Tag Archives: ncss

30 Days of Geek: 15 – A geek experience that changed your life.

So the original topic for this was “Earliest geek experience”. I really couldn’t identify with that one, so I’m going to do something completely different. I’m sorry if this one’s a bit heavy, but it needs to be written.

I’d like to tell you about one of the worst times in my life. The year was 2006 — it was early January (early enough that I was still coming to terms with the fact that it was 2006…). The last term of school in 2005 was fantastic — I’d had one of my most successful periods academically, was successful in programming competitions, and I had a number of excellent friends who I shared many interests and experiences with. In the new year, that changed. I had a massive falling out with a very good friend, which caused me to question every aspect of the identity that I had built up over the past few years. I became unsure of personality traits, which I though were an important part of who I was, and which I thought were endearing to those around me. I questioned my interests in life. I questioned the validity of every relationship I had come to value over those late years of my schooling.

It is one of two times in my life that I had seriously felt suicidal. I guess this is one of the inevitable results of constantly questioning one’s identity. With each aspect of my personality that I felt needed to be changed to be worthwhile to people, I questioned the effort that would be needed to make that change. Thought after thought permeated my brain, and the weight of it all brought me to the conclusion that faced with the mounting “evidence” (in that state of mind, burden of proof is extremely low) that it probably wasn’t worthwhile to make such changes. At the end of it all, and after all of the changes that I would have to make, the person that I would have had to have been would have been unrecognisable to the person that I was then.

I still have no idea why I survived that week.

I made it through to the Sunday of that week, and was welcomed with open arms onto a flight to Sydney to attend that year’s National Computer Science School. It was during that week I properly discovered Python for the first time — it’s since become my favourite programming language. More so than that, it was a week of hanging around with geeks from all around Australia (and one from New Zealand), each of whom had different areas of interest and inclinations, and each had different skill sets. The tutors were smart uni students apparently studying interesting thing. The week gave me an insight in what it meant to be involved with IT and Computer Science. By the end of the week, I’d made heaps of friends (some of whom I still keep in contact with) who I shared interests and abilities with, and it was a fantastic revelation that there could be so many people around the country who I could just talk geek with. By the end of the week, things had resolved themselves back home — I’d forgiven and forgotten whatever it was that caused my friend and I to fall out, and I had a renewed drive to be awesome with my life.

I have no doubt, however, that I was saved by that week at NCSS. I’ve never had severe depression since, and I’ve been proud of my identity as a computer science-loving geek ever since.

Two years later I returned, this time as a tutor of the group that I had taken part in two years earlier — partly because I wanted to pay back a debt, and partly because I really really wanted to. Returning in 2008 led to me forming even more lasting friendships with people, not only tutors but students as well. I communicate with many of them every day, in one way or another. It’s where I first saw a Google office and decided that I really really wanted to become an intern there. Just afterwards I attended my first LCA in Melbourne, and have found, both there and in other geeky circles around the country, that my ties with NCSS are shared with geeks around the country — the line “I saw the girl on the hill with the telescope” is a wonderful calling card (if you ever hear James Curran lecture you’ll know what I mean by that).

So thanks to James, Tara and Michael (and everyone else from that week in 2006, you are too numerous to mention) — you have made something to be truly proud of… You may even have saved a life ;)

Linux.conf.au — Wrapup

LCA officially finished yesterday with the Open Day being a massive success. Here’s my attempt to wrap up everything that I’ve done since Tuesday:


Keynote was Bruce Schneier, he gave a speech which was not terribly revelatory, but was entertaining nonetheless. This was probably to be expected — keynoters are notorious for regurgitating talks, but the talk was well-presented, and thinking about the psychology of security was a particularly interesting process.

Other highlights of the day included The Kernel Report, and a talk on the OLPC by Jim Gettys.


There was one standout talk from Thursday, and that was Andrew Tridgell‘s talk on Clustered Samba (not just a hack any more). The level of thought that’s gone into the system is incredible, one particular standout from that talk was the concept of a “Tickle ACK”, which in my opinion, was the most beautiful piece of TCP Hackery I’ve ever seen. The audience’s reaction is well-justified — make sure you watch the talk.

Leslie Hawthorn’s talk on the Summer of Code and other Google Open Source stuff was worth going to; whilst the topics covered were for the most part repeats of stuff that’s already been revealed, one small soundbite was dropped, and that is that Summer of Code is almost certainly going to happen in the Southern Hemisphere. This is great news for Australian coders, since the Northern Summer of Code really doesn’t work for committed students (a clash with exams and 7 weeks of second semester is particularly discouraging). I’m seriously considering doing it this year. Thanks Leslie!

The Google Student Party was also really cool — an evening in a dingy pub in the middle of Melbourne, chatting with students and hobbyists, and planning projects for the rest of the year — I already have one, and thanks to Leslie, a contact to pitch it to. I’m looking forward to that!


The day started out with Anthony Baxter‘s talk on Python’s latest developments, with a really stupid title. Fortunately, the talk itself wasn’t stupid: it was definitely the standout keynote talk for the conference, and probably the best talk on Python, which is cool. He talked about all of the things that are going to break in version 3.0, future developments on the 2.x line, and also mentioned NCSS (in particular, he namedropped me, which is nice — I’ll be posting a post about NCSS in the near future for those of you LCAers who are interested in it)

Another cool thing done for the last day was a “Geek Junk Giveaway”, where people would give out their old computer junk to people who wanted it: I hope this becomes an LCA tradition.

The lightning talks (can’t find the video yet, sorry!), which went for the last hour of the conference were many, varied, and generally excellent. Standout talks included Jeff Waugh on Getting Laid (or rather, “Couple-oriented Software”, or the lack of software services that don’t recognise couples), and Paul Fenwick on Fixing the Web (using greasemonkey to remove content from Myspace).

Finally, the best part of Friday was finding out that LCA2009 will be in Hobart! And I’ve already started inviting people to pop by for it.


Open Day == Schwag (Red Hats, DVDs, and a Google T-Shirt), Schmooze (I spent 20 minutes exploring the Clustered Samba codebase with Tridge — and a generalised version of the Tickle Ack (the Socket Killer — it’s cool!), dicussing developments in Kate with Aaron Seigo, and playing Infra-red Pong with Rusty Russell), and Schpeech (that was dreadful, but the lightning talks were good)

So, that’s it for LCA proceedings, onto my general thoughts: LCA was fantastic. To Donna, Peter, and the rest of the mel8ourne crew, you did a fantastic job, it’s going to be interesting to see if Hobart can top it.

To the People of LCA, thanks for making it worthwhile — people who work on cool stuff actually giving me the time of day (thanks Tridge and Aaron and Anthony for all of that), the community really makes LCA special. I will be going back every year that I can, as it’s really a special event.

Cool stuff for Python Coders

Today at Day 2 of LCA, I attened the Distro Summit for the first half of the day, and the Gaming Miniconf for the second part, this particular post is going to focus mostly upon the gaming talks, since it’s probably the stuff I was more technically interested in, and the parts that I can remember best.

LCA Observation of the day:

The current distros of choice to bag out are:

  1. Ubuntu
  2. Gentoo


The latter half of the gaming miniconf spent a lot of time dealing with Python, which is excellent, given that Python is one of the main reasons why I’m attending the conference.

The first talk given was for Pyglet by Alex Holkner (the lead/founder of the project) and Richard Jones, a game development/media processing library (which would therefore make it a suitable replacement for Pygame), is written entirely in Python, and allows for extremely rapid development of games in Python. It’s currently at version 1.0, but is soon to progress to version 1.1, which, amongst other things, introduces a proper event handling inner loop, which is something that is notoriously missing from libraries such as Pygame.

Pyglet is designed around the ctypes library that was introduced in Python 2.5: for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, allows developers to register shared C libraries within python, and call them as functions without needing to write full-blown Python extensions in C. Pygame uses ctypes to wrap basically every media-related libary imaginable (frequently multiple libraries for different operating systems) and presents them to coders as a unified interface, so developers don’t need to know whether or not their system is using Quicktime or OpenAL (for example).

Demos given included of an FPS and a full-screen Mandelbrot Set renderer, both of which were very fast (though the fractal did get a bit pixelated at high zoom, so there could have been a large amount of caching performed — I’m not sure as I haven’t really looked into it.

From a coding point of view, Pyglet looks like an excellent library, a worthy successor to Pygame, and could be extremely fun to code in. Which leads me to:

Richard Jones gave a talk about Pyweek, a twice-yearly Python Game Writing challenge; the aim is to write Python games, which must somehow link into a theme (for example “Energy” or “It Runs on Steam”), and the game must be written entirely within a week. You may code in teams or as ain individual. The next round will be in March, followed by September. I’m seriously considering taking part in the next one.

The final non-lightning talk I saw was on an interesting game system, whereby you draw a picture of the game you want to play, and it lets you play it. I can’t remember the name of it, and can’t find it on Planet LCA yet, so if anyone remembers the name of it, it would be great if you can let me know (such as via the comments on this post) — this looked incredibly cool, and I’ll definitely try it out at the open day.

NCSS Part 1 (Sydney part 2)

So here begins my comprehensive wrap-up of all things Sydney, since I conveniently neglected to do so whilst I was there.

Come on, Aussie!

Friday’s main purpose was to watch Day Three of the Second Test between Australia and India at the SCG; which therefore meant that the early part of my day was concerned with getting myself safely to USyd, and then getting myself out to the SCG. So, I arrived at the Women’s College at the Uni only to find myself not booked in at all, and with the reception staff oblivious as to what to do. This was mildly annoying, so I left my bags at the college, and found my way out to Central to catch a bus to the ground.

Getting out from Women’s to Broadway consists of a trek through the oldest part of the main USyd campus, and this time also implied a trek through the Quadrangle. This is the quintessential “Old Sandstone” building on the USyd campus, and if you’re ever in the area is well worth a look at. Walking down from the campus and to Central was generally nice. Bus fares from Central to the SCG were cheap (hurrah), so all that left was a walk from ANZAC Parade and into the ground.

The SCG entry is set up like a maze; there is one central entrance for bag checks, and then a massive detour to get to the stands — all in all, I suspect that due to approaching from the angle that I did, I walked an extra 2KM to get to the ground than I would have at a ground with a sensible entry setup.

I met up at the gate with Ben Vance, a friend from my ISSC’05 days, and we proceeded to find our seats — they were good :). Highlights of the match included Brad Hogg becoming the irrational crowd favourite, missing Adam Gilchrist’s 400th Dismissal due to getting food, 50s from Ganguly and Harbhajan (“Hop-along”) Singh, and seeing Sachin Tendulkar achieve 150, which, admittedly is exactly what I wanted to see when I first decided I wanted to go to the match. It was also amusing to see Kevin “Oh-seven” Rudd get booed when his picture appeared on the Big Screen — clearly Sydney appreciates its life members.

At the close of the day’s play, I walked from the SCG back to the USyd campus (which wasn’t all that far, despite what it looks like on maps), in anticipation of meeting James Curran (the main organiser of NCSS), who needed me to meet a teacher (who was attending NCSS) at Central… I won’t continue that story, as it involves running a minute late, and missing the person I was due to pick up. Oh well. Such is life. I finished the day by settling into St Paul’s College, which ended up being where I stayed (not Women’s), and slept, ready for the chaos that would be Saturday.

Taxi from the Airport

Saturday was a standard, uninteresting morning, brightened by the fact that I had to begin it with my first experience of College Breakfast since my experience of it in KXT312 (those conveyor toasters are sooooo cool!). I followed that with a cup of “coffee” (read: emulsion of sugar, milk powder and Nescafe), and a walk around the campus, making a point of actually finding out what all of the buildings were, and making myself familiar with a campus that I would need to appear “at home” with — given that by the end of it I was already giving people directions, I suspect that I’d done a decent job. My second offical job with the summer school was to hang around International Arrivals of Sydney Airport in order to await another student — his flight schedule read “Osaka/BNE”… strange. Due to the nature of the arrival gates of International, as well as the fact that I had no idea whom to look out for, I was slightly nervious about missing a second passenger (after what had happened on the Friday night). Happily, only 40 minutes after the scheduled arrival time, he arrived, and we caught a taxi back to USyd (incidentally, he was from Queensland, and needed to travel with a passport, and proceed through customs on both ends of the flight — I’ve since decided that Queensland is worthy of being considered another country).

The rest of Saturday afternoon was a bit of a blur, due to the amazingly large amounts of work needed to be done to set up the opening night. Happily, we succeeded, and right on schedule, the summer school began.

Newspaper, Mama


As past NCSSers would know, the “team-building” challenge each year is to build a structure out of newspaper — in past years, the criterion was to make it as tall as possible — this year, instead it was to build a free-standing shelter, judged by how many people would fit under it. The returning group (who I tutored) certainly won on a Per Capita basis, but not overall. Saturday concluded with writing the first (and only) copy of the Daily Hack.

There, that’s it for this installment of my NCSS story — more to come later.

Back home

Well, I’m back home (and have been for the past few days now) after my trip out for NCSS. The trip was fantastic, I made heaps of new friends, revisited lots of old ones (some unexpectedly), and otherwise had a wonderful time.

NCSS itself was definitely worth the trip up for, once again, James Curran and Tara Murphy outdid themselves in the organisation, and put together a truly fantastic programme that I will write about eventually.


Finally, I’ve signed up for Flickr, in order to keep the photos from my new camera online — hopefully you’ll see a whole heap more photos upon this site, and there is also a new page on my site where you can view my most recent photos uploaded to Flickr… of course, the ones up there are from NCSS.

More to come


Sydney Day 1

Get me a ticket for an aeroplane…

Thursday began with an unusually early wake-up time for myself, due to my need to get myself to the airport by 6AM. Once I got there, the general airport trudgery began, with the bag drops, screening, and boarding the plane. I got a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane, which, in most cases is not the side of the plane that you want to be approaching Sydney in from the south (as you don’t see much).

That is, until I checked Virgin Blue’s remarkable Where the bloody hell are we? channel on the TV in front of me, and noticed that our flight path was very inland, and for some odd reason, we were approaching from the north. What this meant for me is that the plane approached on the western side of the city, which meant that I got sweeping harbour and city views on the way down. That’s a fantastic way to start the day :)

Drop my bags, see who’s in

Getting out of the airport proved to be a right-royal pain in the arse, due to the slackness of the baggage handlers (we touched down at 8:50, I left the terminal at 9:20), but once I did, I met up with the Bruces (Eddie and Julie, friends of my father from his days in Keith) who are hosting me for the nights that I’m not at NCSS. Nice family :). The trip from the airport was interesting, as it meant I got to see all of the interesting tollways and suburbs that you generally don’t get to care about as a tourist (I’m still not quite sure if that’s a good thing or not)

The Manly Ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay

I caught a ferry into the city from Manly in the afternoon, which Julie said would be a good way to acclimatise to the city. Conveniently, it was. I made my way to Darling Harbour, and waited for people.

People, in this case, meant Stephen Merity (Smerity), and a bunch of his friends, since we decided that it would be a good idea if we met before I become his tutor at NCSS (which is certainly going to happen). We made our way to lunch, which consisted of Yum Cha at the Regal on Sussex Street. From casual observation, it seems as though how Yum Cha is served depends greatly upon which Australian City you find yourself in. Whilst in Hobart, it’s a sit down and order process, in Sydney, Yum Cha consists of multiple Chinese women running around with large trollies, stopping only to smother your table with food on a regular basis. Or so it seems, anyway. Either way the food was still good.

After that, we saw I Am Legend the latest movie starring (and notably only starring) Will Smith. It’s a fairly standard suspensful-thriller-come-zombie-movie. Unfortunately, the movie wastes close to 45 minutes on seemingly random activities, and I personally didn’t see any point to the plot until late in the movie, that said, it was still enjoyable, and probably warrants three stars from me.

The day finished with me catching a ferry back to Manly, and having dinner with the Bruces at Dee Why.

NCSS 2008 (First Post)

Well, after a three-months-and-a-week delay, I’ve finally been invited to be a tutor at this year’s National Computer Science School, which is held at the School of Information Technologies at the University of Sydney (in Sydney).

I was a student at the School in 2006, and it was certainly one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s great to finally get an opportunity to put back into the School.

I’m certainly looking forward to it. More posts on the topic as it comes.

In related news, I’ll be in Sydney from midway-through the first week of January (probably Thursday the 3rd), and leaving roughly on the 14th (if all goes according to plan).