sure that our record on avoiding the fostering of an alcohol culture at our events isn’t spotless, and it’s one that we should look over with as critical an eye as we use to look over issues of gender or sexuality.

It’s definitely my intention to do this as I continue to put together PyCon — constantly looking at what we can do as Australian-based conference organisers do to ensure that the culture of alcohol doesn’t take over from the culture of the technology that we’re gathering for?

Update: I’ve written a further post on this topic. Do try it.

A personal history of TUCS

After three years in the job, I’ve finally relinquished the role of President of the University of Tasmania Computing Society (better known as TUCS). The years I spent as President spanned the last year and a half of my time at uni, and the first year and a half outside of that life — it’s something that’s been a pretty constant thread over the past few years, and it’d be a shame if I didn’t take a moment to dwell on my time in the role.

My first year representing TUCS was 2008: I’d come back to uni having attended my first Linux.conf.au in Melbourne, fresh with the knowledge that it would be held in Hobart the following January. The previous computing society at UTAS, the Internet Developers Society had elected to change its name at the previous year’s AGM, and with that new start, I decided to run for the exec of the society. I didn’t really have any aims at the time I ran, save for making the Uni computing community closer to the Open Source movement that I knew and loved at the time.


It was with that that I decided to organise the first of the TUCS Tech Talks. It was a talk by myself on introductory Python. I think I spent the best part of two weeks writing, tweaking and rehearsing that talk, and learning how to get screen recordings going. To my astonishment, the talk was amazingly well-recieved: the room was packed, lots of questions were asked. But much more than the success of my own talk, what astonished me was that people at the barbecue after the talk were telling me about how they wanted to present their own. And a few weeks later, so it was. And the following semester, we had talks every other week, on topics ranging from StarCraft strategy to iPhone development — the advent of tech talks at TUCS exposed a strong enthusiasm for sharing knowledge with others, and it brought our society into great stead with students, staff and the broader tech community in Hobart.


It was at the end of that year that I nominated as President, and happily, I was elected so. And when January rolled about, Linux.conf.au came to our home campus. Whilst TUCS wasn’t really involved with the event as much as I’d have liked, I did spot an opportunity for TUCS to contribute a small part — we ran a barbecue for student and hobbyist delegates to LCA as a way to help our members to engage with the rest of Australia’s tech community. This ended up being the first Unprofessional Delegates’ Networking Session, and it’s an event that I have continued to run at LCA ever since — for the 2012 conference in Ballarat, we brought the UnPDNS format back to the format that we ran for the first time in 2009, and the mood was as good this year as it was in 2009. It’s an event that I’m proud of starting, and the event happened because TUCS members contributed so much to getting that first UnPDNS organised in 2009.


Our Tech Talk schedule improved substantially that year, too. We had the first of our talks from then-Ph.D student, Jonathan Adamczewski on development for PS3 devices. He’s presented almost every semester since then, and his topics have been both diverse and exceedingly in-depth on whatever topic he chose to cover — my personal favourite was a talk showing how “Hello World” programs actually work on Linux systems. We also had the first of our talks by Paul Fenwick — that year, he packed out the tiny seminar room we were using for tech talks with his fascinating insight into the info you could glean from the Facebook API.


The other great discovery that arose from the talks series at TUCS was our frequent series of Lightning Talks — once per semester, students came to share three minutes of whatever insanity they decided they wanted to talk about. We’ve had talks on everything from Alex Berry’s experiments with the postal service; to self-devised esoteric programming languages; to buyers guides for headphones. These talks turned out to be a lot more fun than I could ever have hoped for, and they’ve been a great show of the minds that the society has attracted over the years.


And so it was that last year, I found myself away from Hobart on a very frequent basis, and I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t contribute to TUCS on the level that I had in previous years. Though I tried to give up the post last year, with nobody to replace me, I found myself in situ for a third year. The time I did have to contribute to the role of President last year was spent finding and preparing suitable replacements to come on board the next year. Thankfully, new members with huge amounts of drive started to appear — we ran end-of-semester events for the first time since 2009. We ran an end-of-year Quiz Night, which was a huge success for the society, and showed that the society had strength and enthusiasm to continue on for years to come.


Of course, my own contribution as President over those years did not a society make. The execs who I served with over the years made the society great. The treasurers, Michael Ford, Luke Hovington and Matt D’Orazio all helped make sure that the society was profitable every year I was involved, and keeping on top of grants from the Union. Matt, along with Tim Nugent made sure that the LAN parties that IDS had run for years before continued on well into the TUCS era. Luke Hovington, our tireless sysadmin, kept our old box alive on duck tape and twine, and is overseeing the transition to a new server box with Matt. And Eloise Ducky, who went from being the squeaky year 11 student who showed up on societies day in 2009 to being the person whipping me and the rest of the society into shape as 2011 came to a close.


And so, my term in charge of the society has come to an end — I feel that my hope of creating a community in which students could share their love of computing with others was met; along with keeping the society as bridge between students and university staff, and the IT industry more broadly. They’re goals that a Computing Society at a university should hold at the forefront of what they do, and I think it’s the reason why TUCS is held in high regard.

I hope the years that I spent in the society have changed it for the better — it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s work I’ve enjoyed, and it’s a role that I’ve greatly relished filling. And thanks to all of the TUCS members who elected me to the role in the first place, but saw enough in me to re-elect me to the role for the following two years. I hope you think it’s been worth it.

Whilst I wasn’t the first President of the society, I was the last. The AGM last year removed the roles of President and Vice-President in favour of holding two Co-Presidents’ offices. I’m sure Eloise, along with Ben Lea will fill these roles with great enthusiasm and with the goal of making the society the best it can be for its members (take care of my baby for me, OK?). Whilst I’m staying on in the executive as a general representative for the rest of this year, it’s going to be interesting to not be in charge of the place.

Photo credits: Adam Harvey, various photos by myself.

Speak at PyCon Australia 2012

February was a pretty big month for PyCon Australia organisation, we finally got our new website up and running, and our Call for Proposals is finally open. We’ve even got our first keynote presenter lined up (hush hush).

Nick Hodge at PyCon Australia 2010
Of course, opening a Call for Proposals doesn’t make a conference just happen. We need people to submit talks now. In particular, we’d like for you to submit something. Even better, our Call for Topics (which has been open since January) has turned up some great trends for what people want to see. Perhaps you have something to say on one of these topics? We want to hear from you!

In-depth techniques with common Python libraries

Have you done interesting things with Python Libraries? Perhaps you’ve solved a difficult application design using Django; or maybe you’ve done awesome hacks with SQLAlchemy? Our delegates want to know just what can be done with those libraries that are out there in the wild — help them take the next step in enhancing their skills.

Testing

Few things are more important in the application development process. Thorough testing means that you can be confident that your code works, and well-written tests ensure that things don’t break when you make changes. But talks on testing have been sorely lacking at PyCon Australia in the past. Help show our delegates how to make code that’s testable using the best tools available to Python developers.

Alternative implementations

Sure, CPython may be the reference implementation of Python, and it may be what nearly everyone coding python uses, but it’s not the only version of Python out there. The PyPy project is working wonders at making Python code run fast (so that it can compete with state-of-the-art JavaScript VMs), and the Jython and IronPython projects are helping to bring the world of Python to Java and .NET developers. Show PyCon Australia that the Python world doesn’t stop at CPython.

Live Code Reviews

One of the best ways to learn about how something works is to take it apart and see what’s inside. Open source projects let us deeply study the internals of the tools and libraries that we use every day. Show our delegates just how their favourite Python tools work, suggest improvements, and perhaps find new contributors to your projects.

Forward-porting to Python 3


Currently, two incompatible versions of Python are competing for your development time — Python 2, which is the old version of Python with flaws you’ve come to know and accept; and the all-new Python 3, which is easier to code with and more consistent. The problem is that all the code you depend upon is written in Python 2. Help speed up the migration to the new version of Python by showing how to forward-port libraries to Python 3.

Now, submit something!

So, now that you know what people want to see at PyCon Australia 2012, perhaps you have an idea about what you can present. Head over to our Call for Proposals and submit a talk for us. The call closes on Friday May 4.

If you still need more ideas, PyCon Australia 2011 presenter, Daniel Greenfeld has a list of Python conference talks he’d like to see. And if you have more ideas that you’d like someone else to present, our Call for Topics is still open.

Can’t wait to see your proposals coming in!

LCA2012: “Android is Not vi – User Experience for Geeks”

Paris Buttfield-Addison and I co-presented a talk at Linux.conf.au in Ballarat recently. The topic was on designing mobile apps that don’t suck on Android. The talk was pretty well received, the audience attentive and engaged (as evidenced by the fact that they heckled), and it was probably one of the better talks that Paris and I have co-presented.

The video of the talk is available as an ogv movie file, alternatively, the YouTube version is embedded below.